Gender stereotyping leads to bullying

When Grayson Bruce, age 9, brought his My Little Pony lunch sack to school, the principal advised his mother to tell her son that in order to avoid bullying, he should leave his lunch sack at home.

Wow. That is the advice of the school principal? To conform? That’s the best the leader of the school can do?

My 4 yr old daughter was bullied at her preschool for wearing “boy” shoes (translation “Star Wars” sneakers.) How did we deal with it? We talked about it and made a video.

I spoke with my daughter’s teachers who then spoke to the kids about how shoes are for everyone. I make an effort to call out gender stereotyping when I am with my daughter. I ask her questions about what she thinks when we see girls or boys portrayed in stereotypical ways.

After my daughter’s experience, I did a Google search: “bullied for boy shoes.” On Coupon Cilpinista I saw this:

Yesterday my 4 year old wore her waterproof slip-on shoes for boy or girl to school (they are black Timberland moccasins) and she told me this morning, “The girls would not play with me yesterdays because they said I was wearing boys shoes, can you please put sparkly shoes on me ???”

I was in shock. Are you serious? Is this something I should address with the school??? BULLYING starting THIS YOUNG??? I don’t know what to think– my daughter loves those shoes and her sparkly shoes are not comfortable or for winter weather but she wants to wear them to appease the bullies in her classroom.

What would you do?????


Almost worse than the bullying, here’s some advice she got from fans of hers, without irony, each one confirmed with multiple likes:

Cover them in glitter. Change the shoelaces to a girlie style.


Bedazzle her moccasins


Add something to moccasins to make it more “girly”


This is so sad – I’d talk to the teacher for sure. I also like the ideas of “girling up” her boots with shoe laces, etc. Good luck CouponClipinista


put sparkles on the shoes…that should do it.


Yep. I would bedazzel the crap out of em. I can tell you from experience, the school wont do anything!!


I agree. Bedazzle them. glue on a few rhinestones or a bow.


Bedazzle her shoes :o )


Note to parents: Gender stereotyping CAUSES bullying. Bedazzling shoes? Not a solution here. What is that teaching your kid? To do whatever the bullies say to do. And what is it teaching the other kids? Keep bullying. Is that really the lesson we want children to be learning? I honestly don’t even think these 4 year olds know they’re bullying, because not enough parents and teachers are telling them that. I think these kids believe that they are stating a fact. It’s up to grown-ups to teach them differently. Don’t know how? Tell your children colors are for everybody, as are games, books, TV shows, and movies. Seek out narratives with strong female protagonists for your sons and daughters. Still confused? Here’s some great advice from Chicago Now.


13 thoughts on “Gender stereotyping leads to bullying

  1. Let her wear what she wants and if people want to judge her for it then let them. She will find some new friends, don’t make her change herself for other people.

  2. Hi Margot,

    I am the producer of an upcoming children’s television show with gender equality as a major theme. I’ve been following you for a year and a half and my vision is greatly influenced by your blog. For example, one episode addresses gendered footwear, inspired by this blog post. Colors are for everyone.

    Please email me if you are interested in hearing more about my show. My hope is that you would be able to help me refine my concept in terms of gender equality.

    Nick Anderson

  3. My six year old son won’t wear his beloved Hello Kitty Pirate shirt to school because he’s been teased so much for his Hello Kitty socks and long hair. I know kids will seize on anything that strikes them as different sometimes, but the fact that it’s gender policing is so awful. Thank goodness his teachers did not suggest changing his clothes and hair! They understood it’s community respect issue that needs to be worked on in the class.

    • Hi Skye,

      That makes me so sad. And pissed off, b/c seeing Hello Kitty as a pirate is good for everyone.

      I hadn’t responded yet to the comment that everyone gets teased about something. Getting teased about gender is sanctioned by our society, grown-ups, media, and multi-national corporations. The evils of gender stereotyping lead to girls being comfortable on the sidelines, in supporting roles. These roles teach a new generation to accept a world where girls go missing. Gender boxes limit everyone. Early experiences affect brain development. It is imperative that we stop limiting kids like this.


  4. Kids make fun of anything that looks different to them. My daughter was teased in kindergarden about what she brought for lunch because it looked usual. She matter-of-factly told the boy: “it’s actually pretty good, it’s got ham, eggs, cheese…you should try sometimes” which left the boy befuddled. I was so proud of her for finding this simple solution all by herself. Since then this boy, who you would call a little-bully, showed respect and friendliness to her which made her happy. I think not overreacting as parents and giving children a set of tools that they can use in these situations can make a big difference. My youngest often shares with me discussions that emerge in her first grade class about whether pink is a girl color or whatnot and she always say “colors are for everyone”. I think it’s good for other kids to be exposed to different point of views. Most of the stuff they come up with comes from silly common misconceptions and it’s amazing how hearing something different from a peer can resonate with them.

    • Standing up to a bully, especially on the first encounter, is an important lesson for all genders. Love to hear that your daughter has learned how to do this without being aggressive. Even Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz,” bapped the cowardly lion on the nose when he threatened Toto.

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  6. Seek out narratives with strong female protagonists for your sons and daughters.

    I’m entirely unsure what a confused, socially-inept, goal-deprived little boy is supposed to learn from “narratives with strong female protagonists.” Seems like exacerbating a problem, to me; no more beneficial than a socially-inept and goal-deprived little girl being showered with narratives about strong male protagonists. Agree with all the rest you wrote, though.

    • Hi Morgan,

      Right now, stories about boys are understood to be for everyone while stories for girls are “special interest” and “just for girls.” As I just blogged about, even the girl empowerment world puts out lists declaring books with female protagonists are great “for girls.” Stories about people of color are not only for people of color. We all need to see more people of color protagonists and female protagonists so we can all experience these people as heroes.


  7. Ugh. I don’t have words. This lunchbox story makes me so frustrated. It is, yes, very like “well then bedazzle her shoes!” “solution” to that poor girl’s bullying story (and your daughter’s experience – I’m so sorry she had to go through that). The administration should have taken this as The Perfect (if super unfortunate) reason to enter into a dialogue with students about bullying.

    I’ve had to, painstakingly at times, explain to my nephew that pink and purple are, in fact, colours, Just colours.

    Thank you for bringing these things to light. I love your blog. I am always happy to see a notification for it come up in my reader. 🙂

  8. Is it just me or have we gone back to the 50s where women and men and indeed little girls and little boys where told that they had to be a certain way to be accepted am really worried the conservatives are trying to make women and young girls feel like be pretty and passive and know your place can’t believe that we are going backwards

  9. Thanks for this, Margot! I wish more people realized the impact that gender stereotypes can have on kids, and that the answer is not to give in to the bullies, but to teach kids that colours, interests and activities are for boys and girls equally.

    I’d love to connect with you about Jill and Jack Kids – the clothing company I’m starting to inspire kids to dream beyond pink and blue.

    – Jenn

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