Can we talk a minute about those old-school cartoons where beautiful princesses (usually before they know they’re princesses) are smiling ear to ear and singing while sweeping, mopping, and doing the dishes? While we don’t know what goes down in your family, we’re pretty sure scrubbing the pasta pot is nobody’s idea of a good time.
Still, household chores need to get done, and having your girl help with them is important on a number of levels. In addition to the tidying going quicker when there are more hands to help, taking on a few regular tasks around the house teaches your daughter responsibility and teamwork and gives her the skills she’ll need when she grows up and is living on her own. You don’t want her to be that clueless kid in the dorms who doesn’t know how to use a washing machine!
And yet chores—when divvied up without much thought—can reinforce gender stereotypes and send the wrong message to kids about which work is for girls and which is for boys. So it’s not just those cartoon princesses and their happy house-making that enforces outdated stereotypes, you could be doing it in your own home without even realizing it!
“In many families, girls’ responsibilities are limited to things like setting the table and washing dishes, while boys are expected to take care of more physical tasks, like mowing the lawn or taking out the trash,” says Girl Scouts’ developmental psychologist Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald. “Not only does that send the wrong message to both boys and girls about what they’re capable of and what appropriate roles for them look like, but it also sets them up to be less likely to do certain types of tasks later in life.”
On top of that? The types of chores most commonly assigned to girls often take more time to accomplish than those given to boys (running the garbage outside takes a few seconds, whereas unloading the dishwasher and putting everything away is quite a bit more time consuming). One study actually found that girls spend, on average, 30 percent more time on household duties than their male counterparts—which means girls get less time to play, to study, and to pursue other interests than their brothers. Not OK!
Another study showed something just as (if not more) alarming: girls, on average, make less money in allowance even though they spend more time on chores than their male counterparts. The pay gap starts early, folks.
So taking the extra time to make sure household responsibilities aren’t being doled out based on subconscious gender stereotypes—and that any allowance system you have set up is fair between daughters and sons—will both help your kids see that boys and girls can equally take on any kind of job and give them a well-rounded set of skills to help them succeed in life.
How do you get started? Make a list of all the kid-friendly tasks that need to get done during the month. Depending on the ages of your children, this could include raking the leaves, vacuuming the carpets, cleaning the cat’s litter box, or even checking the oil on the family car. Then rotate the tasks among family members week by week. This way, nobody’s stuck doing one particular job they don’t like week after week, and no job is seen as gendered, either.