George Clooney’s description of his twins is a perfect example of unconscious sexism in action

This past June, the world was blessed with George and Amal Clooney’s twin babies, Ella and Alexander. And while we adore getting news on how the little ones are doing, we couldn’t help but notice the gendered way in which Clooney spoke about the twins in a recent interview.

While speaking to Extra, he said, "Ella is very elegant and dainty. She has these big beautiful eyes. She looks like Amal."

Meanwhile, he noted that son Alexander,

"Weighs three pounds more than his sister. [He's] just a thug, he's a fat little boy," while proudly noting that his son has the "loudest laugh in the room."

While it’s tempting to view Clooney’s descriptions as nothing but the good-humored words of a loving dad, we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out the very different ways the actor speaks of his male and female child. At just four-months-old, Ella is being praised for her “elegance,” and beautiful features, while Alexander is jokingly referred to as a “loud thug.”

We’re sure Clooney meant no harm with these descriptors; he very likely didn’t think too much about them. And therein lies the problem — this is how subtle and pervasive gendered and sexist language is in our culture.

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 22:  Executive producer George Clooney (R) and his wife Amal Clooney arrive at the premiere of Paramount Pictures'
LOS ANGELES, CA – OCTOBER 22: Executive producer George Clooney (R) and his wife Amal Clooney arrive at the premiere of Paramount Pictures’ “Suburbicon” at the Village Theatre on October 22, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

And again, while his comments may seem harmless, the truth of the matter is the casual language we use to describe our sons and daughters has a very real impact on perpetuating gender stereotypes. It can also have a concrete effect on the “ideals” our children absorb. If a girl senses that she garners praise and approval for her “daintiness” and “elegance,” she may tailor herself to those traits as she grows. Conversely, if a boy senses his approval comes from his loudness, or brashness, he may learn to lean into those characteristics.

It’s not just Clooney who falls into subtle gendered stereotyping, of course. A recent experiment by the BBC showed that caregivers don’t just speak differently to boys and girls, they even tend to push “care-giving” toys like dolls on female children, while supplying things like trucks and blocks to males (even when the caregivers have described themselves as progressive and aware of gender stereotypes). This early gendering of boys and girls is theorized to have a strong impact on them later in life.

Let this serve as a gentle reminder that we all may be guilty of promoting certain negative stereotypes — often without even realizing it. The good news is that awareness is the first step to real and lasting change.

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