Are gender stereotypes still rife?
This blog wasn’t intended to veer into the world of motherhood, but as I approach giving birth to Son #3, I can’t help but comment on the assumptions and opinions people have about gender, and the presence of gender stereotyping in our society today.
Batman and Robin - my sons' alter egos. Photo - Jessica Podzebenko
First disclaimer – yes, my original wish was to be mothering a little girl this time to mix up the gender allocation in our family, but you go into this reproduction business knowing there are no guarantees (except if you make an expensive trip overseas and gender select). It’s approximately a 50 – 50 split as to whether you’ll get a boy or a girl, although naturally you can find statistics to suit what you want to hear. But it is also common 'knowledge' that if you have 2 children of the same sex, you have a greater chance of having another child of that same sex.
I absolutely adore my boys and I like to think that I am well-suited to raising decent, well-rounded and adventurous males – I love sport, exploring and don’t mind getting my nails dirty in mud. I am also a stickler for good etiquette, humility and respect for all. My husband is a fantastic father to our boys – sitting playing Lego with them for hours on end, kicking a ball, teaching them about Indiana Jones while also encouraging them to cook, clean and play Doctors and Nurses at home.
But I admit, I was one of those women that would have liked to have that Mother-Daughter bond and provide a sister for two very active boys that talk often about bottoms, farts and super heroes. But pink ‘twas not meant to be, and in all honesty, my husband has often jokingly said that we were always going to have another boy – it was our destiny.
After finding out the gender at 10 weeks via DNA test, there was initial disappointment followed by a sense of perspective and focusing on the bigger picture – embracing this special boy thing and the ability to conceive at all. After complications with an earlier birth, I became, and remain, truly focused on the key task at hand – having a healthy delivery, a healthy Mum and a healthy baby. And I do quite simply believe that a healthy baby is the most important thing of all, but it sadly gets lost amongst the pink vs blue predictions and wishes.
On top of that, I am genuinely pretty pumped about the special bond my three musketeers will share, the prospect of raising three gentlemen who adore their mother and the idea of going on African safari with the 4 males in my life without a Barbie doll in sight.
However, throughout my pregnancy, I’ve encountered a range of vocal opinions and curious looks about my upcoming female minority status and testosterone overload in our family. Some reactions (normally of close friends) are purely wonderful – totally excited and supportive both about me and my ability to raise and handle 3 strong boys, and echoing the joy I feel about simply being about to have 3 babies at all. It is indeed a blessing to get this far.
In contrast, many people don’t seem to operate with a filter and their reactions just reflect the gender stereotypes so many people are trying to break down. Some examples – a previous cleaning lady doubled over in a mixture of laughter and tears when I told her we were expecting our third boy, shaking her head saying ‘Oh no, oh no’ while grabbing my arm. Others look at me in pity but try and laugh at the same time, making light of the chaos ahead.
Generally people giggle, laugh and shake their heads saying a variation of things like ‘Oh dear, you’ll be busy’, ‘You’ll have your hands full’, and the natural ‘So, were you trying for a girl?’. Another friend in a similar position just got a 'Poor you!'. No congratulations, nothing. I get it, I really do – boys, my boys in particular, are often loud, energetic and run around like uncaged lions in a playground. And based on an assumption that all boys are like this, wouldn’t anyone want a ‘typical’ placid girl who sits at the table drawing, reading and playing nicely?
But the problem lies in these assumptions - much of society still assumes that most boys are like my boys, and that most girls are quieter, more compliant and will sit still in a café reading a book while their Mum drinks her flat white and chats to her girlfriend. And as a result, people think that boys are harder to parent in the early years than girls. Perhaps they might be, but it’s not the point. There is then the assumption of loud, smelly, sporty, hungry boys dominating the household for many years to come.
There are the material assumptions as well – girls like pink, Barbie dolls, painted nails, ballet slippers and sparkles. Boys like dump trucks, balls and super heroes. I do lean toward the nature over nurture argument on this one, as my boys naturally have gravitated towards super heroes, jumping off couches and playing with trains, cars and diggers – while also sometimes watching Dora, cooking shows and Lego Friends. They have also gone straight for the pink sparkly wand in toy boxes before and like to dress their teddy bears up.
But these assumptions are not always right – there are boys who are peaceful, introverted bookworms who do not like Star Wars or super heroes, and there are boisterous, spirited little 4 year old girls who would give my sons’ dinosaur roars and acrobatic tricks a run for their money.
My boys' toys... Photo - Jessica Podzebenko
Being a girl does not make a compliant or ‘easy’ child, nor does being a boy make that child difficult or hard to parent. What it comes down to is temperament, and yes, while hormones and that surge of testosterone at around 4 years old does seem to make a lot of boys very active and energetic, who is to say that is all boys? And what’s even more important in the context of my family unit, who is to say that I don’t prefer that noise and physicality to a quieter, Barbie-playing girl?
On a temperament level, my boys are on the louder, more active boy side of the spectrum – I know that. The thing is, you can get girls who are complicated, grumpy and perform tantrums exceptionally well. You can get calm, quiet, pleasant mannered boys who love drawing quietly, playing with dolls and kitchens, and reading - typically 'girl' activities.
What you end up in the delivery suite with is partly genetic – it’s what comes out on the day, but my view is that it is more about temperament and character, and less so about gender. My husband and I are both strong minded, adventurous people who love being active and challenging the status quo. Is it any wonder that the boys we have produced to date share similar qualities – and being a boy is an aside? Number #3 may well be our placid one, but I'm not putting money on it.
I can’t wait to impart my values and ideals on my sons, to hopefully raise strong, yet empathetic and well-rounded gentlemen who respect women and are true to themselves. So I see it as a special privilege to be joining this all boys club – and will steel myself for the comments I will no doubt receive if ever I am game enough to take them supermarket shopping all at once…