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How Father's Day and Mother's Day teach gender stereotypes to kids

by August 31, 2017 General

If our primary school leaned any further to the left it would probably fall over, so why am I bracing myself for another lazily sexist gift from the Fathers and Special Persons’ Day stall this year?

Last year it was a picture frame covered in golf clubs, despite the fact the only time I have ever lifted such a club was to try to kill a huntsman spider. The year before it was a mug smothered in racing cars; and the year before that, a bottle opener (OK, I liked the bottle opener).

Now, I understand that just because I have been gifted a coffee mug with a sports car on it, it does not mean I am suddenly going to be gripped with the urge to ask my friends around to drink beer while we watch the purring engine of my car on the front lawn. But what message are these gifts sending to my kids about what it means to be a man?

And it is not just my school that is on the nose, a quick Google for Fathers’ Day gifts and you are immediately presented with whisky, all manner of contraptions to tame body hair, cufflinks and acres of things made from leather and wood.

It’s like every dad is a bristling, testosterone-fuelled Marlboro Man, wearing a very posh shirt.

Mothers do not fare any better. At school, the Mothers’ Day stall is all scented candles, lotions and potions with the odd cooking implement thrown in for good measure. And as for Google, one simple search brings on pinkmageddon, a visual assault of lurid pinkness that is only rivalled by binge-watching Pepper Pig.

Things were even worse when we lived in Singapore. There, due to the weirdly traditional world of many expats, if a father made it over the school threshold for the Fathers’ Day breakfast he was treated like a returning war hero.

But even here in Australia some schools still hold a brunch for Mothers’ Day and an early breakfast for the dads, because obviously men have to get to their very important jobs on time – or perhaps they have some manscaping to do.

I try to teach my two boys to challenge these traditional male roles, to question what it means to be masculine, and to not pigeonhole members of any gender. Because strict gender roles are just as limiting to my two boys as they are to girls – and worse still, they may actually take up golf.

But I can see they already have an aversion to pink and the only recent superhero film they have not been excited about is Wonder Woman. The sexist crap is leeching in, no matter how hard I try.

Perhaps the whole thing needs a rethink. Especially given the growing diversity of families, whether it be single parents, blended families, same-sex parents or grandparents that are steering the parental ship.

It is not about being “politically correct”, but recognising that the binary is just old hat, parenting is a crazy, messy institution that defies being summed up in a simple way. Adding the words “special persons” to the day is just a patch, we need some radical change.

What would be wrong with just one Parents’ Day where we celebrate keeping our kids alive together in our myriad forms? And make it a public holiday so we don’t just shove a present in front of family members on the way to work.

Above all, the celebration of parenting needs to be meaningful, to get kids to think about what their parents mean to them, what they do for them or how they feel about them.

Surely the only people that would mourn the passing of these passé “days” are the sellers of wooden foot massagers and moustache combs.

My kids’ idea? They told me there is a lot of gifts left over at the end of the Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day stalls at school and they suggested that they combine those leftover gifts into one offering.

It’s not as radical as Parents’ Day but it’s a start – and I’ll raise an unwanted scented candle to that.