Gender and Play: Ask Your Mama Coach

Growing Up Female

As a young girl, I watched the Country Music Channel (CMT) nonstop.  One of the popular songs of the time was by Michelle Wright, “Take it like a man” circa 1992 (I’m really dating myself here)!  The chorus starts with;

Take it like a man, steady and strong.  Not a lot of fuss and carrying on . . .

This was one of the first times I actually stepped back and thought about the differences between being male or female. How different are we?  How will being female define me?  How will being female affect my future?  Up to this point, I had enjoyed playing with my friends, not noticing their gender.  But now I was filled with thoughts of, ‘Should I…’, ‘Can he…’, etc.

I grew up as the older sibling to a younger brother, and our home was filled with Barbies, LEGO, stuffies, and G. I. Joe’s!  I don’t think we were told there were specific girl or boy toys.  What I remember were the adventures that our toys went on, and all the time my brother and I spent together co-creating our imaginary play space (thank you @andrewhatala)!

Limiting children to sex-typed roles, expecting play to fall into male or female compartments, or discouraging abilities on the grounds that they are “too feminine,” not “masculine” enough, or not “ladylike” may cause children to stifle their unique skills and interests (p. 49, Positive Discipline for Preschoolers).

Past Affecting Future?

Had my parents told me that I couldn’t touch the G. I. Joe’s or that Barbies were off limits to my brother, would it have shaped who we became as adults and the way we view the world?  I am now a wife, mother, Registered Nurse, and business owner.  My brother has his Ph.D. and holds a full-time position at the University of Manitoba within the department of Medicine.  Is my career choice more decidedly female in comparison to that of my brother’s?  And does it even matter?

As parents, we can provide a safe place for our children to learn and explore; in the end we merely hold the space for them to find and pursue their own unique passions.


Children naturally learn that they are either male or female, but this learning process needn’t involve gender-based limitations.  Girls can play army and boys can play with dolls and all can learn to develop their own special abilities, regardless of sex (p. 48, Positive Discipline for Preschoolers).

There is an intriguing Sesame Street episode that draws attention to this very topic.  The girl characters want to play princess and the boy characters want to play superhero.  Chaos ensues when one of the girl characters wants to play superhero with the boys!  In the end they determine that play is play and it doesn’t matter what tools you choose – learning through play is vital to our children’s growth and development (as mentioned in my previous blog!)  Click here to watch the Sesame Street song, “Anyone Can Play”.

Ladies and Gentleman

I’ll leave you with an interesting post I saw on FaceBook recently via @PositiveParentingSolutions.  A Houston, TX middle school had this quote painted in the hallway;

The more you act like a lady, the more he’ll act like a gentleman.

What does it mean to be a ‘lady’ or a ‘gentleman’? Are we expected to act a certain way based strictly on our gender?  Should we not all be held to the same high standard in how we behave towards one another?  Due to negative media coverage, the school repainted the wall with the following;

Do not wait for someone else to come and speak for you.  It’s you who can change the world.

Malala Yousafzai

Be an Inspiration . . .

As parents, how do you want to inspire your children to be the best of themselves and change the world, regardless of their gender identity?  My daughter, Olivia, wants to grow up to be Batman — and you know what, I think that’s pretty cool!

Until next time, I’m Jenny the Mama Coach.  Stay classy Grande Prairie!