Actually, my daughter is quite energetic and physically active. Thanks.
July 23, 2010 6:57 AM   Subscribe

Any thoughts on how to politely ask people not to say sexist things around my child and/or deflect those statements?

My daughter is not even 5 months, and already I have noticed people saying things around her that make me uncomfortable. For example, "boys are so much more energetic," "girls are passive." Etc. I believe (and believe that science shows) that these assumptions and statements become self-fulfilling prophecies as children develop. I'm very uncomfortable having her exposed to them.

However, a lot of the people who make these statements are lovely, caring, and friends. I don't feel comfortable doing the whole "isn't that special" thing, nor do I always want to launch into a whole speech about confirmation bias and cognitive development.

Is there any middle ground here or other option I am missing? I am sure this is going to be an ongoing issue.
posted by miss tea to Human Relations (44 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Little snatches of chit-chat around a child will not scuttle competent parenting -- relax.
posted by kmennie at 7:06 AM on July 23, 2010 [23 favorites]

Other than keeping your kid in a bubble, protecting her from the sexism inherent in society is an absolute impossibility. I comfort myself by thinking that presenting a forceful rebuttal to such attitudes when they crop up is the best way to deal with them for my son.
posted by norm at 7:08 AM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure what to tell you, but I can tell you expect it to get a lot worse. Give it a year or two and you're going to get inundated with Princess/Fairy stuff from well meaning friends and relatives.

My daughter's natural inclination was to be interested in dinosaurs and monsters, her favorite color was red forever. She showed no interest in the super girlie stuff, but it kept on coming. Then it was kind of like she got browbeaten into her favorite color being pink and liking princesses. I guess on the upside at least, she plays her princesses like superheros and seems to be coming out of it now.

I honestly think the only way to get people to stop is to kind of be a jerk about it and come right out and tell them to stop it. Subtle hints will not get across.

I opted not to do that, just tried to counteract it on my own be openly talking with with my daughter about it (once she could talk, that is).

Although I did recommend Pink Brain, Blue Brain to a couple people, which is a great very scientifically grounded book on this very issue.
posted by malphigian at 7:09 AM on July 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Humor is like the velvet that conceals the iron fist.

A: "Girls are passive."

B: "Yeah, and they're given to fainting spells too. And they're intellectually inferior, and they can't vote!"

or, "Yeah, it's no wonder that I've never seen a female doctor, athlete, judge, or member of congress. Oh, wait..."

Just a little silly something to get them to think about the implication of what they just said.
posted by hermitosis at 7:12 AM on July 23, 2010 [18 favorites]

Could you get your point across without launching into a speech or talking about confirmation bias?

"Aww, girls are so passive!"

"Yes, little BabbyGirl here is very easy-going, we're lucky. Actually, I was reading one time that it really depends on how you treat the child."


"Yeah, the reason given is that many people have pre-conceived notions about girl behaviours and boy behaviours and they end up unconsciously communicating those to the child."
posted by cranberrymonger at 7:12 AM on July 23, 2010 [12 favorites]

I don't think it's the statements that create the effects, but the assumptions*. You're not going to be able to do anything about those assumptions. So even if no one says girls are more passive, they will treat your daughter (unknowingly, with no malice and in little ways no one could put their finger on) as though they expect passivity. So what you're trying to stop is more than little snatches of chit-chat, but you're not going to be able to stop it. Your best hope will be to counter it with messages you send.

* e.g. I remember learning in intro psych of a study in which people were shown video of a baby crying. Everyone was shown the same video but half led to believe the baby was a girl and half were led to believe it was a boy. Those who thought it was a girl said she was crying because she was scared, while those who thought it was a boy said that he was angry. Now obviously no one says to a baby "boys are more likely to be angry and girls are more likely to be scared," but people calm a scared baby differently than they calm an angry baby. It's not the statement that fulfills the prophecy it's the belief.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:13 AM on July 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

From the wording of your question, it sounds like you want to fight every minor battle about this. My advice would be to ignore it and raise her as you want her to be raised. You'll have a much larger influence over her and in the process, I believe, educate those who say such things. I don't mean to belittle your thoughts or feelings on the subject, just suggest that you make be focusing on the trees, rather than the forest.

Otherwise, a simple "Oh, she's quite active actually, likes to do X,Y and Z. I can't wait to teach her how to climb trees and play catch and bake and learn bird calls.." and so on will suffice. You don't have to turn this into a sexism battle per say, just politely point out how certain assumptions don't apply to your child.
posted by new brand day at 7:15 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

However, a lot of the people who make these statements are lovely, caring, and friends.

