Earlier this week, my mom forwarded me this opinion article from the NY times, ‘Why Do We Teach Girls That It’s Cute To Be Scared?’. The author, Caroline Paul, is a San Francisco firefighter, and she writes about how we condition our girls to be scared, while boys are encouraged to be brave and resilient. It’s a topic I haven’t stopped thinking about since.
Reading through the article, I must admit that I felt a sense of affirmation of my relaxed parenting style. Like my own mother, I have adopted a rather hands-off approach when it comes to my children’s adventuring and playing, within reason, of course. In general, I’m more likely to encourage my girls and boys to be adventurous than to caution them to be careful. I have always felt that you have to let kids explore independently and find their own limits so that they can learn for themselves when to exercise caution. Michael, however, is much more safety-conscious so perhaps that allows me to be the more relaxed parent. It’s funny how our role in parenting is influenced by our partner, and sometimes we have to adjust our parenting strategies to ensure you’re a balance team. (This is perhaps an interesting discussion for another time…!)
Anyway, what I find especially interesting about Caroline’s article is the fact that we, as parents, are often guilty of parenting our children differently based on their gender, and that these differences have a direct effect on how boys and girls view themselves and their capabilities as they grow older. For example, we are much more likely to compliment little girls on their appearance than boys — a topic covered in this article on ‘how to talk to little girls’. In most cases, I think we do these things without even being aware of it. We have been brought up with the same biases.
Caroline’s article is another reminder not to put our children into gender boxes — we should encourage both girls AND boys to be emotionally sensitive (see this previous post), we should encourage both boys AND girls to be brave, and we should stop praising girls for what they look like and should instead celebrate their interests, skills, hobbies, etc.
This parenting job is not easy, right?! Please share your thoughts.