Art Experiences

Posts Tagged ‘gender bias

A great way to expand creative thinking is to ask questions. When I teach, I ask the kids a lot of open ended questions in order to get their brains moving and their creative gears going. When we are painting the desert I ask the children, “What would you bring with you if you were in this hot, dry desert? What would you wear? How do you feel?” When we are sculpting animals with clay I ask, “How does his clay feel? What is your favorite animal? What do you like about your animal?” These types of questions do not have a right or wrong answer so children do not need to be afraid of being wrong. Whatever a child thinks, is the right answer.

One question every child gets asked is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I’m not even sure what I want to be, so I don’t think too many preschoolers have a grasp of this! However, their answers are often cute and sometimes reveal interesting things.

I listened to a class discuss this very question one day at preschool. As expected, many girls said they wanted to be ballerinas and many boys wanted to be firefighters. I think most of us wanted to be one of those a long time ago too. The one answer that struck me was from a boy, let’s call him Justin, who said he wanted to be a mommy. The teacher, who I think highly of, said, “Justin, you can’t grow up to be a mommy because you are a boy.” I cringed at her answer. Yes, logically, this boy could never give birth. And the chances of Justin having a sex change and adopting a child in the future are pretty small. But we are only looking at this boy’s answer through adult, logical eyes.

Justin is not saying he wants to give birth to a child or become a woman. He is saying he wants to be like a mommy, his mommy. He wants to have the qualities his mommy has. He wants to love unconditionally like his mommy loves him. He wants to be fun and nurturing, safe and happy. He wants to know it all and do it all. And you know what Justin, you can be all those things. Go forth, grow up and be a mommy.

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When babies are born, parents innately dress them according to their sex. We put our girl babies in pink dresses and our boy babies in little blue jeans. I think part of this stems from the fact that often babies look like, well, babies. It can be hard to tell the baby’s sex if it weren’t for their clothing. Plus, we adore our babies and want to dress them up and show them off. As our babies grow into toddlers, we just continue what we started. Most girl’s clothes are pink and most boy’s clothes are not.

Even at the age of two, many girls seem to develop a bit of an obsession with pink. A well known study surmises that females are biologically programmed to prefer colors in the red spectrum. This comes from our prehistoric days when men hunted and women gathered. Women needed to spot red berries and ripe fruits.

Society tell us that pink is not only a color for girls but the color for girls. Stroll down the toy aisle and you will see a sea of pink plastic doll houses, jewelry, kitchenware and so much more. There are entire stores that sell only pink clothing and accessories. Like it or not, Disney Princess items rake in over $4 billion a year. I see many little girls decked out in pinkwear with their sparkling tiaras every day.

I recall a controversial rant last year that made the Facebook rounds posted by the mother of a 5 year old boy who wanted to dress up like Daphne from Scooby Doo for Halloween. She thought it was fine, bought him the pink and purple costume and posted a very cute photo of him in it. Some other mothers however, were a bit disgusted and dismayed that this mother “allowed this to happen.” Granted, it’s not exactly like wearing a pink polo, but the point is that adults do transmit gender biases to children.

Interestingly, there are also many children who do not develop this bias regarding the color pink and see pink as one of many colors in the world to choose from, be it on a shirt, in a painting or on a toy. Boys are very happy wearing pink, painting with pink and playing with pink toys. Girls can take pink or leave it, they may wear pink clothing sometimes, but not all the time. These children aren’t necessarily the ones with the most confidence, but maybe they are the ones with the most innocence – their choices come straight from their hearts and have not yet been clouded by the expectations of others.

As the nature versus nurture debate goes on, art teachers will continue to show our charges that pink is a color just like green, blue and yellow.

Even I find myself occasionally wincing when a boy chooses to paint his whole picture in pink. Is it because I think his parents will wonder why I let him do that? Is it because I think I might be promoting some kind of not exactly normal-ness in this boy? I mentally kick myself when those thoughts fly by and then let the creating continue!


Hi! I'm Susan Stein and of my many passions in life,
two of my biggest are art and children. In the process of teaching children art, I also teach them problem solving, brainstorming, inventive thinking, originality, working with others, hand eye coordination, and so much more. It doesn't matter if you're good at drawing or not, everyone will benefit from experiencing art.

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