Gender Neutral, Baby
Retykle Ambassador Alix Delahaye
“Oh, you’re having a little boy? That is so wonderful! Be prepared to have cars everywhere.”
Before having my first child, I knew that gender neutrality mattered. Throughout my career in luxury retail, women have made up 90% of the sector and, I have worked with and been inspired by the strong and successful women examples in the industry. I was also raised by modern and gender-neutrality embracing parents.
However, it became more apparent than ever when I was expecting my second child, who also happened to be a girl, that gender stereotypes still had a stronghold on the way people view the sexes. This pregnancy would bring me decades back in terms of gender roles and stereotypes thanks to some members of my family, friend circles, and even strangers on social media. These experiences encouraged me to read more and educate myself further on this topic that had suddenly become almost aggressive to me. I felt that those who were on the outside of my growing little family were trying to rule the tastes, destinies, and choices of my little babies even before they were born!
I realised gender stereotypes were absolutely everywhere: from the beliefs of many of my relatives, to the sales staff when shopping while pregnant kept asking “Boy or girl?,” or going to a playdate and a perfect stranger tells my little boy he’s not supposed to play with the kitchen or the cleaning set. Even the mum group I was a part of on WhatsApp (as many HK moms are) was happily regurgitating these stereotypes, with questions such as: “Are you going to let your second born play with her brother’s toys” or “will you get her more girly toys?” I felt there was still so much to do and learn. It was surprising to see that even my generation of parents/future parents were still stuck in the past.
Something else I have noticed is that when it comes to gender equality/neutrality, I don’t feel that this is not as popular a topic in conversation, media, etc., when it comes to informing one’s parenting choices. You really need to research this particular subject in depth to find good literature about it. Nonetheless, after compiling all my readings here are the 5 takeaways I would love to share with other parents. Believe me, I am not perfect on this topic nor do I claim to be an expert; still, our society is still so gendered that cliches and bias’ easily sneak into the most determined minds!
01 As a parent, be an example: Promote gender equality in your actions and the way you speak on the daily.
The best way to tackle gender stereotypes is to keep them away from your own little cocoon. Same with all the macho jokes and little quips: “women are bad drivers,” “this is a men’s drink,” and so on. They are often used and your kids will certainly hear them many times!
02 There’s no roles for JUSt boys or girls.
Indeed, kids grow up with our projections and feedback. If as parents we always compliment a girl on her sweetness, patience and appearance, and a boy on his strength, audacity, and sports results, we will shape their own self-esteem through those gender criteria!
03 Sexism should become a taboo in your household, the same way racism and homophobia already are.
Sexism is often tolerated and joked about by friends and family in casual conversation. However, kids must understand that this topic should not be taken lightly. They have not developed their ability to analyse and assess other people’s beliefs and know what is right and wrong. They tend to copy other adults' actions and words! You might feel the same too but it is much better when you stop and think before you speak because there is a lot of unnoticed bias that pollutes our daily chats!
04 Toys are gender-neutral; there are no such things as boys or girls hobbies.
Toy marketing wants to make you think they know better about what is good for your children and what they will have the more fun playing with depending on their gender. When you give them the choice, no matter their gender, to play with cars, trains, dolls, kitchens they end of choosing what they want and that is okay!
Our attitude as a parent is key. We need to let them enjoy any toy without referring to gender or showing a gendered preference. Remember we are their model, if we show them more support and appraisal on one specific toy due to their gender, or if we let people gift them with highly stereotyped goods, they will quickly assimilate to that specific gender.
To be honest, this is one of the points where I’ve had to fight more lately: my parents-in-law gave me mostly blue toys for my first born, and I almost fainted when recently opening a parcel for my baby girl, where 90% of the items were pink. I know it’s taboo to refuse a gift, especially in the family sphere but one of my achievements lately has been mentioning it to my mother-in-law. If I do not raise the subject now, it may last forever, every Christmas and birthday!
05 Let them choose.
When my son is playing with my baby girl’s clothes and he seems into something, I let him try it out! It’s ok to wear a pretty dress or enjoy wearing flowers and pastel colours! Let them follow their will and instincts, because an age will come when they will have to choose their own sports, activities, and the like. Don’t limit their choices. Girl’s activities can be soccer and rugby. Boys can do ballet and horseback riding. They need to understand from you that it's okay!
Hopefully, that will help raise a generation with fewer gender boundaries when it comes to work, household chores, and academia. Too often girls and boys are clustered into more feminine or masculine sectors and positions from a very early age. Value a girl who wants to dress as a fireman for halloween, and support a boy who’s being bullied because he has long hair at school. This will be a lifelong gift of strength and courage for them.
I feel I missed some other deep concepts about gender equality, however, this was of course a very quick overview and introduction to the subject matter. My hope is that this helps you think of some real everyday life situations where maybe next time you’ll react differently. I also hope this encourages you to reflect on your own life and beliefs, to read studies, and share with your tykes! The key is to start early and to keep communication open between you and your children as they grow and experience the world.