In the Box - Gender Roles and Preschool
I was having a conversation with my friend the other day and she told me about an incident that occurred as her husband and three year old were leaving their home for the day. Her son said "Bye Mommy! Daddy and I are going to work. You work here" and gestured to the kitchen as he turned to walk out the door. My girlfriend was in total shock. Both she and her husband work outside of the home and contribute to all aspects of the household, from cooking to cleaning. As a matter of fact, her son has visited her office and played quietly while daycare was on recess and she had to work. My girlfriend has long defined herself as a feminist and was completely flummoxed with her son's proclamation. Before a moment could pass her husband quickly jumped in and said "We all go to work and we all work here."
It is fascinating that despite living in a household where gender roles are not defined, this young man has already drawn a clear line in the sand regarding male and female roles. Sitting with my friend I theorized that perhaps he learned this at school. She'd previously described a little girl that claimed her son as "husband" and not only is he tasked with hugging her before leaving on a daily basis but they frequently play together in the kitchen. He sits at the table while she "cooks" him a meal. Again, these stereotypical gender roles are perplexing. All of the children in the class have mothers that work outside of the home and at least 90% are doctors - MD or PhDs. I mention this because these women are in powerful positions and yet the children still buy into the stereotypes.
After hearing these tales I have to wonder if the idea of gender roles are nurture or nature? How is it that children with parents working outside the home still hold the stereotypical societal norms regarding gender roles? Personally I don't have the answer. If my son said such a thing to me I certainly would not be surprised. My husband and I both work from home and on the days that we do not send him to daycare we share the responsibility of caring for him. However, if my husband has a business call he will tell our son "Daddy is working, Daddy is a business man." On the other hand, if I am in situation when I am unable to be interrupted I usually will pop in his favorite DVD and take care of business without mentioning that "Mommy is working." Household duties certainly fall on my shoulders and when my son is old enough he will likely respond "Mommy" when asked who cooks/cleans/washes laundry (although I must admit I am NOT a domestic diva).
Before yesterday's conversation I never gave a thought to what I am teaching my son about gender roles. I do know that he helps out with chores and as he grows older will understand that this is expected and mommy is "not the maid." I refuse to raise a man-child that believes that a woman's role is to be "domestic." Perhaps it is time for me to ask my husband to chip in more around the house and I need to let my son know that mommy indeed works.