Girls’ vs. Boys’ Expectations

dreamstime_xs_7301740There are several things I think we should consider related to expectations.

  • What do we expect of girls compared to what do we expect of boys?
  • What do girls and boys expect of each other based upon our expectations?
  • What do girls and boys expect of themselves based upon our expectations?
  • Actions speak louder than words.

I think many people, if asked what they expect of boys, would say things like responsible, independent, self-sufficient, active.  I think that many would say that they expect girls to be nice, nurturing, caring, compassionate.

There is nothing wrong with any of these things.  They are all good things to be.  So why wouldn’t we want to encourage all children to be all these things?  And yet do we do this?  Or are our expectations driven by stereotypes?

We may state in words that we think girls should be independent and self-sufficient.  However, if we continue to do things for her rather than letting her do them for herself, our actions are stating that we want her to be dependent.  Have you ever found that you step in to help a girl with something sooner than you would a boy?  Why?  To take this a bit further, do you reward independence the same way you reward obedience?  Do you expect girls to be more obedient than boys?  Do you expect boys to be assertive when in the same situation you expect girls to be passive?

It is important that we stop to think about what our expectations of boys and girls really are.  Then we need to think about what our actions are really communicating.  Are we sending mixed messages?  Actions do speak louder than words.

Perhaps the most important reason that we need to be aware of our expectations is that children so easily adopt our expectations as to what other people should be and what they, themselves, should be.

(Notice the picture.  What expectations does that set?  That boys can be doctors but girls can only be nurses?  I don’t mean any disrespect to nurses.  I just want to point out that this is a subtle way that expectations are set and stereotypes are continued.)

Girls’ vs. Boys’ Toys

dreamstime_xs_34860359, croppedWhen you look at traditional toys for boys and girls, the ones for boys generally relate to STEM.  Blocks, building kits, science kits, tools, cars, motors, etc. directly or indirectly relate to and encourage science, technology, engineering, and/or mathematics.  This can easily lead to interest in careers in STEM, which pay very well.

Girls’ toys general relate to and encourage “ABCD:” arts, beauty, childcare, and domestic duties.  Generally speaking, jobs in these areas do not pay well and often careers do not pay that much more.

There is nothing wrong with art and craft supplies.  Arts and crafts can make wonderful hobbies.  But how many people do you know personally who have made an excellent living out of them?  Or any income at all?

There is nothing wrong with pretty clothes, make-up, and hair accessories.  Again, though, how many people do you know who have created a successful career out of “beauty?”  Another issue is that overemphasis on looks encourages girls to think that beauty is more important than brains.  (I have always thought brains were more important.  If you are smart enough, you can earn enough money to buy pretty, but you can’t fix stupid.)

There is nothing wrong with baby-dolls.  Or all the furniture, clothes, accessories, etc. that go with these dolls.  However, if a girl gets these toys almost exclusively, it sends the message that that is all that should interest her.  How many people do you know earn a good living by taking care of children?  Yes, there are careers that revolve around children, but how well do they pay on average?

And there is nothing wrong with the miniature kitchens, household appliances, housecleaning equipment, etc. that so many girls receive as gifts.  Too much emphasis on this, though, can encourage girls to think that that is all that they can do or all that should interest them.  And how much do women in food service or housekeeping jobs generally earn?

In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with “ABCD” toys so long as the girl also receives a variety of “STEM” toys.  This can encourage her to develop interests that can later lead to a high-paying career.

Whenever we buy toys for children, I think it is important to ask three questions.

  • Why are we buying this toy?
  • What will the child learn from this?
  • How will this learning benefit the child?

I understand the importance of play for the sake of play.  I agree that not everything has to be a planned learning experience.  However, children constantly learn from their environment and from what happens around them.  We need to be aware of what we might be inadvertently teaching them and the impact it can have on their futures.

Girls’ vs. Boys’ Activities

dreamstime_xs_66395237, resized_edited-1I believe most people mean well, but I do not believe that they always think about the all the impacts that their actions generate.

For example, an elementary school in the area does son/mother and daughter/father activities in a certain grade.  The boys show their mothers a science experiment in the school’s science lab.  The girls dress up and go to a dance with their fathers in the gym.

What messages is this sending?

One message is that it is important, even expected, that boys be smart.  Another message is that it is important, even expected, that girls be pretty.  Yet another message is that parents want, expect, and like it when their sons are smart and their daughters dress-up.  These messages are not only telling girls that beauty is more important than brains, it is also telling boys that it is more important for girls to be pretty than smart.  It is setting expectations in girls on what they should be and what they should expect from themselves.  And it is setting expectations in boys on what girls should be.

There is nothing wrong with a son/mother science project or a daughter/father dance.  The problem is that it stops there.  All it would take to correct it would be to also have, sometime during the school year, a daughter/father science project and a son/mother dance.

I think a good rule of thumb with activities is to ask two simple questions.  If it is an activity for boys, why not have the same one for girls?  If it is an activity for girls, why not have it for boys?  Honest answers can help determine what unintentional messages we may be sending and what stereotypes we are encouraging.



Girls’ vs. Boys’ Chores

dreamstime_xs_26395482A friend’s daughter said something once that greatly disturbed me.  She was probably seven or eight at the time.  When her father asked her to help him with some yard work, she replied, “No, that’s boys’ work!”

The reason this disturbed me was that if she already saw a division between chores appropriate for girls and for boys, how could that not lead to a division in men’s jobs and women’s jobs?  In men’s careers and women’s careers?  How much had she already limited her career choices without even realizing it?  How much had her parents and the other adults in her life limited her career options by promoting work stereotypes through words and by example?

People cannot make a choice if they do not know that a choice can be made.  If girls think that they cannot, or should not, do anything other than “girl’s work” how can anyone expect them to enter male-dominated fields, such as STEM, if they do not even see it as an option?

Another aspect of this, of course, is that it limits boys in their career options as well.  It also influences them to think that there are things that girls cannot do.  They can then too easily grow into men who think there are things that women cannot do.

I believe that work is work.  Whoever has the ability, time, and/or desire to do something should do it.  Gender does not matter.  I think it is great for children to see fathers doing housework and laundry and see mothers doing yard work and home repairs.  If they see their greatest role models doing everything, it encourages them to think that they, too, can do everything.

It is wonderful that so many schools are doing more to encourage girls to be interested in STEM.  However, if girls are being taught stereotypes at home, school may be too little, too late.  If children see stereotypes in chores, then that has to lead to stereotypes in jobs and careers.

Are you inadvertently promoting work-related and career-related stereotypes to the children in your life?