One morning, my preschool son was chattering about some of the toys and games he liked to play with when, to my everlasting surprise, he referred to a kitchen set as “the girls’ area.”
The girls’ area? Where had he heard that? Not from us! My husband and I both cooked and washed dishes, and our son and daughter helped with each. We intentionally worked to keep their minds clear of such stereotypes by living out our convictions in front of them. Their room was stocked with dolls and dishes as well as trucks and balls for each of them to enjoy. I prided myself on the kitchen set and tool set which claimed a good bit of their play time. We had taught them better. Where did he get that idea?
What parents often do not realize is that even as early as toddlerhood, our children are influenced by other people and the media—far more than we would like to think. Our family was no different. Other adults and children from our church and the childcare facility they attended were making contributions to the mindset our son and daughter were building. They spent a fair amount of time watching television programs and movies appropriate for their ages. We were careful, of course, of the people and media to which they were exposed, yet they were still picking up messages about gender roles that ran counter to what we were teaching them at home.
So what was the source of his “girls’ area” comment? I never did find out, and ultimately, I suppose it doesn’t matter. This was only one of many times he would receive subtle, and not so subtle, messages about gender from those who have different values than his parents. He simply needed to learn to separate truth from falsehood. And what better time to start than right then in what appeared to be a very teachable moment?
He was still telling his story, unaware that his unfortunate choice of words still held my full attention, when I seized the moment. “It isn’t the girls’ area,” I explained. “It’s the area where people cook and eat and wash the dishes afterwards. In our house, Daddy and Mommy both do those things. It’s an area for boys and girls.”
“Okay,” he chirped, as he scurried off to his next enterprise—oblivious to the educational moment he had just experienced.
My daughter, a very few years older and wiser than he, shook her head as she asked, “Momma, are we the only ones who know this stuff?”
Sometimes it sure seems like it! In our more disheartening moments, it’s tempting to believe that few others recognize gender-related problems, let alone care, or desire to fix them.
But are we really alone? Of course not. Many others, like us, are aware of the unfortunate stereotypes that attempt to narrowly define us as boys and girls, men and women. Many others are actively working against such harmful messages and the restrictions they promote.
My daughter’s question reminded me of the importance of being part of a larger group of likeminded people with whom we can share our frustrations as well as our moments of encouragement. I am grateful to have found in CBE a place to learn how others have overcome the gendered rules and restrictions our culture imposes. And when we feel alone, being part of a group like CBE can remind us that we are not. Sharing the journey with others makes all the difference when we feel isolated—it reassures us that we are indeed working alongside others who also “know this stuff.”