As classes resume and students get back into their familiar routines, some suggest breaking stereotypical and gender-based thinking as a great way to start the new year.
According to the Huffington Post, the game company Hasbro was recently criticized by a six-year old girl from the U.K. in a letter on the grounds that their “Guess Who” game had only five females out of the 24 available characters.
“If grown-ups get into thinking that girls are not important they won’t give little girls much care,” the girl said in her letter.
Philosophy and religion faculty Andrew Blom said even relatively small instances of inequality can have a huge impact.
“In isolation, small acts of sexism like a kids game that includes only a token number of girls may seem relatively insignificant,” Blom said in an email. “But every one of these instances contributes to a pattern that kids and adults of any gender encounter day in and day out”.
Blom said being a father has increased his awareness of gender biases.
“I have a one-year old son,” Blom said. “I want him to be free to be himself without fear of being put down or harassed, and I want him to be free to look up to girls and women as much as to boys and men. Being a parent has definitely made me even more aware of the messages about gender that we all play some part in communicating and reinforcing.”
Jayne Cherie Strachan, CMU’s director of Women and Gender Studies, said toys can have a big role in a child’s development.
“Gender socialization begins at a very early age,” Strachan said. “Although there was a movement to provide gender-neutral toys in the 1970s, this effort did not have long-lasting results. Many toys now appeal to specific gender roles, and they contribute to gender socialization in early childhood. This socialization affects what roles children anticipate fulfilling in society as adults”.
Strachan said this helps to explain why there is such a large division of labor in the home and in chosen careers. She said the majority of women and men are choosing jobs that are considered appropriate for their gender.
Blom advises students and teachers to use critical thinking in their daily lives.
“We can start by doing exactly what this six-year old girl has done: pay attention to the patterns and challenge them. Look at your curriculum and your syllabi,” Blom said. “Whose contributions are represented?”