The Gender Trap: Parents and the Pitfalls of Raising Boys and Girls

The Gender Trap: Parents and the Pitfalls of Raising Boys and Girls

The Gender Trap: Parents and the Pitfalls of Raising Boys and Girls

The Gender Trap: Parents and the Pitfalls of Raising Boys and Girls

Synopsis

From the selection of toys, clothes, and activities to styles of play and emotional expression, the family is ground zero for where children learn about gender. Despite recent awareness that girls are not too fragile to play sports and that boys can benefit from learning to cook, we still find ourselves surrounded by limited gender expectations and persistent gender inequalities. Through the lively and engaging stories of parents from a wide range of backgrounds, The Gender Trap provides a detailed account of how today's parents understand, enforce, and resist the gendering of their children. Emily Kane shows how most parents make efforts to loosen gendered constraints for their children, while also engaging in a variety of behaviors that reproduce traditionally gendered childhoods, ultimately arguing that conventional gender expectations are deeply entrenched and that there is great tension in attempting to undo them while letting 'boys be boys' and 'girls be girls.'

Excerpt

Slogans emblazoned on baby bibs marketed by a leading retailer tell a striking tale about the gender expectations parents face as they outfit their daughters and sons. “Glamour Baby,” “Daddy’s Princess,” “Born to Shop,” “Diva,” “Hot Babe,” and “Pretty Girl” adorn the girls’ bibs versus “Wild One,” “Little Toughie,” “All Star,” “Rebel,” “The Boss,” and “Trouble Maker” for the boys. An equally gender-marked array of shirts is produced by major companies. One store features tees for sizes six months and up announcing, for girls, “Little Angel” and “I’d Rather Be Shopping with Mommy” and, for boys, “Little Bruiser” and “Play All Day, Rock All Night.” Another store offers apparel sending similar gendered signals, this time in summer styles for preschoolers: “Poolside Princess” and “Beach Beauty” as opposed to “Shark Attack” and “Danger Zone.” Almost always the styles for girls are in shades of pink and the boys’ the requisite blue. When my twin sons were born, and throughout their early childhood, I avoided stamping them with these gender labels, selecting clothes and toys I considered neutral. Why be trapped by other people’s expectations and assumptions, I reasoned, when one can follow one’s own path?

That turned out to be much easier said than done, as eventually I faced a dilemma perhaps familiar to many readers. One day my spouse, having picked up our children at their kindergarten after-school program, reported that he had arrived at the school to find one of our sons sitting alone on the floor quietly crying. When his father asked what was wrong, he choked out that no one wanted to play with his kind of trading cards. Five years . . .

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