Top Ten Things That Make Me Cringe

3 Oct

Last week I read a great blog post entitled Boy or Girl? on Mom-101 about the questionable practice of assigning gender to McDonald’s Happy Meals. The uncomfortable conversation this author was forced to have with her daughters, explaining that the cool, fun toy was not just for boys, was reminiscent of an exchange I had with my own kids this summer. As a parent, there are often things my kids hear or see that make me cringe, and more often than not, these things have something to do with gender. I was inspired by this McDonald’s gaffe to create a list of my top cringe-inducing offenses:

Top Ten Gender Blunders

1. Deciding for my kids what toys are for them:
i.e. Boy Happy Meals vs. Girl Happy Meals

2.  The color-coding of toy aisles:
Not too long ago, I was with Molly at Target, and she wandered over to the animated Lego display. The following is a  true account of what happened:

Molly:  “Cool! Boy toys!”
Me:  “What makes you think these are boy toys? Can’t girls play with them?”
Molly:  “They just are. I like them because they’re boy toys.”
Then, under her breath, she said,“Action!”

I was totally bummed because I knew she was intrigued by these toys yet was certain they were not for her (stinkin’ blue aisle!).

3.  The different wording used to market toys for boys and girls:

Achilles Effect: Ad Vocabulary Used For Girls’ Toys

Achilles Effect: Ad Vocabulary Used For Boys’ Toys

 (Message received loud and clear by my 4-year-old. Boy toy  = ACTION)

4. Adults turning boy-girl friendships into something romantic:
“Oh isn’t that sweet? He’s in love with her!” “They’re going to get married.”

5.  Sweeping generalizations:
“Girls are so______”
“Boys always _____”

6. Failing to encourage our kids to play with other-gender peers:
I know I am guilty of this myself. I think we often make assumptions about who our kids will be most comfortable with. I have caught myself encouraging Molly to join the girls playing on the swings rather than the boys playing with the bikes even though she may have preferred to play with the bikes.

7.  Very few available examples of boys and girls in healthy, balanced, non- romantic relationships in children’s literature:
I wish there were more books like Half A World Away by Libby Gleeson where a boy and a girl have a mutual, positive friendship in which they have equal status and there are no stereotypes. Books meeting these criteria are very hard to come by. I spent last summer trying to put together a list of this type of book. It’s a short book list. If you have any recommendations, I’d love to hear them!  

8.  Organizing classrooms by gender:
When kids are lined-up by gender or directed to do things as gender groups (i.e. Girls, wash your hands. Boys, have a seat), it sends the message that they very different.

9. Adult sanctioned exclusion:
Girls’ only birthday parties or Boys’ Pirate Day at the community center may come with the best of intentions, but it’s still exclusion which can, and often does, result in hurt feelings.

10. Excluding peers based on gender:
It’s easy to dismiss comments such as “You can’t play here. It’s just for girls…” as kids being kids, but replace “girls”  with any race, ethnicity or religion and your alarm bells would sound.

What makes you cringe?


49 Responses to “Top Ten Things That Make Me Cringe”

  1. bridget October 3, 2011 at 6:42 pm #

    Last week I saw a promotional poster in my neighborhood for a local hip-hop dance class for children. It noted in bold letters, “Boys and girls are welcome!”

    While I (really, really) applaud their efforts to be inclusive, would you ever see anything like “All races, ethnicities, abilities, and religions are welcome!” Probably not…

    • superheroprincess October 3, 2011 at 8:02 pm #

      No, probably not.

    • Anais May 7, 2012 at 11:10 am #

      All dance classes aren’t co-ed, though, so it’s actually necessary to specify.

  2. Mom101 October 3, 2011 at 6:45 pm #

    Wow thank you so much for all these great (if freaky) thought-starters. That tag cloud blows my mind.

  3. Christy October 19, 2011 at 9:28 pm #

    It’s been years since I read it, but I think the book version of Bridge to Terabithia features a boy-girl relationship that is not romantic.

