Subconscious Stereotyping

With baby’s arrival only a couple of weeks away, we are in preparation mode and are trying to get the nursery finished. The last thing to do is put up the wall stickers. There will be another post to showcase these gorgeous stickers in situ once they are up, but I blogged about them when we chose them here. They are gorgeous and so pretty. I love the swirling branches and the cute creatures but… I suddenly realised something… they are very different from the stickers we put up in Monkey’s room when he was tiny.

Monkey's wall stickers

Monkey’s wall stickers

He has Hungry Caterpillar stickers, which we bought for no other reason than the reason we chose these latest stickers… because we like them. But, as part of the set, his stickers could be seen as more educational. Along with the characters from the book there are the days of the week, and also a big display of numbers. It’s part of the story, 1 apple, 2 pears, etc. etc. but it made me wonder, have we subconsciously chosen such different stickers for their rooms because of their gender?

Have we given Monkey stickers with numbers in because he is a boy? Have we given more simple, pretty stickers to baby because she is (we think) a girl? Or am I overthinking things and over-worrying? Quite possibly!

I find gender issues and stereotyping quite fascinating really and since becoming a Mum it is something I think about a lot. It’s hard not to be aware of how you are potentially shaping your children’s sense of self with the choices we make for them. Colour and type of toys, clothes and yes room decoration.

I like to think that I am not pushing stereotypes onto Monkey, he plays with a real variety of toys, has a push chair and a tea set which he loves, as well as cars, trains and a million other toys. He loves Peppa Pig (and it bugs me actually how many pink girls clothes have peppa pig on them compared to more neutral clothes, why can’t a boy wear Peppa Pig clothes?) and Postman Pat. But I also am not going the other way and dressing him in pink clothes with hearts and flowers all over them. Though I don’t know why not.

Part of my brain says “Why are hearts and flowers wrong for boys? Why shouldn’t he wear pink?” but then another part of my brain just says “No.” I guess for all that I like to think I am not encouraging stereotypes, I am clearly influenced by them. So am I therefore subconsciously passing this influence on in the choices I make?

Going back to the wall stickers, I have mentioned once or twice how much Monkey loves numbers. He is so good with numbers and counts easily up to 10 and is learning numbers up to 20 at the moment. I don’t think this is simply because he has numbers on the wall of his bedroom, but who knows, maybe seeing those numbers every day has helped with his learning and counting?

I guess I just don’t want to subconsciously impress the idea on my kids that numbers are for boys and not for girls… as that is certainly not what I believe. I always enjoyed maths at school and started a maths A level… but I was the only girl in my class and sadly after a few lessons I switched subject as I felt a bit “on my own”. In hindsight that is such a daft reason to give up on something and even at the time I pretended it was because of lots of other reasons but really that was it. I felt very much like I didn’t belong in that class, which is really sad isn’t it?

Hubs and I watched a programme a few weeks ago which was about gender, stereotypes and the human brain, asking whether there are fundamental differences in male and female brains that mean each gender is better at specific tasks. It was a fascinating programme looking into the science of it, and it did find that on average there are differences between male and female brains, BUT that in many cases there is as much of a difference between the brains of people with the same gender as there is with those of different gender. They also couldn’t prove either way whether any differences between male and female brains came naturally and caused gender stereotypes, or were as a result of the stereotypes we are constantly surrounded by.

The programme did disciss however that more boys choose to study science and maths than girls do. Whether this is down to our brains being programmed differently or because of the stereotypes we see constantly, nobody really knows.

Stereotypes anyone? Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Stereotypes anyone? Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

I like to think we live in a fairly enlightened time, where girls do have the same choices as boys and that neither gender is held back from being who they want to be or doing what they want to do because of their gender. A few things lately have made me see that perhaps I am naive in thinking this and that actually many people still truly believe in traditional gender stereotypes. A fab blogger, Kiran at Mummy Says, recently wrote a very intelligent article for the Huffington Post about gender stereotypes. It was a great post discussing the stereotypes her little boy sees on the TV of macho men and pretty but helpless women, but instead of encouraging an intelligent debate, it was overrun by comments from ignorant people who didn’t even bother to read it and made some horrific and nasty comments about her as a person and as a parent.

This led me to reading another article, also, coincidentally, on the Huffington Post, about how frequently people attack female writers. People who don’t want women to have a voice. People who hate anything which is promoting equality or challenging stereotypes. I was so shocked after reading the comments on Kiran’s post, and was genuinely outraged. I showed my husband and he too was up in arms. I know that these people are basically idiots who have no clue what they are talking about, but the fact that they have such a voice, and they can silence the voices of intelligent people who care enough to talk about this subject, is really sad.

