Saturday, 13 August 2011

Gender Roles and Children

Having previously blogged about gender roles in the context of marriage here, today's news reaffirms my beliefs about gender roles, and how we confer them on others, ourselves and especially our children perhaps without realising it.

Today's (09/07/2011) article about a new school in Sweden which has decided to remove the definition of divided gender roles from the learning experience will leave many to say, 'its PC gone mad' without examining what would cause a group of people to make such a decision about schooling methodology. The article in question can be found here.

Now for the last 50 years society has moved away from stereotyping actions and behaviours for adults as far as domestic and social roles are concerned, and on the whole reduced them to a more equal level, although there is still a very glass ceiling in the workplace, especially for women's pay. Children seem to have been left out of this picture however.

Take a look at your own family, and indeed your own childhood. Do you see parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, older cousins, etc, conferring and perhaps reinforcing gender stereotypical roles upon the children? Were you, as a child, read books that have dashing, charming male knights who always killed the bad guy saved the day and swept the fair maiden off of her feet? Were you, as a child read books that have beautiful young women who did domestic duties and enslaved in some way, only to be rescued by a man who just looking at them would instantly fall in love with them, before carrying them off to safety?
Were you ever at such a gathering where the women did most of the domestic preparations and the men did most of the hunter gather activities, or just played sport instead?

Have you ever realised that the world of cartoon heroes, indeed any action hero whether fantasy, cartoon, sci-fi or 'humanistic fiction' (essentially something related to real life that could actually happen) is grossly overweighted in favour of men being such characters?
Yes I do conceed that there is a chance that most of these were probably written by geeky men who probably wanted to be seen as a noble figure but hadn't the confidence to do such a thing.

This school in question removes fairy tales from its classroom teaching, and replaces it with such books that see two giraffes adopt a crocodile (or something to that effect). They even go so far as to remove the words 'he' and 'she' which for me may just be a tad bit picky.

I see the only need to define men and women is in the context of genitalia. A man has a penis, a woman has breasts and a vagina. Its not rocket science, and we don't need to have any other distinction in society between men and women other than a biological one.

Ask yourself, your friends, your family and your work colleagues these questions: What is a man? What is a woman? What is manly? What is womanly? You will note that for the latter two questions different answers will be given which will vary widely. Finally ask them these: Does it matter what is womanly and what is manly? Does it matter whether or not what is womanly is carried out by woman and what is manly is carried out by a man?

In society we see on the shelf that there is what are called 'lads mags' and what are called 'girly magazines'. It won't surprise many of you, that I have bought and read both types, namely: Zoo, Nuts, Loaded, FHM in the 'lads mags' category, and Cosmo, She, and two others that I can't recall right now, in the 'girly magazines' category. 'Lads mags' tend to be self indulgent focusing on male fashion, naked women, sport, cars and sex. 'Girly magazines' however tend to be outward focusing on female fashion, make up, sex, careers and relationships. While the aim of the male marketed mags aim to get other men to be more like each other, women's magazines actually promote individualism, especially when talking about fashion and make-up advising what is best for what time of figure or skin complexion.

I, for one, think that the female focused publications have got this one right in that they focus on celebrating the individual more than the male mags do, which probably reflects a backlash by stereotypical males to 'reclaim' what they see as 'rightfully manly activities and roles' in the wave of modernism where women are changing the working world as they break glass ceiling after glass ceiling the further up the ladder they climb. Naturally, this steps down heavily on the enlarged male ego which only desires to go one way, outward, and makes the territorial man feel imposed upon through no fault of his own. After all, he was brought up expecting to have to be a leader, a defender, the breadwinner of his household and the knight to a fair maiden.

So we get to my penultimate point in this entry, the notion of expectation. This can be applied to all parts of life, and indeed all parts of childhood of what we were expecting our lives to be when we grew up. As children we all had our own expectations of the future, but none of them were as simple as to what we expected of men and women. We might not have known then or recognised it since, but our expectations of gender roles still catch us out in various ways. Have you ever asked a man to help you lift something rather than a woman? Why would you do that? On the whole yes, men are physically stronger than women, but what is to say out of the selection you have to ask all the women are weaker and not as able to lift something heavy or awkward, as all the men? The 18 ft sq YES banner for the yes campaign that went up Glastonbury Tor with myself, and two others, the younger of which was a woman, was carried by all three of us at points, and she was no less capable of carrying it than either of the two men.

Thus it comes down to an issue of capability. Some people are more capable than others of doing certain tasks, but there is nothing that all the men in the world could do better than all the women in the world, and vice versa. There is one certainty however when it comes to capability, and is when it comes to definitions. Children are not capable of defining what something is, what it does and how it effects them, AND being able to question the source of who/what is teaching these things as reliable and neutral. Removing gender roles creates that neutrality and in doing so removes separation and creates a more level playing field for interaction. This blogger sees no reason why children need to be separated by gender roles that society imposes upon them. Children, like adults, learn to find there own feet in world. I for one want that world to be one in which all of us have no need, requirement nor desire by any person or persons to fall into any sort of social construct. Its time we started to embrace all people as individuals and being happy for them just being them.

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