Breaking Gender Stereotypes

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Women can’t drive. Boys don’t play with dolls. Act like a lady. Boys don’t cry. Blue is for boys and pink is for girls. Girls must have long hair. He is a sissy. Are these phrases all too familiar? You have probably used some of them yourself right? Although we may see these statements as harmless on the surface, the assumptions they are based on and the repercussions maybe negative. Isn’t this what gender stereotyping and discrimination is? Isn’t this what leads to various kinds of anxiety disorders while trying to keep up with ridiculous expectations? With the advertising world reinforcing ideas such as a fair girl is a successful one, or boys must be big and strong, it’s a constant  battle against rigid mindsets. These clichéd inherited assumptions are later carelessly passed on to children.   Toy companies and some publishers of children’s books also tend to be irresponsible.

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There is a widespread acceptance that dinosaurs, pirates, cars, basketball, robotics are all ‘boy’ topics and princess, butterflies, ponies, fairies and cupcakes are topics for girls and such books promote it. Keep your eyes peeled for pink and blue just in case you miss the FOR BOYS and FOR GIRLS.  At Hippocampus, I see girls thoroughly enjoy books about dinosaurs and robots. If any of them were led to believe that it wasn’t meant for girls, would it be fair? Children are constantly victims of gender stereotyping. I was unpleasantly surprised during an event when a little boy picked a purple butterfly mask and his father urged him to pick a caterpillar mask instead.

The silver lining however is that several other authors, publishers, teachers and parents are working towards change. Before I give you a list of children’s books that break gender stereotypes, here’s a throwback of some refreshing incidents where children and parents stood up against sexism.

This dad who won at parenting by letting his son dress up as Princess Elsa for Halloween.

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This lovely little girl who gave the Lego company a piece of her intelligent mind.

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As adults let’s take initiative and help children question stereotypes by keeping them well informed. Most importantly, let us be aware of our own ingrained biases before we unintentionally pass them down. Here is the list of books that you’ve been waiting for. Happy Reading!

The Berenstain Bears – He Bear, She Bear

Stan & Jan Berenstain

An empowering book about a boy bear and a girl bear who tell us that we can do anything that we set our minds to. We can drive trucks, bulldoze roads, go to the moon or even fly planes regardless of whether we are a he or a she.

Oliver Button is a Sissy

Tomie dePaola

A wonderful book about a little boy called Oliver who takes tap dance lessons. He gets teased and bullied by all this classmates but Oliver sticks to what makes him most happy . This is an excellent book to address the topic of not just gender discrimination but also bullying.

The Story of Ferdinand

Author: Munro leaf | Illustrator: Robert Lawson

Ferdinand is a large muscular bull who is expected to be aggressive and fight at bullfights. Except that Ferdinand prefers to graze by the meadows, lie under a tree and smell flowers peacefully.

The Princess Knight

Author: Cornelia Funke | Illustrator: Kerstin Meyer

King Wilfred had three sons and he brought them up they way in which he had been taught. He raised them to learn jousting, fighting, and stride around proudly.  One day when the King has a daughter, the queen passes away.  The king now doesn’t know to raise a daughter, so he teaches princess Violetta the same things that he had taught his sons. Violetta fumbles and fails at the beginning. A nurse even asks her to give it up and learn embroidery instead. But with  hard work and perseverance she soon becomes nimble and quicker than her brothers. When one day the King decides to get Violetta married, she refuses to let anyone ‘win’ her hand and soon devices a way to rescue herself from the sticky situation.

Big Hero Size Zero

Author: Anusha Hariharan, Sowmya Rajendran | Illustrator: Niveditha Subramanium

A brilliant book that will give teens a fresh perspective of everything they understand and don’t understand about gender stereotypes and inequality. Discover all the truths and ‘untruths’ in a lighthearted manner.  A wonderful book about growing up that will help find some answers, and raise more questions with better information.

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