If you start telling your friends how to talk, you will end up with fewer friends. I agree with the posters above, you can counter such statements with your own, but if you expect to change how people speak around your child, I believe you'll find that fewer people will be willing to say anything at all.
posted by patheral at 7:19 AM on July 23, 2010

Best answer: "boys are so much more energetic," "girls are passive."

"Oh, I don't know, my brother and his wife have a two-year old girl and can barely keep up with her." [or other relevant counterexample.]

That way, you don't let the remark pass unchallenged, but the mood stays light and conversational, and you don't become the humorless person who cites five scientific journal papers to refute what was just an off-hand remark. Of course, your counterexample wouldn't hold water in a serious debate (anecdote≠data), but it seems a serious debate is what you're trying to avoid here.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:20 AM on July 23, 2010 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I think it's important once your child reaches the age of reason/understanding and communication to see you engaging with these comments in a way that enlarges everyone's concepts of male and female without being antagonistic or judgmental. For instance, when someone comments that my son (age 5) is very active or "all boy," I might say something like "If by 'all boy' you mean jumping out of a tree one minute and doing the sweeping-up the next, then yup, he's all boy." If I had a girl I think I'd be waaaay more tuned to these comments. I agree with kmennie's comment but this means it's really important for you, and your partner if there is one, to be modeling a full range of roles and abilities at home. Maybe even more important if your partner is male and you're a female.
posted by Yoshimi Battles at 7:23 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yeah, these types of comments aren't going to disappear even if you ask everyone around you to be more thoughtful. And doing so all the time would add to your stress level, with little result.

Another option is to get your child questioning what they hear. When your child gets a bit older, follow up and ask them the kind of questions that will encourage them to not take everything as given to them; e.g. "So what do YOU think about girls being passive?" or "Can you think of girls that are as energetic as boys? I know some." Your child can think for herself, and this is a great way to encourage that.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 7:28 AM on July 23, 2010 [5 favorites]

I wouldn't sweat it too much. My daughter loves dressing up as a fairy and is a keen fan of the colour pink. I have no idea whether it's society or just the way she is, but, whatever, she's three and there will be plenty of time to read Simone de Beauvoir later. On the other hand, she sometimes refers to me (her father) as the the Queen, when she's pretending to be a fairy, so perhaps she's already subverting norms.
posted by rhymer at 7:32 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I think it's important once your child reaches the age of reason/understanding and communication to see you engaging with these comments in a way that enlarges everyone's concepts of male and female without being antagonistic or judgmental.

Yes, that's exactly right. There are some great suggestions here, thanks.
posted by miss tea at 7:34 AM on July 23, 2010

Response by poster: it sounds like you want to fight every minor battle about this.

No, I really don't. So far I've let the remarks go by. But as noted above, once my daughter can understand the context and the statements I don't want her to absorb them and think that's the way things are. So I guess I am more trying to prepare for that time.
posted by miss tea at 7:36 AM on July 23, 2010

I have recommended Pink Brain, Blue Brain a couple times here myself because I found it so fascinating. I thought from the title it was going to be about all the ways boys and girls are different which, it sort of is, but what it's really about is how babies brains develop from womb to toddlerhood. There are some blanket differences between how the brains of each sex develop but the most important thing I took away is that between 3 and 5, the kids even out. However, by that time, all kinds of weird sex-specific social expectations have been laid on them. And it's when they are really developing into their own character that I think these become more detrimental.

I see nothing wrong with countering these assumptions early, with humor if possible. And I see nothing wrong with informing people, "Oh, she really hates princesses." Frankly, it's not princesses I have a problem with -- I *loved* fairy tales as a kid (especially my favorite book, The Practical Princess) -- it's the branding and commercialisation I don't like. I'll be the one lying and saying, "Oh, he/she really hates logos." Heh.

