Why we should teach boys to call out sexism

A mind the gap sign at a train station.

I was pleased to read about a four-year-old girl calling out LEGO City magazine for a lack of female representation.

The daughter of the actor Samuel West noticed that, of the 29 characters who speak in the issue, only one was female and even then it was to agree with a man.

The upshot is that LEGO has invited the girl to help edit a future issue, which can only be a good thing.

I found this news story particularly interesting as my seven-year-old son has also pointed out a couple of similar things recently.

Among the other gifts he received for his recent birthday were a LEGO Movie 2 T-shirt and an Avengers Infinity War scooter. Both featured group shots of the main protagonists.

It didn’t take him long to point out that key female characters were conspicuous by their absence.

He was quite angry about it too. On both occasions, he stomped up to us shouting “This is sexist.” And he was spot on.

Despite featuring prominently in the trailer for The LEGO Movie 2, Lucy is nowhere to be seen on the T-shirt.

There are no female characters at all on the Avengers scooter. Gamora, Black Widow and Scarlet Witch contribute the same, if not more, than Hulk, Black Panther and Star-Lord in the film. Yet none get a look-in.

This lack of representation is unacceptable. I’m proud that he noticed though and also that he knew it was wrong.

Presumably, the assumption made by those who produce character-branded products like these is that they are “for boys”. That, of course, is problematic in itself.

They’re doing everyone a great disservice by omitting female characters. My son doesn’t differentiate characters based on gender and neither should they.

As parents of two boys close together in age, we’ve always felt it important to address gender equality.

Long before they had a little sister, we were concerned that they might not see things as clearly, as they were each others’ only frame of reference in many ways.

And it’s something that all parents should teach all children about as a matter of course.

I think it’s particularly important to teach boys about sexism. After all, their gender isn’t poorly represented, so they may not notice in the same way girls do.

Children should be encouraged to question and challenge portrayals that don’t tally with the basic fact that we should all be seen as equal.

The reason misrepresentation like this still exists is because it’s ingrained during childhood. So now is the time to teach them about it. And it’s not exactly difficult to do so either.

We’ve explained it once or twice but have mainly done so via example. We call out sexism wherever we see it and they understand.

It has obviously worked too. My son spotted these things independently and pointed them out.

Despite some progress in recent decades, our society is still horrendously sexist. Gender gaps should simply not exist, but they’re alive and well.

The children of today will hopefully play their part in continuing to tackle them, so it’s vital that they’re well informed of what is and isn’t acceptable now.

So let’s teach children – boys as well as girls – to call out sexism.

Comments

  1. Reneé @ Mummytries

    Such a great piece, Tom! Teaching our boys to call out sexism and (as a follow on) truly respect the girls and women around them, is how we’ll see a massive shift. I live in hope that all four year old boys like your son, and mine, become the norm

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