Does a baby’s gender affect the way you treat them? I wish my answer was no. *music stops*
I look good in blue, no?

Did I just write that? I mean, I’m a feminist for gooness sakes! I had the best of intentions! I shop for my daughter in the boys section sometimes!

Apparently I had no idea how deeply society’s message of female=weaker had truly sunk in.

This day and age we have access to unlimited information about stereotyping and it’s affects. We know the history (HIS story) of patriarchy and recognize society sends very clear messages about gender roles. We know that if a child does not quite fit the typical mold bullying can occur, or worse.

I’ve taken many Women’s Studies courses in undergrad and graduate school. I read The Feminine Mystique in my free time and follow Miss Representation on Facebook. I don’t necessarily agree that gender is completely socially constructed but I’m still a proud feminist. So of all people you’d think I should be informed about gender stereotyping.

So why did I start treating my pregnancy differently when I found out I was having a girl?

Until my 20 week scan I was convinced my little bean was a boy. I referred to my fetus as ‘dude.’ I cycled to work, went to the gym several times a week, ate homemade mayo (twice!) I came thisclose to ordering little boy clothes on Etsy.
All because some quack psychic told you you were going to have boys back in 2002
Perhaps I wanted to be okay with a boy because of my (not so secret) desperation for a little girl. Again, Why?
To understand my own mother?
Fear of my own energetic and sleepless little brother?
When I found out a little girl was en route- my attitude and behavior changed. This little bean seemed much more fragile. I stopped cycling to work as often and was more anxious when I did. I put the bicycle away for good shortly thereafter. Could this be decades of subconscious gender conditioning at work? Who was I?
Girl-confirmation-day was the happiest, most emotional surprise of my life (even better than the day she was born). I cried with joy, and then anguish. I knew that bringing a girl into this world meant that I had to take on A LOT of responsibility. I had to teach her how to be a woman (however you define that) how to have self respect, how to prevent men from taking advantage of her, how to be smart, kind, caring and how to value substance.

I told relatives that we are not to call her pretty or cute without also saying she is clever and smart- by the time Lavinia turned one that plan went out the window because she loved it when something was ‘pretty,’ even her dinner had to be ‘pretty’ in order to get her to eat it…I caved and only realized it when my Mother said to me, “what happened with not being allowed to tell her she’s pretty?” Fail.

One of my Mums Group friends said she was surprised at how many soft toys we had (traditionally soft toys are given to little girls). We were given so many toys for Lavinia that I didn’t buy her any myself. I had intended on getting gender neutral toys but it completely slipped my mind!

I catch myself calling her a ‘good little girl’ even though I know it’s wrong to praise girls for being ‘good’ as opposed to boys for being ‘active.’ I know in my brain that I want her to be on equal footing with any boy her age but I can see the differences between them so clearly. The little boys in our Mum’s Group play differently than the girls do. Lavinia dodges those little guys at every turn as they wrestle and bump around the room as she clings to my legs.

The thing is, there are differences between the genders that are undeniable and detectable early on. Do I think this is cause for sweeping generalizations? Absolutely not. So how have I fallen into the stereotype fountain while walking and looking at my iPhone at the same time? I should know better. Women younger than myself are distancing themselves from feminism at an alarming rate, no wonder I feel the need to set a better example.

We don’t have to get nuts about what extremists on both sides of the argument have to say. Let’s just play nice. Feminism is the simple concept that men and women should be treated equally even though they have differences (nature vs nurture debate not happening here.) Fair enough too.

So how can we parent (both mothers and fathers) as feminists? My daughter loves accessories, combs her hair and adores applying lotion and ‘stick’ (lipstick). She gravitates toward stuffed toys, nurtures them, pretends to feed them and puts them to bed. She also loves cars and building blocks (I finally bought some). I avoid dressing her in pink most of the time though she grabs for the tutu’s in her closet (that grandma buys her) and I realize that my influence is just that, influence not control. I can only hold out hope that one day she like, if not appreciate, her science-themed nursery.
Sometimes I like to dress myself. I call this Elf chic.
All I can do is present her with options and try to keep my own biases out of the way (if that’s even possible, so far it’s not going as well as I hoped.) As long as she remains the expressive, sweet, feisty, determined little person she is, I will support her even if she wants Barbies and sparkles or combat boots and neckties (I’m aware these too, are stereotypes) Because I am her mother and I will love her no matter what.


Parents who have a child of each gender- do you find yourself raising them differently even if you try not to?

Author: dawnrieniets

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3 thoughts on “Can You Avoid Gender Stereotypes with Babies?

  1. I remember this as something related. Adam was fascinated with guns of any kind as a 2 year old. Susan was not in favor and tried to eliminate an idea that he was naturally curious with. He compensated by chewing a piece of toast into a pistol which was very clever. He would not be denied. What ever a child is curious about will bring out their creativity. No harm/no foul…although he graduated to paint ball as a hobby in his teens, it never went any further. He dose not even hunt? A lot of things are taken far too serious by parents as children explore ideas. Free will I say!

    Posted on March 2, 2015 at 3:43 pm
  2. Yes free will- especially if you have a stubborn one like mine- will always win out. It's good to let them explore natural curiosities as well as remembering to offer options.

    Posted on March 2, 2015 at 10:09 pm