Anyway, good luck, I sympathize. You want to give your kid every opportunity to find themselves but everyone its seems is so eager to put your kid in a well-defined box. I joke that I'm never telling the in-laws the sex of my kid as they are so keen on me having a boy. I find that sort of insulting, given that I think I'm pretty nifty despite being a girl and all. (I'm at 20 weeks.)
posted by amanda at 7:38 AM on July 23, 2010

I like DevilsAdvocate's line - I tend to find myself saying "it depends a lot on the child" and adding a relevant example if there's one handy - perhaps pointing out the differences in attitude and interests between my daughters, or between one of them and a friend's child. The focus on individual differences deflects talk about generalities.
posted by crocomancer at 7:39 AM on July 23, 2010

Don't be rude about it. Just say, "When I was a kid, I was pretty rowdy/feisty/energetic" or whatever. No need to be snippy. They aren't trying to hurt your feelings, it's just what they think and it's their own experience of things.
posted by anniecat at 7:43 AM on July 23, 2010

As a father, I cringe just as much when people speak praises of girls (or women) over boys (or men)--"Oh, you're so lucky to have a girl, boys are so much more trouble." I've gone from hearing adults talk to my daughter about icky, gross boys to hearing adults talk to my daughter about how boys want only one thing. It does not service to my daughter to be told that teenage girls are smarter, more mature, simply better than teenage boys, whether she hears that from teachers, her mother, or whoever. I've taken to lightly scolding folks who talk about useless men or superior women in the presence of my daughter. "Now, that's sexist!" I say.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:43 AM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Friend: "Girls are sooo much easier."

Me: "You'd think that, wouldn't you? We found my 2-and-1/2-year-old out on the tractor the other day, complaining that we never let her drive."*

* True story.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:44 AM on July 23, 2010 [10 favorites]

I understand where you're coming from Miss Tea. while these comments & girlie gifts seem like little things, I do think over time, these messages carry weight and influence. It's difficult to change people's ideas but you might be able to let ppl know that you don't subscribe to the same ideas by saying something like "aw you don't really believe that do you? look at Sally's daughter/son. Keep it light hearted and you could end with something like "ah well, i'm hoping that little Jenny can be as passive or as rowdy as she wants. i think it's about opening a larger conversation and maybe you could point to messages in mainstream media like girl superheros.

you could also make sure your daughter's room reflects what you want to impart on your daughter or what she really likes.

also, the most important thing to teach in this world with all of it's crazy messages is critical thinking and to your daughter. when she gets a pink princess doll, have a conversation about it "hey sweetie, what else could Pink Princess wear? a blue dress? why do you tink she's wearing pink? can she wear other colors? can we give different powers to each color she wears? etc"

I raised my brother for the 1st 10 years and while i might have gagged at the things/ideas he brought home...we always had a conversation about it so we could put it in context & he would learn how to make decisions that were right for him. good luck!!
posted by UltraD at 7:44 AM on July 23, 2010

I strongly agree with Hardcore Poser.

I don't remember many girl-related comments that a relative or family friend said to me as a child, but I do vividly remember many discussions with my parents where we talked about this kind of thing.

("What do you think of Character's comments about girls in Movie? Is that right? Why? What would you do if you heard someone saying that?")
posted by cranberrymonger at 7:45 AM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

But as noted above, once my daughter can understand the context and the statements I don't want her to absorb them and think that's the way things are.

Your daughter is not going to act based on what she thinks, but how she feels already. Most of the messages she'll absorb will, unfortunately, come from TV or other kids at school, and you may even lose credibility with her if you try to become the architect. She might see you as wrong (until she's much older and sees that you were right all along) and silly.
posted by anniecat at 7:46 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

In my experience it matters more what you say to your child than what other people say. We have told our kids many times that there are stereotypes out there such as boys do this and girls do that or boys like this and girls like that. We also say that these don't apply to most kids and they only apply to us if we want them too. Finally we say it is perfectly OK for boys to like and do anything and for girls to like and do anything. By having these conversations I think it prepares the kids to deal with the comments of strangers even when we can't be around.

I am sure some of the pervasive stereotypes still have an effect but I am proud of how my daughter has handled such comments when I am around. She reacts analytically (After some conversation she has said "Dad, that was a stereotype, wasn't it?" or "That man was silly") rather than feeling defensive or bristling at every instance. I also see it has an effect because I hear her echoing my words to others and I see her tastes bridging the stereotypical roles (she likes unicorns and superheroes, playing house and kung-fu). I am also happy to see that at an age when many of her peers are starting to divide into boy and girl playgroups she still has as many boy friends as girl.
posted by Tallguy at 7:51 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

The good thing is that she can't comprehend now. Enjoy this time that even you can get away with saying anything around you baby with no ramifications cause it will end.

As mentioned before you can't shield your child from everything but those comments/actions that happen when you are around you can simply reassure her of the truth - hop down on one knee and tell her "you know that girls are just as able as boys...."

