We’ve had a shift in our culture over the last decade or so, where we’ve begun to tell young girls they can be and do anything. The Always #LikeAGirl campaign is a prime example.
The opposite, however, is not true.
A 2017 study showed that more than three-quarters of those surveyed said it was a good thing for parents to encourage young girls to play with toys or do activities “associated with the opposite gender.” The share rises to 80% for women and millennials.
But when it came to boys, support dropped significantly, with 64% overall — and far fewer men — saying it was good to encourage them to do things associated with girls. Those who were older and more conservative were even more like to think it wasn’t a good idea.
Reading between the lines suggests there’s a view that traits stereotypically associated with men — such as strength, courage and leadership — are good, whereas those tied to femininity — such as vulnerability, emotion and care — are bad. Thus boys receive the message that wanting to look up to girls is not OK.How toys became gendered—and why it’ll take more than a gender-neutral doll to change how boys perceive femininity by Megan K. Maas
As a society, we have started to recognize how negatively toxic masculinity affects men, but we still don’t seem ready to commit to making change. We want our girls to be and do anything they desire. We want it for our boys, too, so long as they keep their emotions out of it.
So, how do we fix this?
Well, you’ve probably heard me say it before… but we need to raise children without strict, enforced gender norms and stereotypes. Here are a few ways to do just that:
- LET TOYS BE TOYS. Stop only buying “girl” toys for girls and “boy” toys for boys. Let boys have access to My Little Pony, baby dolls, vacuums and kitchen sets. Let girls play with soccer balls, tool sets and fire trucks. Need ideas? Check out my gift guide.
- LET COLORS BE COLORS. Just before World War I, someone decided pink was a girl color and blue was a boy color. Before then, babies were largely outfitted in white dresses until the age of six (yes, boys too). For a while, blue was considered a “girl” color and pink was the “boy” color. Who is “someone,” you ask? … Marketers, of course. They realized they could sell twice as much if boys and girls couldn’t share clothing. [Here’s a really interesting read on the history of it from the Smithsonian.] Let’s stop attaching colors to gender and instead let everyone explore the entire palette.
- LET BOYS EMBRACE THEIR FEMININE QUALITIES. Why is it feminine to communicate well? To cry when you’re upset? To be compassionate toward others, or to show that you care? These are all characteristics of being a whole human being. These are all characteristics of being a good partner in a relationship. If we teach boys they have to be tough — that they can’t show emotion — we’re robbing them of this.
What are your ideas for allowing boys to embrace their true selves? Drop a comment below!