While we focus a lot on avoiding gender stereotypes in our house, we are not always successful. My son surprised me a few months ago. More like I surprised myself, and not in a good way. While talking about his day at school, he kept bringing up unicorns. This was not the first time he had discussed his love of unicorns, and I found myself feeling a little uneasy about the whole thing. I’m not proud of the feeling, but it was definitely there.
I asked him how he felt about the fact that most unicorn things were pink and purple. He said that was fine. So I pushed a little more and asked him how he felt about the fact that most unicorn stuff is made for girls. He said, “Jeez, Mom. It is okay for boys to like something that girls like.”
The mixed wave of embarrassment and pride was almost too much for me to bear. I took a moment to catch my breath. Then I said that he was right, of course, and we moved on with our day. As I reflected on the moment later on, I realized that I must be doing something right. Even though it seems that avoiding the gender stereotypes I learned from society as a kid is a little harder than I realized, they don’t seem to be sticking to him.
Raising Feminist Boys
Some of this is due to our attitudes and the discussions my husband and I have with the boys. We are raising them to be feminists. (Btw, feminist simply means a person who believes that men and women deserve equal rights. So, in the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “We should all be feminists.”) But some of this has to do with the books we read that help us to dispel gender stereotypes in general. I’m not always successful at avoiding the gender stereotypes ingrained in my own subconscious. But, I can choose books that help prevent my sons from learning them in the first place.
We have actually found lots of different types of books that help to dispel gender stereotypes. Some are obvious girl power books. Some are books about boys who do things differently than what many think a typical boy would do. And some are just books that have female characters doing amazing things that they love to do. All of them are accompanied with discussion about what they show us and how what we see in the world relates. Nothing fancy. I don’t write out questions I’m going to ask my own children after they read a book (even though my high school students might not be surprised if I did, lol). We just talk about what they thought, who they saw doing what, and if they have any questions.
Avoiding Gender Stereotypes by Reading Girl Power Books to Boys
She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World and She Persisted Around the World: 13 Women Who Changed History are two of our favorite books. They help so much with avoiding gender stereotypes. I chose to read the first book to my then 6yo son because I wanted him to see that women could do anything. I wanted him to know about some of the amazing accomplishments of women in our country. Then, we loved it so much that we had to get the sequel and learn more about women who did amazing things around the world.
If you would like to read more about why we loved both of the She Persisted books so much, you can find a full blog post about them over on Raising Boys with Books. My son loved the stories. They taught him so much about the inspiring things women have done for our world. When we first read them, we did have one small issue. As a 6yo, my son wondered why we didn’t have a book about men who changed the world. I explained to him that a lot of men have changed the world, but that women have not always been recognized for their accomplishments in the same ways men have, and that is what made books like She Persisted necessary and important to read.
Avoiding Gender Stereotypes by Reading Books about Amazing Boys
However, when my 6yo asked why there wasn’t a book about men who changed the world, I wished I had one on hand. That is why I was so excited when I saw Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different: True Tales of Amazing Boys Who Changed the World without Killing Dragons. This book is so helpful with avoiding gender stereotypes that I seriously hope you will all get a copy for your sons and daughters.
I wrote a blog post on Raising Boys with Books all about this one as well! The book has stories about men from Trevor Noah to John Green, an Indianapolis native author. It features stories about a boy who grew his hair long to donate it to charity. It features a boy who started finding ways to bring clean water to people without access. And it features a boy so obsessed with computers that he started a little company now known as Microsoft.
Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different: True Tales of Amazing Boys Who Changed the World without Killing Dragons is so great at helping us with avoiding gender stereotypes because it focuses on accomplishments of the mind and heart rather than physical strength or athletic ability. So many stories of amazing feats by men focus on how many dragons they have slayed or how many baskets they have made. Not that those stories aren’t wonderful, but it is great for our boys (and our girls) to hear stories of men who do amazing things in different ways.
Avoiding Gender Stereotypes by Reading Books about Girls Who Do What They Love
Reading books that feature girls (and boys) doing what they love, regardless of whether that thing is considered something girls (or boys) typically like, is another strategy that helps us with avoiding gender stereotypes. How to Code a Sandcastle is one of our favorites. It is an awesome coding book that just happens to feature a girl coder. I was so happy to find it. Any time I can find a book about something my sons love (like coding) and show them that lots of different kinds of people love that thing too, it is a win in my book. The more they can see that we as humans all have the same things going on inside, the better!
Avoiding Gender Stereotypes by Reading Books about Feelings
We started trying to find books that help us with avoiding gender stereotypes when both boys were very young. One of my favorite ways to do that with younger kids is to read books that specifically discuss feelings. Boys have a lot of strong feelings, just like girls. It is important for them to be able to recognize those feelings. It is also important for them to know that what they are feeling is okay and normal. That boys and girls are all allowed to feel those things and express those feelings.
We have a few favorites in this realm. In My Heart: A Book of Feelings and The Color Monster: A Story About Emotions are two of them. Both are great for teaching even the youngest of kids to recognize their own emotions. Recognizing emotions helps kids deal with them much more easily. Both are important reads for girls and boys.
I have blog posts with more about How to Code a Sandcastle and In My Heart: A Book of Feelings on Raising Boys with Books if you would like to check them out. I also have another Indy Mompreneurs post from last month about books to teach empathy and perspective. If you have any questions about any of the books mentioned above, let us know here or on social media. If you know any other books to help with avoiding gender stereotypes, let us know as well. You can also find Raising Boys with Books on Instagram and Facebook. Thanks so much for reading!