Stay strong with your convictions and those around you should pick up on how you are raising your daughter and will hopefully take your feelings into consideration.
posted by doorsfan at 8:03 AM on July 23, 2010

When I was a kid, the mere fact that other girls had pink princess dresses, barbie dolls and books about horses made me want to have that, too. Despite the fact that my parents never gave me this stuff and made a point of teaching me tomboyish things and showered me with little cars. I wanted the trappings of being a girl.

I think children have a great need to fit things into a definite category so they know where it belongs. They will delight in saying "this is the table for grown ups and that is the table for the kids". "That is boys' clothing and that is girls' clothing". I think they grow out of this need.
posted by Omnomnom at 8:05 AM on July 23, 2010

"Hi, let me share my favorite useless parenting tips and prejudices." It's not going to let up. Wait till she understands languages in addition to body language, and hears racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, etc. remarks.

I caused a minor war in my family by not wanting my child to have war toys. I made people angry when we left the table where racist remarks were being made. I tried hard to deflect things as gently as possible, but it wears you out.

So, Thank you. Thank you for standing up for your child, for women, and for helping move us forward. The most comfort I can offer you is that it's your attitudes that are the strongest influence. When she's older, talk to her about your values. My child didn't adopt all my beliefs, but did get my core values.
posted by Mom at 8:26 AM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

My parents always made it clear to me that I could do anything, be anything that I wanted to. Anything. I wore cowboy boots, hated dresses, hated barbies, but loved horses. They let me play with ponies, didn't force me to play with barbies, didn't buy anything for my room that I didn't want, and just generally paid attention to what made me special and unique. I always knew I was special to them.

My dad helped me build model rockets, took me to his shop, let me help fix things around the house and under the car, taught me anything I asked about, and never made me feel like there was anything that he could do that I wouldn't be able to do if I just learned how. (We recently re-roofed the house together.) My mom showed me how capable I could be at all kinds of things (seriously, there's so many I'm not even going to list them), and never tried to tell me that I was a certain way, because I was a girl.

Teaching your child to be capable, and helping them know they really can be anything or do anything (by helping them see their successes at all kinds of different things, providing experiences and adventures for them) will go a long way against these kinds of comments. This goes for boys & girls both—we all suffer from unfortunate stereotypes.
posted by eleyna at 8:27 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Comment: Oh, girls are so easy to raise/easygoing/cooperative/etc.

Response: It's true! My friends' little girl is so good-natured that whenever she plays baseball with her friends, they always make her team captain. I think she's a natural leader.

Comment: Boys are so rambunctious/troublesome/messy/etc.

Response: I know! So-and-so's boy runs around outside all day, and as soon as he comes in he wants to help make dinner. And don't get me started on how he gets into the scrapbooking supplies!
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:28 AM on July 23, 2010 [7 favorites]

We have a girl and I just try to think of these things as an early opportunity for her to learn these handy words: "hmmm.....interesting."

Gets me a through a lot.

Also -- these people saying these things, seriously, they can think whatever they want. My only concern is whether it affects my kid and knowing her, she is extremely opinionated and very athletic at two years and I have great faith in her ability to discern stupidity as she becomes an adult. Kmennie is right.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:29 AM on July 23, 2010

"She's 5 months old! We don't know what she'll be like yet! It's going to be fun finding out, though!"
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:39 AM on July 23, 2010

I have this same problem as a nanny, and it's irritating as hell, especially when people assume a lot of really negative qualities about a kid I've helped raise just because she's a girl.

I don't really know how to respond to people who make these stupid assumptions because, oddly, a lot of the people who say them are friends of her parents. I do try to be conscious of using words that I've noticed to be highly gendered. People who describe boys as "brave" will often use a cutesy word to describe a girl doing the same thing - "spunky," for example. Boys throwing tantrums are "angry," girls are "dramatic" or "emotional." I find that words used for boys are often more manifest and self-actuating, and those words are internalized by children very early on even when they don't quite know their implications or exact definitions.