    • superheroprincess October 19, 2011 at 9:38 pm #

      You’re totally right! That’s a good one too! Thanks for the share 🙂

      • Katherine September 20, 2012 at 10:33 am #

        I had that on my list. Maniac Magee, many of the Tamora Pierce books, Ranger’s Apprentice (though by the end of the series some of the friendships lead to marriage). I have actually wondered the opposite. Many books I love have a boy and girl as friend and it makes me sad that I do not see these sort of relationships in daily life as much as I would like.

      • Hillary Manaster September 20, 2012 at 10:41 am #

        You bring up such a good point – wouldn’t it be wonderful to see healthy balanced boy-girl friendships more in daily life?! Thanks so much for your book recommendations!

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  4. Zareen November 15, 2011 at 11:18 am #

    I found myself making my own gender blunder this weekend. I was face-painting at a community picnic. When kids or parents didn’t know what they wanted, they asked me for some suggestions. I caught myself offering hearts, flowers, and butterflies to girls, but baseballs, basketballs, and dinosaurs to boys. Thankfully, I realized what I was doing after only a few kids.

    When I saw girls with the same flower, or boys with the same basketball gravitating toward and getting to know one another, I realized that they could connect over other commonalities, like favorite colors! And so, for the rest of the day, I painted things like shooting stars and block-lettered names.

    • superheroprincess November 15, 2011 at 12:26 pm #

      I think most of us do that, right? It’s so easy to present the options we think will be happily accepted. But you’re right, it’s also pretty easy to come up with ideas that help establish some common ground.

  5. morecompassion April 10, 2012 at 7:08 am #

    Wow. I have been reading your blog posts and I am over the moon!! It is so enlightening and refreshing and exciting to know there are other people with similar beliefs out there. I about had an aneurysm at Toys R Us looking at the gendered aisles as we picked out a present f or his nephew. Even my husband doesn’t always understand what the fuss is about. Thank YOU for understanding and for continuing the discussion.

    • Hillary Manaster April 10, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

      I’m so glad we connected today! I loved your post I read this morning – How to drive me crazy…. I shared it on our Facebook pageand I’m gladly sharing it again here How to drive me crazy: Write another trite article about how boys are so rambunctious

  6. rebeccakuder May 2, 2012 at 5:33 pm #

    So glad to see the fabulous Chester’s Way on that list. I love that book–really, most of Henkes books that I’ve read are wonderful. (I have two small beefs with Owen, 1) Owen’s parents bow to peer pressure from the neighbor, and 2) it makes me sad that he goes to a school where he can’t take his blanket. But in each case, it’s been an opening for a discussion with my daughter about how I wouldn’t care what the neighbor thinks, and also how great it is that she goes to a school where it’s fine to bring a lovey or blanket. But I digress!)

    Another one that might fit is Bread and Jam for Frances. She and her friend Albert seem on equal footing as semi-foodies and friends, and though the book isn’t about their friendship, it came to mind.

    • Hillary Manaster May 2, 2012 at 10:09 pm #

      I did love those Frances books when I was a kid, and ‘Bread and Jam…’ is a favorite around here. Your suggestion reminded me that there is a best friend book in the series. Unfortunately, when I looked up ‘Best Friends for Frances’ I remembered why it didn’t make the list – Albert excludes Frances because she’s a girl which leads Frances to discover what a great friend she had in her little sister. She does show Albert that girls can do anything boys can do, but I’d hesitate to include this on any list. Unfortunately little kids tend to hone in and hang on to those negative messages (i.e. “no girls allowed”), even when they’re used to simply help illustrate a more positive lesson to be learned in the end.

      Sent from my iPad

      • rebeccakuder May 3, 2012 at 11:45 am #

        I haven’t seen that one. How sad that it isn’t better. I remembered Bedtime for Frances from when I was a kid, and still had my copy, but when I read it to mu daughter, I was distressed to discover it features fear of spanking–at one point, Frances doesn’t go get her parents when she’s scared, because she doesn’t want to get spanked. This made me so sad! I hadn’t recalled that from my childhood–so didn’t absorb it, obviously–but still. So much work to do. I’m so excited to have found this blog!

