In plain terms, sexism is discrimination based on an individual’s sex. Gender identity and gender stereotypes play into sexism as well. In our culture, expectations and ideas around gender start very young. Teach your kids how to call out sexism.
It’s hard to imagine sexism plaguing young children, but gender discrimination begins early. Luckily the fight against sexism can also start early. If you witness a situation in person or on television, take time to talk to your kids about how it could have been handled correctly. When you’re shopping for toys, talk about gender stereotypes. It’s okay to use age-appropriate language. “Isn’t it silly that the cooking and cleaning toys are all pink? Boys can cook and clean.” Even at preschool levels, you may have to counteract messages that your kids receive from peers and from the media. Tell your child it’s OK to disagree with and discuss what she sees on TV or reads in books.
The expectation that women take care of more in the home, even when they work, is deeply rooted in our culture. Girls may be more likely to help mom with household chores while boys learn more technical skills in the home. Curb this early by balancing chores and responsibilities evenly regardless of your kids’ genders. At school, your kids may hear that certain behaviors, school subjects or chores are only for girls or boys. Reinforce the fact that occupations, talents and household responsibilities aren’t based on gender. When you talk about careers and occupations, try not to fall into gender stereotypes. Pilots, scientists and firefighters can be girls. Teachers, nurses and dancers can be boys.
When kids reach puberty, sexism between kids can become much more charged. Don’t write off behavior like catcalling and unwanted advances as a normal part of growing up. Your kids need to be told frequently that those behaviors are unacceptable and that it’s OK to speak up about them. If your daughter is concerned about the way a boy is treating her, listen to her and help her come up with an action plan, which may involve talking to school officials. The last thing you want to do is normalize sexist behavior. Share resources like Everyday Sexism with teens who are old enough to have conversations about adult-oriented sexist behavior.
Even today, freshmen entering college are faced with varying levels of sexism. From themed parties in the Greek system to inequality in the workplace, sexism affects young adults. Raise kids who think critically and speak up against sexism and gender inequality. Raise kids who resist stereotypes and respect others. Sexism closes doors and has the power to limit your child's achievements. Whether you have boys or girls, sexism is an issue you can’t afford to ignore.
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