Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Book Review: Parenting Beyond Pink & Blue

When we were expecting the Little Monkey, though we found out we were having a boy at the 20 week scan, we decided not to tell anyone. One of our main reasons was that we didn't want people to think that everything in his life has to be blue. It was a bit superficial of us, but if you start looking at baby gear there is an extraordinarily strong blue/pink divide, to the point where, if shopping online, you usually have to click a gender category before viewing any products.

We didn't specifically want to avoid blue, or want him to wear only pink instead (nor were we wishing he was a girl); we just think that colours are an arbitrary (and irrelevant) way of categorising children.

(And for anyone who has had to ask if he is a boy or a girl, or has accidentally referred to him as a girl: we don't care, and neither does he. Please don't worry about it!)

Somewhat ironically, we ended up painting his first bedroom blue - we were going for a grey that would tone well with the existing blinds, but on the walls it looked blue. C'est la vie...

So that's a bit of context which will tell you why Christia Spears Brown's book Parenting Beyond Pink & Blue: How to Raise Your Kids Free of Gender Stereotypes appealed to me.

When I bought it I thought it would probably be fairly hypothetical for us - I smugly thought I knew a fair bit about gender issues already, and also guessed the content might be more relevant for parents of girls. I was wrong.

The book is split into three parts. The first covers how we use gender to sort and label people, and how that changes how we think about people. The second section works to identify what the real differences are between boys and girls, versus those which appear through stereotype reinforcement (I found a lot of the findings here quite surprising). And the final section looks at how using gender as a category affects children, and how we can use the information available to us to become better parents.

The book covers many effects of gender categorisations, and some of these stunned me. It seems that a lot of the time we don't realise that we're using gender to influence our language or attitude, but kids, from a very young age, pick up on subtle signals and work to conform with what they think is the right option.

Although initially Christia seems quite extreme, it quickly becomes apparent that while she is aware of the various pressures applied to children, she has a pragmatic approach to dealing with them. She's not into making a big fuss in public, but encourages thoughtful discussion of the stereotypes as appropriate.

It's also a very readable book - though it's thought-provoking and packs a lot of solid science in (the reference section at the back is substantial!), it's also enjoyable and relatable.

The main point I took away was really that gender, while a category which can be used to sort people into groups, is far less valuable as a sorting mechanism than many individual characteristics, and that where possible it's best to avoid boy/girl divides and instead rely on actual personality traits.

Our main objective, as I'm sure is true for most parents, is to enable our child to be the best he can be. If he is a naturally sporty, mechanically minded person then perhaps we don't need to worry about the pervasive stereotypes - but we can't possibly know that about him yet, and if he, say, prefers sewing to rugby then they may stifle him.

Though I'm sure having read this book won't make us perfect parents, hopefully it will make some minor improvements in the way we support our child's learning. I highly recommend it to anyone who has kids or is interested in gender issues - a fascinating read.

Parenting Beyond Pink & Blue: How to Raise Your Kids Free of Gender Stereotypes is available from (affiliate link). 

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