Gender role reforms should advocate for acceptance of girls and boys in all fields

Lately, there’s been a big push to get girls and young women more interested in mathematic and scientific fields.

Research suggests that because of social cues urging girls to behave in a feminine way, topics like math and science are subtly discouraged from an early age. (I’m sure we’ve all seen the “Inspire Her Mind” Verizon commercial).

I support the eradication of gender roles imposed on educational topics 100 percent. What I’d like to see, however, is parents not only encouraging their girls to be critical thinkers, but their boys to be artistic-minded as well. We have had a surge of positive advertisement encouraging women to pursue scientific hobbies or careers, but I’ve yet to see an ad encouraging men to participate in art or the humanities.

I work at a pottery shop, and I see little girls come in to paint all the time. What I hardly see is parents bringing in little boys. When they do, the boys are typically expected, if not explicitly told, to pick “boy” pieces, like cars and planes, and “boy” colors to match. Young boys who want to paint a pink cupcake are often laughed at by well-meaning parents who assure passers-by that he’s just going through a phase of copying his sister’s likes and dislikes.

Many boys with an eye for art and design are looked down upon for their interests. These subjects aren’t  considered “proper” pastimes for them to partake in. Boys should be rough-and-tumble, hands-on and take-charge type of people. But why should it be considered strictly feminine to create?

Most five- and six-year-old children enjoy art and reading. However, as school progresses and the children grow older, boys start to fade out of art classes, and it seems uncommon or unrealistic to expect a fifth-grade boy to be an avid reader.

Just as math and science are looked at as masculine, art and literature are considered feminine. As a preschool volunteer, it was surprising to me how many fathers became upset or irritated when their boys showed them an art project covered with glitter. When their daughters presented them with a similar project, however, they were much more receptive and praised them for hard work. I couldn’t understand why they believed the gender of their child should have any bearing on whether the art project was considered “acceptable” or not.

Unfortunately, we only seem to be pushing a reform for women, and while a reform is desperately needed, it needs to go both ways.

Just as girls are often socialized to stay away from “messy” projects, boys are expected to dive in. Non-athletic boys who have a fondness for literature are often mocked by classmates, and artistic males aren’t nearly as common as artistic women.

There is no fundamental difference in gender that demands girls are better at art; this is a social construct. How can we expect boys to draw as well if every time they picked up a box of crayons, their parents urged them to go play outside instead? While sports and outside play are obviously important, it’s unfair to force a child to adopt a more socially accepted gender role in favor of an identity they were constructing on their own.

Many art kits that are designed for kids are pink, glittery, or otherwise directed towards girls. The companies claim that girls like art better than boys, but they are misconstruing cause and effect. Many boys who may have liked art decide they don’t care for it because they aren’t supposed to; they see art supplies for kids their age geared towards girls instead. At an age where children are very perceptive of gender roles, it’s this stereotyping that does the most damage.

My male cousin hates to read. I know girls who hate to read, as well, but my cousin seems to believe that his hatred of reading is almost essential to his masculinity, as though boys aren’t allowed to like reading. I’ve had young boys tell me “drawing is for girls” and “reading is for wimps.” It’s difficult to explain to them that art and literature have no bearing on strength or what it means to be a man. They reject arguments too quickly, insisting “that’s just the way it is.” Clearly, changes need to be made.

Along with our promotion of women entering science and math fields, we need to teach boys that it’s okay to enjoy the humanities. Doing so makes them no less masculine, just as a woman in a scientific field can still consider herself feminine. It’s important that children know they can enjoy and participate in whatever activities interest them, regardless of societal views on what is right for their gender.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 20th, 2015 and is filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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