Raising Mary: Do our gender ideas influence our kids?


When seven-year-old Mary was two, I bought her a toy dump truck. It was bright yellow and red. I wanted to expose her to so-called ‘boy’ toys as well as traditional ‘girl’ toys such as dolls. I soon found her tucking the truck tenderly into the doll cradle. So much for bucking gender stereotypes!

Speaking of stereotypes, why is it so hard to get your hands on girls’ clothing that doesn’t feature a cupcake, star or little kitty? For boys, T-shirts illustrate jobs such as construction worker or pilot. For girls, there is pop star or princess. It irks.

And what of ‘pinkified’ toys? Why must the classic toy doctor’s kit now come in a shade of pink so bright it sears the retinas?

Mary and Adelaide (seven and almost five) play dress-up and hold tea parties as much as the next girl. The little one is a magnet for shoes and is obsessed with pink.

Mary likes Barbies and cares (a bit) about fashion, but prefers the boy-themed toys with her Happy Meals because they’re more likely to be cool spy gadgets than cutesy bobbleheads that do nothing. She loves superheroes.

At school, she plays with boys and girls. Her favourite subjects are math and science, and I’m having a hard time getting her interested in reading for pleasure. This would typically describe a lot of boys. But so what?

Another gender stereotype is the assumption that girls should be pretty, and feel pretty. The first thing people comment on is the prettiness of a little girl’s outfit or looks. Actually, busted: it’s the first thing we women comment on.

I’m aware of it, and guilty. I strive to mention my girls’ smarts and strength, but with other people’s daughters, I forget and instead gush about dresses and hair accessories.

Some gender behaviour stereotypes also stubbornly endure. Girls are expected to be “sugar and spice and everything nice”. Boys are sometimes allowed to be aggressive because “boys will be boys”. Hogwash. I know several boys whose parents don’t tolerate physical aggression, and they are growing into welladjusted kids.

That said, Canada in 2012 is, generally, a great place and time to be a girl, even while it’s still dangerous in many other parts of the world. Girls and women here have opportunities our grandmothers couldn’t even conceive.

Tracy Cooper is a stay-at-home mother of Mary, 6, and Adelaide, 3.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, December 2012.

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