I have no idea how to change the world we live in and make it the fairer place I would like it to be, but I will do what I can to try and give my children the freedom to be who they are. I worry, possibly too much, about how much ‘pink’ our little girl will be subjected to and how this will affect her. So it may be daft but I am going to find some number stickers to add to her walls. I don’t want her to see science or maths as just a boy subject. If she doesn’t like science or maths then that is fine, I am not going to force her down that path. But, if she does like or have a natural affinity for maths and/or science I don’t want her to feel discouraged from it.

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18 thoughts on “Subconscious Stereotyping

  1. Great post Caroline!! I also find the gender stereotyping thing fascinating…I guess all parents would have an interest in it to some degree.
    I remember watching a programme once where a baby was dressed in blue and then pink and seeing how people reacted to it…..the same baby was called “such a big strong boy” and “a tiny pretty little girl!!” Ridiculous, but amazing all at once!!

    • Thanks lovely, I find it so interesting too! Ooh they did that in the prog we watched, it is amazing how people treat them so differently based on their assumptions! xx

  2. Very interesting. I have boy & girl twins and there’s a lot of sharing toys, and even clothes too sometimes! I’d say don’t overthink it and go with whatever. Once children are old enough they start making decisions about their own choices anyway! Jess x

  3. Great post and very thought-provoking. It can be hard sometimes not to be influenced by gender stereotypes. We have a lot of pink, girly clothes for my two little ones but that’s just because I love pretty clothes on them. With regards to toys, we tend to just get what we think they will like – yes they have dolls, but Jessica also loves playing with cars and we’ve got a car mat and train set on the wish list for upcoming birthdays and Christmas. I love the Hungry Caterpillar stickers. We have an A-Z animal border and In The Night Garden stickers on Jessica’s room which we painted yellow as we wanted to keep it neutral. She would love the Hungry Caterpillar stickers though as she loves numbers and loves being able to recognise them and count.

    I agree with you that female writers are often attacked especially when trying to express ‘feminist’ views.

    Good luck with your little one arriving soon x

    • Thank you, I think as long as we are conscious of giving a balance then we are doing alright, It is so sad when women are attacked for expressing their views though xx

  4. I think times have changed, and are still changing. I suspect that in most schools there are now many more girls taking maths and science A-levels, which is great. I don’t encourage gender stereoptyping either but I’ll put my hand up and say I never had time to sit and dwell on it when mine were young… having two girls who are totally different anyway, I know one loved pink and girls toys (though never dolls and babies) when she was young, and the other much preferred cars and Lego. So I tend to think that’s an inbuilt characteristic – I didn’t limit either one with what they were exposed too! The comments bit is very sad, and I think the intelligent people need to not bow to the pressure of being silenced and continue to spread the word and explain why equality is so important x #PoCoLo

    • Well I thought there would be too but the programme we watched suggested otherwise which did sadden me. Fab to see your girls have grown up with their own preferences and personalities, does make me worry a little less. I completely agree with you about intelligent people not being silenced, so important to stand up and just ignore the ignorant comments, not always easy to do though I think xx

  5. Great post! I often have arguments with my partner over his reluctance to let our little boy play with what he sees as girls toys or when he cringes at him trying to put his sisters make up or clothes on. I dont see it as a big deal, just him playing, but to my partner it isn’t ‘what boys do’. I guess it’s an argument we’ll keep having for years to come!

    • Hmm interesting especially when you have different perspectives on it. Luckily hubs and I are on the same page and so don;t argue about it much! xx

  6. A really great post – well written. I try really hard with Grace although now she is at school I think that there is a fair amount of peer pressure involved. Although, Grace seems to play with mainly boys these days and seems happy enough. Thank you for linking to PoCoLo :) x

    • Thank you, it is definitely interesting especially when you throw peer pressure into the mix as that counts for a lot. Lovely she has lots boy friends though as I think it is good for kids to have friends of both gender, though like you say, as long as they are happy that is the main thing! xx

  7. Great post! My eldest children, twin girls, are as different as chalk and cheese. One has always been sporty, prefers boyish type clothes and getting mucky. The other has always been more stereotypically ‘girly’ liking more gentle pursuits, being clean, and girly colours. One prefers numbers, the other words. Obviously they were brought up identically, but they naturally chose their own ways and preferences themselves, so I wouldn’t worry yourself too much about it. The more you think about it, the more you will start to question yourself x

    • That is really interesting and I definitely think nature has a lot to do with it. Lovely to hear they have been able to choose their own paths and I guess that is what I want, to not discorage our kids from what they enjoy doing xx

  8. Pingback: The Nursery is finally finished! | Becoming a Stay at Home Mum

  9. Such a vital post, I hate gender stereotyping, kids should be free, my Mum disliked pink and I had lots of lovely lemon clothes and it was instilled in my brother and I that we could equally achieve anything we worked hard for. Loved this! Thanks for linking up to #brilliantblogposts x

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