Masculinity: What messages are we giving children?

Preschool child wearing a red eye mask and red cape. Playing superhero in the park

“Boys don’t cry!”

“You throw like a girl!”

“Why is that boy playing with dolls?”

As adults, there is potential to fall into gender stereotypes very easily. I’ve reached out to our Sexual Health Promoters to share their expertise on the importance of talking with children about society’s gender stereotypes. Here’s what they shared:

By saying ‘boys are like this’ and ‘girls are like that’, or by making strong distinctions between ‘girl clothes/toys’ and ‘boy clothes/toys’, we may be limiting our children on how they express themselves.

Comments such as ‘man up’ or ‘boys don’t cry’ contribute to masculinity stereotypes.

Phrases like these imply that not everyone can share their emotions in the same way and also reinforce social ideas that are not inclusive.  Statements like these can lay the groundwork for stigmatizing and bullying behaviour including sexism, homophobia, and transphobia.

Positive messages for children:

  • remind children that they can make choices about what to wear and play with beyond what society might dictate for their gender.
  • all genders are free to feel and express emotions.

Talking to children about society’s gender stereotypes:

  • can help children recognize stereotypes and reflect on them
  • can help children gain self-esteem and perhaps even choose to challenge stereotypes
  • can help children become allies against bullying and prejudice. (“You asked why that boy wore ribbons in his hair today.  Well, perhaps he enjoys the way they feel. It is not a value of our family to criticize people for their choices of how to express themselves.”)

So the next time a boy is crying, offer a hug and support.  The next time a child misses a throw, encourage them to try again.  And the next time someone questions why a boy is playing with the dolls, suggest congratulating him for practicing to become a caring and nurturing caregiver one day!

There are many ways to express masculinity – expression of emotion, compassion, and love is a sign of strength!

Learn more about Raising Sexually Healthy Children.

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