Language is very important (Hello, understatement). It’s how we communicate who we are, what we know, what we see, what we want, our intentions, etc… It’s especially important when raising kids. They are learning about the world as well as your family’s values through every conversation (I know, it’s exhausting to think about). Stereotypes are something that kids use to help learn about and navigate the world. Stereotypes can be harmful if left unchecked. That is why it is very important to ask them the right questions when moments arise where they’re potentially learning a new stereotype. Here are a few examples of moments that I use to have these conversations with my fellas about language and equality.
- One of the things I do to try to teach my fellas about equality is to ask “where are all the girls” whenever we’re looking at books, TV, movies, toys, etc… (ex: media that are more traditionally masculine, like superheros). This gets them thinking about why spaces have mostly one gender and whether or not that’s fair or good. It goes both ways. I also ask “where are all the boys” when we’re viewing more traditionally feminine media. This usually leads to them counting girls and boys and we’ll have a conversation including a little history of how it got that way and how we can change it (if it’s not fair/good). Recently my oldest was playing a building game app and asked “Why are they all girls in this game?”. Being that this type of game is usually associated with the masculine, I responded “The default is not always male”. This was an opportunity to talk further about encouraging kids to pursue non-traditional fields as well as challenging stereotypes.
- Being from the South we say “y’all” when referring to a group of people. My friends from the North and West say “you guys”. This is not a debate about which region’s term is better or who “wins” (I have much love for my Northern and Western friends). What I do when my kids say “those guys” is ask “are they all guys?”. This keeps them from using male as the default and being more inclusive in their language.
- Kids will inevitably ask “Is that a boy or a girl?”. I usually respond “Does it matter?”. Typically they’re asking to try to figure out if what that person is doing is something a boy or a girl would do. In that case, by me asking “does it matter”, I’m trying to help them see that what someone does or could do, is not dependent on their sex. Recently my youngest said “Those guys are so funny” and my oldest responded “You know that could be a girl”. We’ve talked about this so much that he automatically questions these phrases, and that’s the point. I am giving him the tools he needs to create positive change.
- I’m also trying to teach them about gender identity so if they ask the “is that a boy or a girl” question we talk about respect, empathy, cisgender and transgender. That is not something you should run up and ask someone. If they want you to know how they identify they’ll tell you, otherwise, they’re just another human deserving of your respect. And again, does it really matter to you? I understand their need to understand the world, but as I keep telling them, not everything is either/or and fits neatly in a little box. If someone where to ask you “are you a boy or a girl” how would that make you feel, especially if you were transgender? For those of us who are cisgender getting that question is a completely different experience. The key is to be respectful and asking that question is inappropriate.
Empathy and respect will go a long way in dealing with these and other questions that arise while raising kids. Having to constantly address issues like these that come up a lot is exhausting, but it’s one very important way that we can start to create change in our society. How we talk to and about each other and the assumptions we make about who can and can’t do jobs and activities affects who we get to know, who we hire, who we elect, and ultimately who we value. Parenting ain’t no joke. It’s probably the hardest job you’ll ever have to do, but so important.
How do you teach kids about equality through everyday language?