The Goddess Speaks

By Nancy Arcayna

Tuesday, September 21, 1999

Gender stereotypes
start at home

'HEY put that doll down!" "That is a girl's toy," I heard a woman scolding her approximately 5-year-old son in a toy store.

Do people really believe that a boy who plays with dolls will grow up to be feminine or that a girl who plays with trucks will be a tomboy? Or worse, that they will have a tendency to be gay? This is absurd!

Ten years ago, I worked in a preschool that encouraged creativity, so we placed no gender restrictions on toys. One day, the parents of one child came to pick up their 3-year-old son. They were outraged when they came in and found him playing with a doll. He was innocently playing house with some other children.

No harm was done in my eyes but the parents insisted that their boy was not to play with dolls. So what are we saying here? That it is a woman's role to care for the children?

Women continually complain that men lack caring and compassionate behaviors and often do not share household and child rearing responsibilities. Well ladies, we are the ones to blame! We are raising boys who believe that they always need to be tough and must avoid engaging in "feminine" behaviors.

By saying, "Big boys don't cry," we are already teaching males not to "feel." We are determining the roles they will play in society and we perpetuate a stereotype. This is beyond me since we live in a society in which men are taking a more active role in raising children and contributing to household obligations.

A girl's color is pink and for boys it is blue. Boys play with trucks. Girls play with dolls. Men support the household. Women take care of the chores.

WOW! Who created all these rules anyway? As women, we are trying to make it a "man's" world. Rules with attributes such as these make it hard to get ahead. So maybe you ought to wonder whether you are raising your son to be a male chauvinist.

Most of the time, my 3-year-old son goes around slamming wrestling action figures, playing with cars or climbing and jumping in a "boylike" fashion. But there are days when he will wrap his stuffed animals in blankets and pretend they are his babies. I encourage this behavior and admire his versatility.

Daddy is teaching him how to play rough, about fishing and football -- "all the guy stuff." So I want to teach him how to care, be compassionate, sympathetic, to communicate effectively in hope that he will not lack in those areas that make women complain most about men.

Not only are we raising insensitive sons, but daughters who lack self-esteem. Girls learn to expect less. They may not participate in sports or activities that pit them against males. Intimidation and societal roles have already deemed us second place.

We dig our own graves by perpetuating stereotypes. Worse, we set our daughters up for disappointment by raising boys to become men no smart woman could want.

Maybe you should think about this the next time you scold your child for doing something that you don't consider "appropriate" for his or her gender. By instilling a sense of shame in the child, you may be creating a stigma that lasts a lifetime.

Nancy Arcayna is an editorial clerk
for the Star-Bulletin.

The Goddess Speaks runs every Tuesday
and is a column by and about women, our strengths, weaknesses,
quirks and quandaries. If you have something to say, write it and
send it to: The Goddess Speaks, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, P.O.
Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802, or send e-mail

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