He’s a baby, not a gender stereotype

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The other day I was talking with some other mothers who also had boys around Squirm’s age. We were talking about how babies get so dirty (it’s a topic for another time, but seriously, how do they get that dirty in those places!) when one of the mothers looked at her little one and cooed “It’s because you’re a little boy.”

It seemed that general consensus among the mothers was that boys were generally dirtier than girls, even when they were only a couple of months old. Because boy babies are obviously engaged in those notoriously dirty, boy only, pursuits of feeding, sleeping and playing with toys and parents.

No. Wait.

Of course baby boys are no dirtier than baby girls. Unless the parent is out there rolling their baby boy in mud, or washing them less than a baby girl then there’s no way for a baby boy to get dirtier.

There’s a lot of discussion about actual and nurtured differences between boys and girls, including the way that people interact with boys and girls differently, but there’s also a lot of stereotypes. And applying these stereotypes to babies, apart from seeming very silly, surely tells these children that, as they grow up, they should act one particular way or another. That other boys and girls should act in certain ways, and that those who don’t meet these stereotypes aren’t normal.

But they’re just babies. Surely they don’t really understand what we’re saying, so we can really say whatever we want. Sure, but that sets up a habit. And one thing I’m realising is that speaking habits are notoriously difficult to break. Today we’re telling them that they’re dirty because they’re boys, in a few years they might be telling us that it’s ok not to take a bath because they’re boys.

I know it’s a relatively trivial thing, not up there in the big topics of the world, but since having Squirm I’ve heard so much gendered language. (And don’t get me started on the whole ‘romantic baby’ thing) So it’s worth having these discussions and worth thinking about what we’re saying before we make big sweeping generalised statements.

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11 comments

  1. Having 2 girls and a boy I’ve heard it all, and people are sometimes unaware of the subtle/sunliminal ways that they bend their children towards certain behaviors. I’ve never enforced a pink/blue dichotomy in the house and yet I have observed differences in their tastes and development that fit some of those stereotypes (eg the boy’s rougher, more tactile approach to learning). But dirt? They’re all as messy as each other!

    1. We talked a bit about gender in uni (for an education course) and how people will just say things like ‘I need some strong boys’ to move things. Of course, when you teach 11 and 12 year olds and the girls have grown and the boys haven’t, the girls can be stronger!

  2. I think you’re right. Unfortunately from a young age the gender stereotypes seem to pounded into us. I do my best with 2 girls and a boy to be as gender neutral as I can but it’s hard when advertisements are geared to either boys or girls or when kids get girl or boy things at birthday parties.

  3. AS part of my degree I had to do some action research and decided that it would be interesting to look into the types of activities children chose to do in a nursery based on their gender. Whilst I observed them the boys tended to choose stereotypically ‘boyish’ activities and vice versa for girls. I then played a different selection of video clips each day of adults doingbn the activities the children could choose from (So on day one the clips were all of men, on day two they were all of women and then on day three they were evenly mixed etc…) The results surprised me – the children were heavily influenced by the same gender adults. So the key thing that came out of my project was that if you want to encourage children to try particular activities or to behave in ceratin ways then you should have an adult of the same gender act as a role model. So when people say that boys act ‘boyish’ and girls act ‘girlie’ it is (party at least) because the significant adults in their life are modelling a stereotypical approach to life.

    1. That’s fascinating research, and yet another reason we need to make sure we get men into early childhood and younger primary education – so we have role models of both sexes. Lucky for us, Mr Pilot is a reading, dish washing, cooking, plane flying kind of guy 🙂

  4. I don’t buy my 2.5 y/o daughter anything pink (if there are other colours available) or anything girlish. Not that I’m anti-pink or anti-girl things, but she gets enough of that given to her from friends & family. It makes our house more balanced…

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