Gender Norms – New Essay on CNN

I have a new essay up on CNN on gender norms and pre-school. Here’s the summary. But please read it anyway and share it, if so inclined. I feel this one, unlike the more theological pieces, has a chance at a broader readership and maybe even changing a few minds – or at least providing language to people already on the same page.


When the rocket scientist Yvonne Brill died in March, The New York Times celebrated her
as the maker of a “mean beef stroganoff” and “the world’s best mother.”
When my 4-year-old daughter, Ellie, a wildly creative and interesting
girl, finished a year of preschool last week, her teachers gave her an
award for being the best dressed.


Sometimes, I find the prospect of raising a girl to be terrifying. The
forces of patriarchy conspire to render girls weak, subordinate and
sexually objectified. When we respond to infants by gendering our
speech, strong for boys and lilting for girls, we immediately start to shape their interactions with the world.


Our culture constantly projects the message that only appearances
matter, and this message is aimed squarely at our children. We can fight
this only by working against the grain, resisting gendered language and
emphasizing the internal over the external.

Here’s a list of some of the inspirations and sources for the essay.

Thanks for reading.

11 Replies to “Gender Norms – New Essay on CNN”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Loved the article. Like you, I too believe we need to prepare our daughters to be awesome women, not worry about being best dressed, or best liked. Good job. #MsParentGuru (@cgwwbooks on TW)

  2. Anonymous says:

    When one becomes the parent of a daughter, suddenly the gender issues become very obvious – from the ubiquitous messages about their bodies to the preschool awards to the ways that daycare providers and teachers "encourage" our girls. Things we never noticed before are shockingly brought to our attention and we wonder how others are so calm at this pervasive, insidious and outrageous stereotyping and limiting of potential. And it is scary to raise a daughter. But, I would propose that it may be even scarier to raise a son today – when raising a son, it is much easier to remain blissfully unaware of the gender-norming and educational advantages that are often in their favor. Privilege. Except of course, if one has an artistic son, then it all becomes quite clear. But, raising a son to be a feminist in today's world is a challenge. A challenge we must acknowledge and face with our boys.

    1. David Perry says:

      Thanks for your comment (although I wish had given me a name, even a fake one).

      I think all of this is true, and that we don't need to worry about which is scarier. The challenges are clear, but distinct, for all genders.

  3. Regula Schmid says:

    As a mother of two daughters who tries to find in a normal super market underwear that is not tight fitting and spotting a big cut out heart in an interesting place or tights that are long enough, warm and not black fish-nets (I end up with brown and yellow ones spotting rockets), I agree entirely with your analysis. As a Swiss I was nevertheless struck by another feature of your story: Why do 4 year olds have to be get awards for having passed 1 year in pre-school? When my American sister-in-law told me her daughter had "graduated from Kindergarten" I first thought she made a joke. She didn't, but I wonder whether the striking gendering you observe is less a function of the society in general but of the ostentative allocation of roles that seems to be a defining feature in American (school) culture that is so fond of constantly pointing at people's behaviour, appearance, and achievement by allocating to individuals a specific role in a group in a public ceremony. ( I also find the concepts of proms, the "homecoming queen", and "Mom's best apple-pie" contests rather disturbing.) Regula Schmid, Küsnacht, Switzerland

    1. David Perry says:

      Thank you for commenting and sorry about the delay (if you read the comments on the CNN page you'll see why I moderate here!). It was the middle of the night in the U.S.

      The issue of awards, likewise, struck me as a big undiscussed topic in my essay (and one I just couldn't address or risk going astray). I haven't done all the research yet, but it seems to have emerged from the "self-esteem" culture of parenting that developed in the 60s and 70s here. There's a lot of good things to be found in those ideas, as self-esteem is important, but it evolved to "everyone's a winner," to the celebration of difference, and now to this award culture.

      And then we created all these insane graduations.

      I don't know any parent who thinks all these awards and graduations are good ideas, but maybe I just don't talk to enough parents.

      Thanks for commenting.

    2. Regula Schmid says:

      Thank you for your reply – and of course, I did not expect you to answer immediately (on the other hand: you get up early, do you!). I share your hypothesis about the awards having their origin in the "self-esteem" culture of parenting in the 60s and 70s. And maybe it is an overreaction to the dangers of the bias of (racial, cultural, etc.) diferencies? However, it might not be the whole story – whereas some traces of this "self-esteem" parenting (or: educating) can certainly be seen in my country as well, awards play clearly a much smaller part in general – my country has no military decorations, almost no prizes for outstanding academic dissertations (at least not in history), and a bonus system for bankers etc. that was considered by public vote as outrageous. Maybe your ultimate historical analysis to the awarding question (not to mention gendering) should sport a intercultural, global part… 😉
      Sorry, I got into rambling. Thank you for letting me discover your Blog through CNN! I will from time to time look at it from now on (with time lag). Regula

  4. adamk says:

    Excellent article. Hope there will be more like this. My journey begins in 4 months. We are planning to keep her as gender neutral as possible (and trying to prepare our families for this). Didn't think about how school or even preschool, will get in the way…

    1. David Perry says:

      Thank you. Yes, you can control a lot for a few years, then have to surrender control. It's all about letting our children write their own stories.

  5. Chelsea G. says:

    Thanks for the great article, David – I really enjoyed it. It's makes for great consideration as I raise my son. I have a lot of hopes for him around being sensitive and caring, and I do worry about gender roles getting in the way of that (though I do think that us Canadians are a little luckier than Americans when it comes to over-the-top gender stereotyping). For my son, we are lucky that our daycare is super about keeping things relatively gender neutral, and so we just have to try to keep being aware of what is there, what is culturally-mediated that he is learning.

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