I’ve never really known a lot of other geek girls growing up, so I’ve spent a lot of time hanging out mostly with boys. I now have an adorable little nephew who is happily turning into quite the mini-geek himself. A few weeks ago though, I was informed that he didn’t think Star Wars was for girls. He knows his aunt is a huge Star Wars fan (since I’m one of the people who got him interested in it, in the first place) and accepts that without issue. But he doesn’t seem to agree that girls he isn’t related to can also appreciate so-called “boy stuff”. He’s only 7, so I’m wondering how I can age-appropriately get him to understand that Star Wars (and other geek culture) is for all girls (and boys), not just the girls he’s related to and that comments like that are hurtful to girls who are really into that. Any suggestions?
Dear Fangirl Aunt,
Children around your nephew’s age are trying to make sense of the world, and to do so, they like to put everyone and everything into clear-cut boxes. They have a hard time with ambiguity, so they tend to overgeneralize, deciding that all boys are like this, and all girls are like that. When they are shown TV commercials of boys playing with Star Wars toys, and when Star Wars toys are in the boys’ toy aisles at toy stores, they learn to put Star Wars in the “boy” box. Nevertheless, they can definitely learn that Star Wars and other sci-fi and geek culture is not just for boys. They just have to be taught.
It’s great that you are doing your part to teach your nephew that girls can like Star Wars, and it sounds like you have already had an effect! After seeing that you like it, he has already expanded his beliefs about who can like Star Wars to include female relatives. When he sees that women and girls who are not related to him also like it, he can expand his concept even further. He might be resistant to this idea at first, since kids are often resistant to new information that challenges their beliefs about the world. However, when your nephew is shown enough examples that challenge his beliefs, he can learn to change them. Perhaps you can show him the Her Universe pages and all the women and girls on here who love Star Wars and other aspects of Geek culture. Maybe you could bring him to a convention and point out all the female fans. You could also show him examples of other women who don’t conform to traditional gender roles, such as female athletes and sports fans, as well as female soldiers.
When teaching your nephew that his comments can be hurtful to girls, it can help to give him a real-life example. Perhaps you can explain that it hurts your feelings when he says things like that, since you are a girl, and you like Star Wars. If you are familiar with Carrie Goldman’s book Bullied, you could talk to him about how Goldman’s daughter Katie liked Star Wars, and how it hurt her feelings to be told that Star Wars is only for boys. Children are typically very concrete in their thinking, so it can help them to have an example.
The society we live in does a lot to reinforce gender stereotypes, but it is still possible to change them. If we teach children that girls can like sci-fi and action, and that boys can like dolls and dress-up, that will do a lot to help. If you are interested in reading more about how to change society’s stereotypes about boys and girls, many sociologists and social psychologists, such as Sandra Bem, Susan Crawford, and Nijole Benokraitis, write about doing so, and Carrie Goldman offers some great suggestions in her book as well. At any rate, I’m glad you’re doing your part to show your nephew that Star Wars and all things geek are for everyone. Children learn from adults, so it’s up to us to teach them.
Wishing you all the best,
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