      • Hillary Manaster May 3, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

        I’m so glad we’ve connected too! That’s a real bummer about Bedtime for Frances….I remember liking that one too.

  7. JK May 7, 2012 at 10:02 am #

    Check out Keesha and Her Two Moms Go Swimming. Great Girl/Boy friendship. I was just thinking about it as I read it the other night.

    • Hillary Manaster May 7, 2012 at 10:16 am #

      Thanks for the book recommendation! Going to check it out now 🙂

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  8. Dawn Courchaine Mooney May 7, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    For the 9-12 age group, give Breadcrumbs by Anne Urdzu a try. It’s FANTASTIC! It was featured on NPR this past winter in their “Backseat Book Club,” and is centered on a friendship between a boy and girl in late elementary school.

  9. Iliana Echo May 7, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

    The first Chronicles of Narnia book and the last two feature opposite-sex nonromantic friendships, and even though the epilogue of the third book mentions that the two lead characters eventually married, you don’t get much of a sense of a romance until near the end. (The second, fourth, and fifth books feature main characters who are blood-related so it doesn’t come into play.

  10. Trish May 7, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

    Another book with a boy and girl as best friends is ‘Sorry’ by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Jennifer Eachus, (who puts the girl in great clothes too – no pink princessy wear). It’s very simple – about two children who are best friends but have a fall out and then make friends again. Age range, roughly , under 5’s.

    • Hillary Manaster May 8, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

      Yay! More book recommendations! Thanks so much 🙂

      Sent from my iPhone

  11. PattyLA May 7, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

    The one that pushes my buttons every time is when someone relates a behavior of their child and then says “He is such a boy” or “she is such a girl” I once had the interesting experience of hearing two friends relate the same behavior in their infant and then ascribe it to their gender and the infants were of the opposite gender! I have extremely active girls and I get tired of hearing how active boys are and how it is just a boy thing. The need to color code toys also irks me. Boy toys are red and blue and girl toys are pink and purple. Ok I’ll stop you covered the topic so nicely.

    • Hillary Manaster May 8, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

      That drives me crazy too – especially when it’s used to excuse less desirable behavior.

      Sent from my iPhone

  12. Pelican Girl May 7, 2012 at 3:27 pm #

    I thought the Dragon in the Driveway book series did a good job of portraying a healthy boy-girl relationship. The kids are cousins, and dragon keepers.

    • Hillary Manaster May 8, 2012 at 12:48 pm #

      I’ve never heard of that series. Looks like I’m going to be spending some time in the library this week. Thanks for the recommendation!

      Sent from my iPhone

  13. Elizabeth May 7, 2012 at 3:35 pm #

    Great list! These things all drive me nutty.
    Another super chapter book with girl/boy friendship is “The Name of this Book is Secret” by Pseudonymous Bosch. This is the first book in a series about Cass and Max-Ernest who form an unexpected friendship and solve dangerous (!) mysteries together. Filled with puzzles for the reader to solve along with the children in the book. I read this aloud to my 7 year old.

    • Hillary Manaster May 8, 2012 at 12:50 pm #

      Sounds great! I’ll check it out. Thanks!

      Sent from my iPhone

  14. Fran May 7, 2012 at 6:33 pm #

    My pre-teen and I like the Wendy Mass books “11 Birthdays”, “Finally”, and “13 Gifts” which have a group of friends who are both boys and girls, and one pair of boy/girl best friends. None of the friends date.

    • Hillary Manaster May 8, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

      Love that premiss! Another one for my list. Thank you!

      Sent from my iPhone

  15. Francisca May 8, 2012 at 8:00 am #

    I cringe when I hear a mother say, “My little man…” about a, let’s say, 2-year-old boy. Can you imagine anyone saying, “My little woman…”? I also cringe when I hear anyone say, “Sexy!” about a child (perhaps in a cute bathing suit)…

    • Hillary Manaster May 8, 2012 at 11:39 am #

      “Sexy” is a term that should NEVER be used to describe anything having to do with children. I couldn’t agree with you more!