RAMBLE: Aside from counterproductive comments, you'll also notice another disturbing trend as your daughter gets older and interacts more with others, and this is obvious but can sneak up on you, too: adults will also unconsciously treat kids differently based on their gender in incredibly subtle gestures. The fact that you're already noticing the gendered context of how the world receives your girl probably means you're not going to do this much yourself, but anyways: make sure people (relatives, nannies/babysitters, teachers) encourage your girl to explore the world, fall down, make mistakes, get angry, yell loudly, question authority, etc. when circumstances permit. Strangers and intimate caregivers alike seem a lot more likely to codify and police little girls' "rowdy" behavior while granting boys more freedom and independence. In some ways I think this contributes to good things, as girls perform better in school partly because they've been taught to follow rules, listen to authority figures, and meet expectations placed before them. In other ways, well-behaved women rarely make history. It's up to you and her other supporters to find a good parenting method that socializes your girl as a functional member of her peers as well as an individual who knows when to act out and fully express herself.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:42 AM on July 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm going to disagree a little bit and say that I think that you can keep up a steady drumbeat of opposition to the constant sexism. If it were me, I'd not so much aim for stridency, but for just establishing the "normal" in your house regarding what girls do/like/say.

No need to be a jerk about it to other people, of course. (Hey, another example to set -- being gracious while disagreeing!) I like the suggestions above about lightly providing counter-examples to sexist stereotypes.

I wish my mom had called out my dad and other relatives for all those "jokes" about women drivers, and the insistence on calling female physicians "lady doctors," and the hilarity of the image of women doing men's jobs (how funny does that lady truck driver look in her rig!!), and the disrespect shown to the "male nurses," and the refusal to call my grandmother's ovarian cancer by name. As an only child, my dad loved to teach me how to use tools. My folks were great about my equal interest in "boy" toys and "girl" toys, my dad loved that I adored playing with trucks. My dad totally believed that his little girl could do whatever she wanted and that gender had nothing to do with it, but the ingrained sexism in his statements about adult women confused me as a child and angered me as a teenager.
posted by desuetude at 8:46 AM on July 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

My older daughter just turned eight years old. I've dealt with this by being very up-front about sexism, from a very early age (I think she was about three or four when we started talking about it.) I was pretty direct: "Do you know, some people used to think that women shouldn't be allowed to vote/be a doctor/go to school? There are still some people who believe that, but we know they're wrong. Girls and boys can do and like all of the same things, if they want to. Isn't that wonderful, that we can do that now?"

The end result (well, so far) is a little girl who is very comfortable with doing "boy things" -- karate, science projects, etc. But she's also comfortable with being a girl who likes flowers and rainbows and dress-up.

It's a tough line to walk, as a parent. You don't want a girl to limit herself unnecessarily, but there's another danger, too. You don't want to unintentionally support the idea that being a girl is bad or inferior by denigrating things that are coded as feminine (pink, sparkles, princesses and unicorns). Being anti-sexist doesn't mean that everybody just does "boy things", you know?
posted by Andrhia at 8:47 AM on July 23, 2010 [11 favorites]

Them: "Boys are more aggressive"
Me: "Yes and no. On the yes side, there is a quite famous study that found some universal themes in the stories that preschoolers tell. Boys tend to channel aggresive behavior towards mastery, while girls are more concerned with caretaking and the needs of others. On the no side, I have met many boys that are not aggressive at all."

Them: "Girls are more passive"
Me: "No, girls are just smarter than boys" ( Winks at daughter )
posted by jasondigitized at 9:28 AM on July 23, 2010

I can't believe I'm only the 2nd person to point to Hardcore Poser as the best answer, here.

I don't care what other people think about my child's behavior. I care about what my child thinks about his own behavior. Yeah, some people's opinions might seep through and influence my kid (in particular, and if I'm lucky, some of those opinions will be my own) - but he's going to have his own mind eventually, so I might as well start dealing with that sooner rather than later. You could replace all the male pronouns with female and I'd have the exact same thoughts on the matter.

The formulation of the question implies that it's a contest between the poster's influence and everyone else's. Honestly, you're her mother. If you can't out-influence all the other people and their casual chit chat, you'd be better off spending more time thinking about your lack of influence compared to people with orders of magnitude less time to interact with your child. In either case, your child, male or female, will ultimately be better off if they're encouraged to formulate their own thoughts or ideas, anyway.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 10:04 AM on July 23, 2010

Best answer: Just respond to the comments as you would any other small talk. That way you won't be making your friends uncomfortable.


"Nice weather today."

"Yes, I hear it is going to rain this afternoon."


"Girls are passive."

"Interestingly, scientific studies show that not to be true."


