The mom-of-three, from Whitby, Ont., began her project #ABoyCanToo to celebrate boys who are brave enough to pursue interests traditionally associated with girls. This includes anything and everything from playing with dolls to baking to ice skating. The possibilities are endless.
McGoey’s photo series was inspired by her own boys – aged five, eight and 11 – who she is raising to be gender-positive. On her site, the mom explains that hers sons attend soccer practices, but also love having dance parties in their living room.
“Not long after I decided to pursue my first personal photography project I knew it had to shed light on these amazing boys who in the face of strong societal gender norms are embracing a strong sense of self worth, self confidence and providing inspiration for other #aboycantoo boys all over the world,” she wrote on her site.
In particular, McGoey says it was her middle son who really motivated her to start the series. “He never walked; he skipped and twirled, danced through his day,” she told The Huffington Post. “He loves sparkles, pink, rainbows, reading, and has never been concerned if something was ‘boy’ or ‘girl.’”
Since launching her project in January, McGoey has been overwhelmed with positive feedback, calling the reaction “incredible.”
“We are being received to date with open arms, I have gotten emails saying ‘thank you my son needed to see this,’ and ‘thank you for championing these special boys,’” the mom told BabyCenter.
McGoey’s photo series is a refreshing take on breaking gender norms. In the past, there have been plenty of campaigns that encourage girls to follow their interests, whether they be sports or science, but reverse campaigns about boys are rarely seen.
That’s why McGoey views her project as an educational one that can help open people’s minds about gender stereotypes.
“To move societal norms one must educate,” she told BabyCenter. “The best thing one can do for our project is to share it. The more we educate and share these amazing #aboycantoo profiles the more we can change the conversation.”
ALSO ON HUFFPOST:
Try to focus less on gender differences in general, Brown said. One way is to remove gendered speech from your language as much as you can. Constantly referring to people by their sex or gender labels it to children as something that matters very much, she said, and therefore tells them that it's an important part of who they are -- perhaps more important than factors like their personality or strengths. “I try to just make it not something that really comes up much,” she advised.
“There's a lot of individual differences among children that don't follow gender lines,” Brown said. It's far more productive to focus on the things about our children that have nothing to do with sex or gender: their likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and personality traits. “The reality is that gender is pretty irrelevant for predicting what kids are like,” she said. Moving away from a focus on what boys are like and what girls are like allows us to instead discover what is actually unique about our child.
“It's important to know the facts,” Brown said. “[Parents] should know that there's no differences whether they have boys or girls in terms of academic differences, personality, etc.” In fact, when studying infants and young children, the research shows very few inherent differences based on sex, she said. Boys tend to have a bit less inhibitory control at birth and girls tend to talk earlier, though this does even out as male and female children age. In general, Brown said, research tends to match what we know about development in general -- as in, differences that show up between boys and girls as they get older are related to how we treat male and female children differently, not due to any inherent differences between the sexes.
While studies show only slight differences based on sex, they do illustrate that a strong focus on gender norms can be harmful, Brown said. For girls, the negative effects can include poor body image due to the universal value placed on appearance, specifically, a very narrow definition of acceptable appearance for females. For example, Brown said, “By the time they're 12 years old more than 70 percent of girls aren't happy with how they look.” In addition, we've seen that girls stay away from careers in science and math (STEM careers) because they perceive themselves as weaker in those subjects, even when research shows that their actual abilities are the same as for boys.
But gender stereotypes can hurt boys too. “One of the most disturbing outcomes of stereotypes for boys is that we really tell boys that you shouldn't cry, and parents worry if they're son is very sensitive,” Brown said. Parents can focus too much on trying to avoid introversion and push assertiveness on boys who just don't fit that personality type. But studies don't show any differences between boys and girls tending towards being natural introverts, she said. At the same time as we could be preventing boys from expressing their feelings, we give them aggressive outlets like violent toys. “We shouldn't be surprised that boys grow up and don't know how to handle sadness and feelings well and show a lot more aggression,” she said.
Many new parents are surprised by how quickly the focus on gender begins. For example, have you ever tried to find a shirt with a cat on it for a boy? Somewhere along the line it was decided that pink is for girls and blue is for boys, and cats are for girls and dogs are for boys, and clothing and toys for even the youngest children often falls strictly on these arbitrary divisions. This can extend to our behaviour towards boy and girl children as well. Brown mentioned research that shows that people tend to read and speak more to female babies, using more complicated vocabulary, and other studies show that the number and quality of words young children hear can affect their educational success later.
Toys are not just fun for kids; they're also a learning tool. When selecting playthings for your child, break away from thinking in terms of gender or a particular section of the toy store. Instead, choose toys that foster traits you want to encourage in your children, or help them learn particular skills you value. Do you want your child to be nurturing and empathetic? Then provide baby dolls, for boys and girls. Lego and blocks help all children develop spatial skills, and ball play improves hand-eye coordination whether your child is male or female. “We want to make sure we teach the traits that are important,” Brown said, “not the toys that fit ‘their’ half of the toy store.”
Are you working on busting gender stereotypes in your own home only to feel undermined when grandma or grandpa says that dolls are only for little girls, or that all boys like to play rough? It can be tricky to get family members on board, but it's worth trying. This will ensure your children are hearing messages that matter to you and to make your family values clear. Brown said that a discussion can often avoid problems. Even if your parents or in-laws don't agree with your decision to keep your children from playing with guns or fashion dolls, they may still respect it. Barring that, she suggested, there's always the donation bin at your local thrift store. “I think it's alright to say ‘These are my kids, and I can decide what they have and how they dress,’” she said.
“Kids about three years old start to believe gender stereotypes,” Brown said. That's why it's important to consistently correct stereotypes about gender and sex when your child hears them or uses them, even if they seem harmless or silly. But it doesn't need to be a lecture or something that requires a deep discussion each time. For example, you can say things like, “Boys and girls both like to play with trucks. Your friend Jenny likes trucks a lot, doesn't she?” The key factor is making those corrections every time you hear a stereotype, Brown said, providing your children with the language they need to do it on their own when they're older and coming across stereotypes in the media or outside their homes.