      Sent from my iPhone

  16. morecompassion May 8, 2012 at 8:22 am #

    I love this blog post and the comments. I think I’m pretty good about this stuff and then I’m surprised when I notice something new. I never thought about “my little man” being odd when no one would say “my little woman.” and you’re right! I would never say “my little woman” unless I was Louisa May Alcott 🙂 Thanks for showing me something new Francisca!

    • Janet September 20, 2012 at 2:18 pm #

      I’ve heard people say ‘little miss’ for girls more often than ‘little man’ for boys. I don’t like either, but figured it was ‘little man’ because no-one wants to say ‘little master’ which would be the anachronistic equivalent of ‘little miss’.

      • Hillary Manaster September 24, 2012 at 2:48 pm #

        Nope…you really don’t hear “little master” now do you?

  17. Crystal Smith September 20, 2012 at 10:58 am #

    Thanks for sharing the word cloud. I plan to update it as part of my research for my next book. I think it is a very effective tool in discussing how language can reinforce gender stereotypes.

    Pet peeves? I have plenty 🙂 Toy stores are a minefield of gender stereotypes soI try to avoid the big chains and department stores. Luckily, we have an excellent toy store nearby that does not colour-code shelves or mark sections for girls or boys–toys are divided by function e.g. science, crafts, building toys. As a parent of two sons, I see things like this from the male perspective, and, like you, I am troubled by the generalizations I hear, especially if one of my sons does something considered “feminine” e.g. playing with “girl” toys like his kitchen or LEGO Friends.

    As for books, there is a series for the younger set that my son and I recently discovered. It is called Houndsley and Catina. The characters are animals, but opposite sex and very good friends. Someone else recommended Iris and Walter to me as well. Both of these series are early chapter books.

    • Hillary Manaster September 20, 2012 at 11:14 am #

      I LOVE your word clouds!! They really speak volumes. The Iris and Walter books are great. I’m going to have to check out the Houndsley and Catina series. It’s so great to be getting all of these book recommendations! Thank you so much for sharing this post today too 🙂

  18. Robin Bright September 20, 2012 at 11:01 am #

    For books….I can’t remember offhand if Jack and Annie from the Magic Treehouse books are friends or siblings. Either way, it’s a great equal relationship that comes across as friends whether they’re related or not.

    • Hillary Manaster September 20, 2012 at 11:15 am #

      I’m pretty sure they are siblings, but those are wonderful books!! 🙂

  19. Ljiljana (@tigerljily) September 20, 2012 at 11:33 am #

    Here’s what annoys me: assuming highly gendered things are the default for my daughter. I’ll illustrate with a story. This summer at the wading pool a woman generously (I do think she meant well) painted the nails of any kid who came up and asked. First of all, I don’t get bringing nail polish to the pool, but lay that to the side. Of course, my daughter, 5, wanted that, too. Welp, she’s not allowed nail polish until she much older, but because everybody else was doing it, she wanted to do it and I had to say ‘no’ and deal with the resulting tantrum. Yes, every single on of her friends, except one, is allowed nail polish, and has been allowed for quite some time, and, yes, boys paint their nails, too, now, but that’s not how we do it. Since it is the default, it’s like my parenting decisions are made for me to the benefit of nail polish manufacturers.

    • Hillary Manaster September 24, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

      I never realized how much other parents’ parenting would impact my own….good for you for staying true to your beliefs. As my kids get older I find myself saying – more and more – different families have different rule.

  20. Jessica September 20, 2012 at 6:06 pm #

    I have a suggestion for your equal friends book list. I haven’t read all the books in the series but I think the ones we have are great.

    • Hillary Manaster September 24, 2012 at 2:51 pm #

      I think these are on the updated list…great recommendation – thank you!

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