Here at Emily Elephant, we like to believe that every child has the imagination capable of believing and living out any of their wildest dreams and expectations, and we like to help them live those dreams out with our magical party services! Whether that means that they are pirates sailing on a makeshift cardboard sailboat-box or that they are a Princess or the Prima Ballerina leaping across the world’s stage – their imagination truly knows no bounds,
except for those we impose on them.
With that in mind parents need to explore what our ideas and parameters are for “appropriate” imaginative play for our children. In this day and age, we are continuously faced with new definitions of gender and norms regarding gender bias and although many of us adults insist we are comfortable and in support of these ideas, one can easily see an adults judgment flaws in the way they raise their children; in the gender biases they impose on their little boys and girls.
For the most part, I have encountered parents (level-headed parents with loving households) who encourage their daughters to play and assume the role of a princess, while boys are ushered towards the realm of superheroes, monsters and pirates. This despite the fact that our children have been exposed to many characters over the last 10 years who cross those “regular” gender lines. It is hard to believe that in a world where our children are later faced with the reality of trying to compete on a (for the most part) equal platform when it comes to lifestyle and work choices that we would then impose such backward roles on them.
In the same breathe, I would not want my daughter to “hate” princesses and that which we have come to believe they traditionally represent (submissiveness, beauty, vanity and weakness), because that could come across to her as a complete disregard and denial of any feminine personality traits and behaviors, or even “being a girl” in general.
Similarly with boys, discouraging them from playing with dolls or exploring makeup and dressing up could send across a message that boys are not “meant” to explore certain avenues of imagination that they see girls doing – that this is something exclusive to one gender and perhaps that this makes them in some way superior as they carry out more important tasks like fighting off the monsters for the princess and “working” instead of taking care of a baby.
As with most aspects of parenting, there is no right and wrong way- but I believe that we need to hand over more of that choice to our children, as opposed to leading them down a specified path that suites our beliefs. As often happens, when you restrict a child from anything without sensibly communicating your reasons for this to them, they will in all likelihood figure out a way to explore that which they have not been allowed and in some cases enjoy the act of rebellion more than anything else. This could mean that we need to address our own issues for wanting to guide our children away from points of traditional gender roles.
But it’s not all that difficult to introduce children to a wide range of possibilities as to what they can believe in and base their expectations on when we have been given fantastic make-believe role models such as :
- Princess Merida (BRAVE) who has a love and talent for sports and rejects the traditions of marriage
- Moana, the destined ruler of an island tribe who sets off on a mission to save her people
- Captain America who shows compassion alongside bravery and who ultimately communicates a message of standing up against bullies
- The X-Men, where many characters defy traditional gender roles.
- Wonder woman, who is not only beautiful but as strong and skilled as any of her male counterparts
- The Power Puff Girls, who each posses their own personality strengths and unique characteristics
- Mulan, who overtly challenges gender roles and a very traditional culture
- Tiana (The Princess and the Frog) while a tale of love at the heart, Tiana’s character is filled with drive and ambition to be a business owner and she is shown to work very hard on her road to achieve this
And many more…
So go ahead, let the little boys request that Merida come to their party to practice archery or ask Spiderman to come and give the girls some superhero training – they could end up being inspired to do much more than you would expect!
X Emily Elephant