Recently I read a paper by Sandra Bem about gender schema theory that I felt was very relevant to the sociology of gender. Bem’s main argument in this paper is that it would be most beneficial for children to be raised in a gender aschematic environment or one without gender stereotypes. In society, gender is a very significant category used for classifying others and is usually the first thing that people notice when meeting others. This process of categorizing people based on sex is also apparent in young children as well. Studies have shown that young children utilize cultural ideas about gender to help determine their own behavior and define their relationships with their peers. Children are subject to gender stereotypes every day, and as Sandra Bem points out, children cannot help but take notice of the different activities and toys that are considered appropriate for boys and those that are considered appropriate for girls.
According to Sandra Bem, it is bad for a child’s future development to categorize people based on sex. After weighing the pros and cons, I have decided that I agree with Bem on this issue. I believe that it would be most beneficial for children to be raised as gender aschematic. Before children enter school, their main sources of gender related attitudes and behaviors come from their parents and home life. In order for parents to raise their children in a gender aschematic environment, parents would have resist acting in gendered ways themselves. For example, they would have to divide the household chores evenly among themselves to show their children that housework is not just women’s work. Parents would also have to prevent kids from using gender categories by choosing gender-neutral colors and toys as well as shielding children from outside gender-typing. I feel that this goal of raising gender aschematic children would be very difficult, but achievable. I think that parents would face the most difficulty when their children start school. At this point, the parents cannot watch their children around the clock and censor the information that their child is receiving. In society, there are gender stereotypes everywhere and it is unlikely that children will remain completely unaffected. Even as impossible as this may seem, research has shown that children who are raised by parents who are not strongly gender typed grow up to be less gender typed themselves.
By raising children to be gender aschematic, it is likely that they will also be socially androgynous; meaning that they will have both masculine and feminine traits. This can be good and bad. On the one hand, boys who have both masculine and feminine traits later have more egalitarian views about men and women and are usually much more understanding of women. It is also beneficial for girls to be androgynous because women with masculine traits have higher levels of self-esteem and fewer mental health issues. I also believe that without gender stereotypes, children would feel freer to follow their true interests without feeling pressure to act in a manner that society has deemed appropriate for their gender. The downside to adopting Sandra Bem’s ideas on child-rearing would be that children may face problems assimilating with their peers, who may misunderstand the philosophy behind their social androgyny. For example, on Bem’s son’s first day of school, he wore barrettes and many little boys asked him if he was a boy or a girl.
Just to restate my main argument, I believe that it is detrimental for children to use gender as a category to organize their own behavior and to define their relationships with others. I believe that it would be most beneficial for children to be raised as gender aschematic.
~ Lady Lazarus
The Class Blog Project, or CBP, is a blog featuring undergraduate students forming a critical dialogue with each other around ideas related to the sociology of gender.