The Harm in Gender Generalizations
By: A. Thiollier
Girls like pink. Boys like blue. You’ve heard that before, haven’t you? Do you believe it’s true? If you don’t, that’s great, because it is not always a fact. But if you do, I don’t blame you. It is an assumption that has been repeated thousands and thousands of times, until we think of it as if it were an unquestionable truth, like 1+1=2. And if we don’t fight it soon, society will lose out.
There are almost 8 billion people in the world today; that makes around 4 billion girls, and 4 billion boys. How is it possible that in all these boys, not one of them likes pink? Or that no girl likes blue? The answer: it’s not possible. Although this should be a clear fact, even on Amazon when you go into the baby section, you must choose the gender, and the clothes are colored accordingly. But that makes no sense. How do parents automatically know that their unborn baby daughter will prefer pink, while their son will like blue? Shouldn’t we be neutral until they can choose what they like, and not force them to wear and like one or the other? This is a clear example of a generalization. Did the world ask babies which color they preferred? No. Someone decided this was true, and the world treats it as if it were an absolute truth.
An interesting fact is that pink for girls and blue for boys was not always the norm. In fact, in the past, it was the opposite. In 1918, Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department claimed the “generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” But the children didn’t get to choose, now or then. Someone decided for them.
Now, that explains the generalizations part of the title, but why is it harmful? I mean, girls wear pink and boys wear blue, so? The reason it is harmful is because the whole world treats it like a rule that should be followed. Since children are born, their lives are all about whether they are boys or girls. If born a boy, you will be told to wear and like green and blue and play with spaceships and train tracks. If born a girl, it will be pink and dolls and kitchen sets. There are two major problems with this.
The first is that by telling a girl to play with “soft toys” such as doll clothes and fake food you are taking away her opportunity to experiment with educational toys- toys that develop a baby’s spatial awareness and confidence. These toys have been proven to help a baby’s brain physically develop in only 3 months. These types of toys: LEGOs, spaceships, robots, and racetracks, are normally examples of what we call “boy toys”. So, are we lowering a girl’s chance in life because we are obsessed with these generalizations? This danger is definitely a problem for girls, but does it affect boys too? This serious problem goes both ways. By not letting boys play with dolls and kitchen sets – so-called “girl toys” – we may be limiting their ability to someday become a caretaker or a more loving father. US statistics say that in 2018 only 24 percent of schoolteachers were men. By limiting the toys a child plays with, are we limiting their future?
The second issue is that by imposing these rules upon a child, the child will think that they cannot like any toys, colors, or activities that are not for their gender. But you cannot force someone to like something. So, by telling boys and girls what to wear and what to like, we are making some of them do things they don’t want to do. Of course, these generalizations are not enforced by law, so anyone is free to do whatever they want. But these stereotypes are so common, so universally implemented that if, for example, a little boy choses to ignore the stereotype and play with dolls, chances are that other children, who have also been taught the generalizations, will think he is weird or even bully him. This could affect children’s self-esteem, confidence, and even their sense of purpose, and for what? Colors? This, in turn, will lead to many of them hiding all the things they like to do that are not gender specific to their own, and so, on the outside at least, the world will look as if these false assumptions are true.
And that leads to even more problems. If the whole world believes that these ideas are true, then what else will they judge into existence? What else have they already created? That girls can’t be scientists, and boys can’t be cooks, or primary caretakers? How many male nannies have you met? Because I haven’t met a single one. How many taxi drivers are female? In the US, only 23.5 percent. There has not been one female president in the United States. The world could be a better place if it had an equal number of males and females in every industry.
Although laws in many countries are equal for men and women, the world is far from being a place where the community sees people in the same way. You can do your part to lead us there, and it’s not hard. If you have a baby cousin or friend, gift them gender neutral toys and clothes, so that when they are old enough to make their own decision on what they like, the choice will not be biased. Let’s fight for a world that not only accepts people’s differences, but welcomes them, and knows how important they are for the development and progress in society. It will not be easy to get there, but, if all people do their part, the world community can make the next step towards that wonderful place.
Leave a Reply.