Looking for a good, short, easy-to-read introduction to gender stereotyping in children’s lives–how common it is, how it works, why it matters, what to do about it? You should check out Christia Spears Brown‘s new (2014) book Parenting beyond Pink and Blue.
This book covers some of the same material as books like Cordelia Fine’s awesome Delusions of Gender, but in a more practical-minded, action-in-parenting way. Brown engages scholarly research in an utterly nonthreatening, accessible, and personal way. Readers who wouldn’t enjoy geeking out over the neuroscience gossip (or who just want a tighter parents-oriented focus) might be well-served by Brown’s briefer treatment.
(If, on the other hand, you just can’t get enough of this stuff, start with Fine and then go back for a very different approach with Emily Kane’s book The Gender Trap. Then let’s get coffee and geek out over gender research together.)
Parents who have read and/or thought a ton about resisting sexism probably already follow most … or all … of this book’s practical tips. It includes the strategies you might expect:
- providing toys and experiences without reference to a child’s gender
- using less gender-emphasizing language (no “good morning, boys and girls!” or “you’re such a pretty girl!” or even “look at that man”)
- talking with both boys and girls about both mathematical concepts and emotions
- examining your own knee-jerk stereotypes
- and so on
But as a primer, it could work beautifully.
For any audience, I especially appreciate Brown’s very clear and engaging accounts of academic concepts like effect size (key to interpreting the meaningfulness of differences between vs. within groups) and stereotype threat. These sorts of ideas are so important but can feel like abstract jargon to lots of parents/people.
I’ll end with one caveat:
This book takes the position that gender is, like height, “biological, obviously, and unchangeable” (207). The sidebar on “When Children Want to Be the Other Gender” (153) is affirming in encouraging parents to take depression seriously and offer support and help, to accept children as they are without reference to gender and gender stereotypes, and to make sure their children know “they can dress how they want, play with what they want, and be friends with whomever they want.” At the same time, the whole thing seems to take a hope-they-grow-out-of-it approach that makes me really uncomfortable and excludes trans* folks and everybody who doesn’t live within the gender binary.
On a broader note (or to put it another way), the book largely accepts that there are two boxes (boy/girl, man/woman) and … although it does awesome work insisting that the categories are far from opposites, that they overlap immensely and have huge within-group diversity, that their nature is culturally constructed and variable, etc. … it doesn’t question the two-box system itself.