In addition to using real-life examples of your own or those that occur in our everyday life, here are a few other fun things you can do:
Read fictional stories with practical lessons.
If you have worked your way through real-life stories, and are looking for more, try fictional ones! There are tons of children’s books out there with “life lessons” around the concept of gender inequality at work, including:
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: Packed with 100 bedtime stories about 100 extraordinary women throughout history, this book was illustrated by over 60 international artists and is a perfect teaching tool for gender equality issues.
She Persisted: Chelsea Clinton’s book tells the stories of thirteen inspirational women throughout American history, from Helen Keller to Ruby Bridges to Oprah Winfrey. These women defied odds in different ways, but they all had one thing in common: their persistence. This one is perfect for showing how gender equality has come a long way, but still has a ways to go.
A Mighty Girl: This site features an online database of 3000+ books, toys, and movies that are empowering for girls, head here if you’re running dry on book recommendations.
Grimm’s Fairy Tales: Though they don’t touch on gender equality as explicitly as some of these other titles do, the original version these stories feature protagonists besides princesses: women and girls whose roles are more autonomous and less damsel-in-distress-y. For classic tales with stronger female characters, look no further.
Make sure to pre-screen any books to determine if they are age-appropriate, and if the lessons end on the right tone. Sometimes, the more realistic stories are “scarier,” so be sure to strike a balance you’re comfortable with.
Use games to put your kids in someone else’s shoes.
Make-believe games build empathy in kids. After telling them about your past experiences, present scenarios, and fictional tales, put them directly in the shoes of people affected by gender inequality using games and role playing.
Does your child lack understanding about the important roles of stay-at-home parents? Have them play house for a day, following you around and helping with your responsibilities. They can make a list of all the to-do’s and day-to-day responsibilities. If you have more than one child, you can have one kid play house and the other kid play in a make-believe office, and see how they feel when the homemaker doesn’t get paid for working the same amount. Open up a discussion about how unfair this is, and how homemaking is undervalued largely because of its reputation as being “women’s work.”
Play the Google game.
If your child says something with an underlying gender stereotype (“Firefighters are men,” or “pink is a girly color”), don’t just tell them “that’s wrong”—prove it. Google “female firefighters” or “is pink a girly color,” and show or explain what pops up. (Did you know that up until the 1940’s, pink was actually gender neutral?)
Create a dictionary of gender-neutral job titles.
Though we’ve come up with gender-opposite alternatives to some job titles (landlord vs landlady, policeman vs. policewoman), many alternatives haven’t yet become mainstream in the English language, and very few are truly gender-neutral. What are gender-neutral terms we can say instead of words like “housewife,” “repairman,” “manpower,” “cleaning lady,” or “man made”? Work on a list together, write it out or print it up, decorate it, and hang it on the refrigerator!
There’s plenty left to teach kids about gender equality besides how it applies at work. However, much of the financial disparity between men and women starts in the workplace. To raise this generation to believe in gender equality and do the work to get us there, we must be proactive.
It’s not just telling stories; as emphasized above, what’s most important is getting kids to empathize with people other than themselves, and consider how they would feel in that scenario or how they would react.
Parents have the opportunity to make a huge impact on the future—through their kids. Having these conversations is just the beginning.