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Don't Tell Me What Girls Can Do

Photograph by Twenty20

The backlash against gender stereotypes has been strong in recent years, as awareness grows through campaigns including #LikeAGirl and #BanBossy and Target's move to eliminate gender labeling. Walk into any mall and the message is literally written on the walls: girls are capable of anything. This approach, though, is so overblown that it can actually be counterproductive.

Nobody needs to tell girls what they can do. Just stop telling them what they can't.

"Girls can play with trucks, too!" I cringe as the TV pipes a cheerful show behind me. I'm not irked for the reason most would think. When I taught in elementary schools, I was vocal about rejecting traditional gender roles in my classrooms. A tomboy child and now a rugged mom of three little boys, I fervently believe that girls can enjoy a wheeled vehicle as much as their male counterparts.

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No, it's not the statement that bothers me. It's the fact that anybody thinks it needs to be said.

I see my oldest boy cock his head in confusion, and he turns to ask the question running through my own mind.

"Why wouldn't girls play with trucks?"

My 4-year-old doesn't understand gender stereotypes. We haven't allowed society to instill them. He knows that boys have different "parts" than girls. Beyond that, it's up to him and his peers to explore their own identities and preferences.

Let's refuse to allow sexist ideas to take hold in any way, shape or form. Don't talk to my children about how okay their ideas are. Just let them BE okay.

Before the ideas started slowly trickling in through preschool and media, my kids had no clue that pink is "girly" and boys are supposed to love dirt. Granted, a certain level of these stereotypes may be due to natural forces. Male muscles typically develop stronger due to increased testosterone. Females tend to have stronger emotional connections as a result of estrogen levels. That's fine.

As a parent, though, I don't want society reinforcing OR counteracting these differences. It is nobody's business to tell children what they should or shouldn't be doing based on gender. With varying brain chemistry and innate preferences, discussions like that will invariably ostracize someone.

We need to work on instilling confidence from a young age so we can stop fighting stereotypes altogether. Let's refuse to allow sexist ideas to take hold in any way, shape or form. Don't talk to my children about how okay their ideas are. Just let them BE okay.

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My middle child is petrified of insects. My oldest loves mommy's hair clips. Who cares? These things are just objects. They have no sexual identity.

It's time for children to grow up independent of outside forces dictating gender norms, one way or another. Instead of encouraging "bossy" behavior in girls and rewarding feminine sensitivity in boys, let's simply give kids the freedom to be themselves.

As my sweet son so eloquently put it, why wouldn't they?

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