...He had made a subtle subconscious link between a woman’s dress and shopping."

Father looks at the view with his son


Written by Travis Bull of www.tacklenappy.com

It was with a giddy feeling in my stomach that I watched my boy pick up a dress from the dress up box, grab a handbag and go pretend shopping. Apart from the dress being a couple of sizes too big, the main thing wrong with this wasn’t that my son was wearing women’s clothes, it was the fact that he associated the dress with shopping. Yes, he had made a subtle subconscious link between a woman's dress and shopping.

No, I swear this stereotype did not come from me; I take the little monkeys shopping with me regularly. In fact, I would say they trip the aisle fantastic at the local supermarket more often with me than with their mum.

So why has this gender stereotype infiltrated my son’s psyche? Before you answer that: no, I don’t normally wear a dress when I go shopping, so it can’t be that. I know that this stereotype is just a little blip, hardly noticed by anyone, not even remembered or thought about until I write this post. When you think of the stereotypical women and the distinct gender roles we were exposed to when I was growing up, this small – no, tiny stereotype should be ignored or laughed off right? Nah, I don’t accept this at all.    

Nope, I have to think about how I am parenting. Am I perpetuating gender stereotypes? That time when I muttered under my breath the comment about someone sitting next to me in the car not knowing how to read maps.

What about that time when I felt a little uneasy with my daughter playing with my He-Man toy? That wasn’t meant to happen – it was always going to be handed down to my son to play with. The point I am trying to make is parenting is a minefield, and even if you think you are doing the gender thing well, you really need to constantly rethink your views to make sure you are.

It is not that easy to accept that maybe gender stereotyping can be altered by us, by the way we act and the things we say. Sure, I won’t say it is easy, what with all the external forces shoving gender roles down our children’s throats like a sour Brussels sprout, but we have to give it a go.

The sceptics amongst us will be angrily grabbing at their computer screens saying ‘What harm can a little bit of stereotyping do anyway? I lived in a stereotypical gender role family and I’m fine!’

Well, we are in the middle of a national crisis. Almost two women are being murdered every week, the majority of which are killed by a current or former partner. The media appears to be all over this issue and so do politicians and community service organisations, but the stats don’t seem to be improving. In fact, numbers of reported incidents of family violence are increasing.

So, how do we get from a little boy wearing a dress to go ‘shopping’, to men committing violence against women? Every time gender stereotypes are reinforced, we promote the idea that women are somehow worth less than men. Gender inequality diminishes the rights and value of women and helps to excuse or justify violence against women.

Our Watch recently conducted a survey of 2000 young people 1 and found that:  

  • 1 in 4 young people think it’s pretty normal for guys to pressure girls into sex.
  • 1 in 4 don’t think it’s serious when guys insult or verbally harass girls in the street.

Shocking, right? Pressure for sex, normal? Verbally harassing women for sex, not serious? It’s these views that can evolve into the controlling behaviours exhibited by those men involved in violence against women.

Of course, those surveyed will not all grow up to be perpetrators of family violence but with a quarter of our young people thinking this way, even if a minority don’t change their views when they get into serious relationships we will still see violence and controlling behaviours against women.

So, I call on parents young and old to lead by example, talk to your kids about gender roles, break down these roles and educate them about how to be respectful towards all genders. I am sure you, like me, would be horrified if your child was one of the quarter who think controlling behaviours are ok. 

1Download a copy of the The Line campaign: Summary of research findings.