Navigating Gender With Our Next Generation
Not sure how to discuss gender equity with your children or young learners? Read about four ways to welcome conversations into your home about gender equity that are age-appropriate for growing minds.
Over the holiday, my family and I sat to watch Disney’s new Encanto movie (if you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it for its sweet story and completely delightful soundtrack). One of the characters, Luisa, is granted the gift of incredible strength. In the musical hit Surface Pressure, she sings and dances, showing off her great strength by literally carrying the world on her shoulders.
The song is so good, it caught the intense attention of my four-year-old son. After watching the movie three or four times, my son commented, “I like Luisa. He is so strong!” My head spun around to my kid and I thought, “He?”
By all societal accounts, Luisa is a woman. Other characters in the movie describe her as a sister. She has a stereotypical female name, and she wore a dress and long hair throughout the movie.
Like all moms with rose-colored glasses, I thought it was sort of cool that my son thought this person, wearing a dress, was male. But I had to ask the question. “What makes you think Luisa is a boy?” Without hesitation, he responded, “Because he is so strong. Boys are strong.” Those rose-colored glasses quickly came off and I took the opportunity for discussion.
I was not sure why, but my son could not wrap his head around this strong person possibly being a woman. In his mind, they had to be male.
Luisa never explicitly discloses a gender identity. But I found it interesting that my son looked past all of the societal suggestions that Luisa is female and decided her strength was enough to classify her as male. We talked for a while about this at that moment and in several instances after.
I circled back to this conversation with him on several occasions because I needed my son to know, really know, that women are strong. Women carry an unimaginable load, both physically and emotionally. Although we will likely never truly know Luisa’s gender identity, my son now states that “she is very strong.”
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #5 is focused on achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls. Strangely enough, the pandemic over the last two years has pushed women away from the workforce and back into primary home caregiving roles.
I fear our children are again being raised to assume that home is where women belong. I believe that gender equality starts in the home and finding opportunities to make it part of your regular discussions will ensure we raise kids, regardless of their gender identity, who empower women and girls of the present and the future.
Below are four opportunities for gender equality discussions that often present themselves with kids.
But pink is a girl color.Your Kid
Kids find comfort in classifying and organizing the ways of the world, so it’s natural for them to want to put colors, clothes, and hairstyles into gendered categories. Take this opportunity to de-gender these topics for your kids. Remind them that they can have their own preferences and so can their peers, regardless of gender identity.
Is that a boy or a girl?Your Kid
If you make it through parenthood without being asked this question by your kid, consider yourself lucky. It’s almost certain to happen and can feel extremely uncomfortable, especially if the person of reference hears it.
Remind your child that gender is not something we can see. We cannot tell how someone feels just by looking at them. Empower them to feel more comfortable not knowing. And if necessary, empower yourself to feel the same.
Dads are the ones who know how to fix things.Your Kid
There is no doubt that gender roles still present themselves strongly in many heterosexual parenting relationships, and it is ok for parents to have strengths that more closely align with society’s gendered expectations of them. However, kids tend to make sweeping, generalized statements about gender that present opportunities for discussion.
It can feel tempting to agree with a statement like this, especially if it holds pretty true in your home, but take the opportunity to discuss the nuance and share the ways in which women and mothers or men and fathers meet their statements as well.
But I don’t know how to talk about this stuff.You
The internet and social media come with their downfalls, but they can also be powerful – especially around topics such as these. Not sure how to describe what a feminist is? Search it. Never actually seen someone who identifies as non-binary? Tik-tok it. Not sure how to talk to your kid about gender? Instagram it. There is a wealth of knowledge at your fingertips and sometimes all it takes is a quick search to expand your experience which will, in turn, expand your child’s.
Interested in more? You can find me on Instagram @jaymesherrod where I share about all sorts of LGBTQ+ topics and ways to raise kids who empower and respect the gender diverse and women of our world.
About The Author
Jayme Sherrod lives in a suburb of Raleigh, North Carolina with her wife and their two young children. Prior to motherhood, Jayme worked as a Registered Nurse and taught pre-licensure nursing students primarily in the oncology setting. She completed her Ph.D. in Nursing in 2019 but ultimately decided to leave academic nursing education in response to her new role as a parent.
Jayme has a deep desire to forever be learning and teaching on both big and small scales and believes that raising kids to have minds that are open to growth, change, and action is vital to the future of our planet and humankind.
On Instagram, Jayme creates content to equip individuals with tools for using inclusive language in ways that support the LGBTQ+ community. When time permits, Jayme can be found sipping coffee on the porch, baking in the kitchen, or hiking in the woods.