Reply with the same casual tone of voice, as if it is just any old conversation starter, and you won't offend any of your friends, but still express the information.
posted by Vaike at 10:12 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've tried to address this kind of stuff with our daughter in a two-pronged way:

1. I try to be intentional about being the primary influence in my daughter's life. Children tend to adopt the values primarily of people that they feel care about them, and they primarily interpret care by time spent and invested in the relationship. During this time, I'm always very cognizant of letting my daughter know that there are other people who hold other values, but I try to give her the tools for thinking deeply about those things and discarding those things that are incorrect or inappropriate. This helps her (I hope) to develop more of a sense of pity for those who affirm poor values, rather than a sense of longing for those things which eventually create feelings of inferiority.

2. I go way out of my way to affirm what she naturally likes, instead of insisting that she fall into a particular category. I do encourage some gender category things, as I do think that some typically feminine things are more inherent than socialized; but, I'm careful not to insist on certain things (like dolls or teaparties) as being necessary, and I give a whole lot of leeway regarding other things she might like to do, like dinosaurs and matchbox cars. I like to encourage her to be a girl, while allowing her a whole lot of latitude to decide what that means for her. I also make sure that I use virtues to extol her activities that are good for everyone to have, even though they may be stereotypically male. I let her know when I think she's being brave, or courageous, or adventurous, or persevering hard through difficulty, even though it might be easier to ask someone else for help.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:04 AM on July 23, 2010

Your influence as a parent is going to be so much greater than the effects of anything a random friend or family member will say around her.

I have a 5-year-old daughter who loves dinosaurs and cooking and bugs. She is uninterested in princesses or dolls. We've just always encouraged her interests. You like dinosaurs? Okay, we'll sign you up for dinosaur camp at the nature center. Want to learn more about bugs? Let's go hunt for monarch butterfly caterpillars!
posted by Ostara at 11:32 AM on July 23, 2010

I think it's important that your daughter hears you countermanding these ideas from the very start -- you don't have to be fighty about it, just don't let it stand. She's going to encounter a lot of dumb ideas in her life; what you're modeling for her is that these are dumb ideas.

So, when someone says "Little girls are so passive" you can just say "What? where the heck did you hear that?" or laugh incredulously and say "Uh, not my experience" or whatever. What you say isn't, imho, as important as the fact that you push back.
posted by KathrynT at 12:01 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

No matter what other people say to or in front of your daughter, you get the last word with her. And as her parent, you'll carry a lot more clout with her than your friends and strangers will.
posted by oreofuchi at 12:45 PM on July 23, 2010

This sort of thing drives me crazy too. But I think the very fact that you are aware of stereotypes and the way they influence behaviour is a huge step toward ensuring your daughter will have healthy attitudes toward gender roles. When she's older, you'll discuss these things and help her develop her own awareness, so that she'll have a critical context in which to place these comments about "boys are like this/girls are like this" from friends, relatives, or the media.

I agree with KathrynT that it's important for her to hear you deflecting the stereotypes--people above have provided some great examples of nonconfrontational but effective ways to do this. Kids absorb a lot by listening and watching--even at a fairly young age.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:22 PM on July 23, 2010

My son was caressing the streamers on the handlebars of a pink bike in the bike store when a boy his age comes up to me and demands, "Is it a boy or a girl?"

I was so surprised I couldn't speak for a moment (It?? wtf kid), but my son immediately spoke up and said, "I'm a boy."

"Then why are you looking at that girl's bike?"

My son shrugs. "It's a nice bike. So?"

The kid didn't know what to say to that, so he wandered off.

The nonconfrontational ways get learned very early. It's amazing, like others have said, how quickly some kids pick that up.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 6:54 PM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

I came into thread to say what Hardcore Poser said. This is two seperate problems, really: how do I keep my kid from absorbing sexist talk, and how do I get the people around me to be less sexist. The first is resolved by having an open and question-oriented relationship with your kid. The second, though a little harder, can be dealt with through many ideas upthread.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 7:12 PM on July 23, 2010

I get comments like this (only, in reverse) about my son. He's now a very active toddler, but he was really active for an infant too. I don't ask people to change their behavior, because that's kind of a losing battle. I just try to respond in a polite way that shows that my child's behavior isn't cause by his gender. I sometimes get comments like "He's such a boy!" when he's throwing a ball around or playing with toy cars, to which I reply, "Yeah, he really likes to 'play daddy'! He'll grab a pot and spoon from the kitchen and start making pretend soup."
posted by lexicakes at 8:08 PM on July 23, 2010

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