Since I’ve been writing for the SheHeroes blog I can’t help but be even more aware of gender roles and stereotypes than I was before. But not only am I more aware of recognizing these stereotypes I’m much more mindful of pointing them out to my son and daughter when we see them in our everyday life.
Especially when we see a breakdown of those stereotypes in places where we least expect them.
Recently I took my son and daughter to Circus Vargas, which is here in the Bay Area for the summer. Personally I am a huge fan of the circus and cherish my memories of it as a kid. Of course I want to give my kids some of the same magical memories that I had.
What I didn’t expect was a fun lesson for both of my kids about gender stereotypes and not judging a book by its cover.
Some of you may recall a circus stunt, that is not by any means new but still just as amazing as it always was, known as the terrifying Globe of Death. If you don’t know, this stunt includes a huge metal cage/sphere in which stunt riders buzz around together on dirt bikes. It is an exciting thing to watch, and obviously takes some serious talent for the riders on the bikes.
As we watched in awe of the riders tearing around the globe my son leaned in and said to me, “Wow, those guys are so cool. “ I looked at him, hoping against hope and trusting my instinct a little and said, “How do you know they’re guys?” He stopped and looked at me. “Well, because girls don’t… I mean…. Well because they’re boys… Aren’t they?” I smiled and said, “You never know. Girls can do that stunt too you know.”
When the stunt ended and the riders came out the first one took off his helmet. He smiled and waved at the crowd. “See!” My son said. I just laughed as I watched the other, smaller wasted rider begin to remove the helmet. And then a flowing mass of long blond hair came falling out and a woman turned and waved to the crowd. “I told you girls could do those stunts too,” I said. My son smiled, and so did my daughter.
Then the incredibly talented group of acrobats dressed as pirates came out. They were all huge muscular men who performed some amazing acrobatics and tumbling moves that made them look like they were simply lighter than air. Again, my son leaned over. “Mom, how do they learn to do that? I want to know how to do that!” I told him that he could, he would just have to start by signing up for gymnastics in the fall. He looked at me like I had bugs coming out of my ears. “I thought only girls did gymnastics?” He asked. I pointed at the big burly men tumbling and flying through the air and said, “They don’t like girls to me, how about you?” He laughed. “Silly me. I guess not. Yea, gymnastics sounds cool.”
There are a lot of things we try to do to help break gender stereotypes in our world. We can write letters, sign petitions, help spread the word via Facebook and other social media channels. We can read books and tell our kids about women in history. But it’s the little things we do in everyday life that will help our children grow up to be the SheHeroes and Heroes we hope they’ll become.
It’s taking the time to point at the people we see doing amazing things and breaking the mold and saying, “LOOK at what that person is doing. YOU can do that too.” It’s those moments that we truly lay the foundation for our children so that the next generation truly breaks new ground and inches that much closer to gender equality.