I believe most people mean well, but I do not believe that they always think about the all the impacts that their actions generate.
For example, an elementary school in the area does son/mother and daughter/father activities in a certain grade. The boys show their mothers a science experiment in the school’s science lab. The girls dress up and go to a dance with their fathers in the gym.
What messages is this sending?
One message is that it is important, even expected, that boys be smart. Another message is that it is important, even expected, that girls be pretty. Yet another message is that parents want, expect, and like it when their sons are smart and their daughters dress-up. These messages are not only telling girls that beauty is more important than brains, it is also telling boys that it is more important for girls to be pretty than smart. It is setting expectations in girls on what they should be and what they should expect from themselves. And it is setting expectations in boys on what girls should be.
There is nothing wrong with a son/mother science project or a daughter/father dance. The problem is that it stops there. All it would take to correct it would be to also have, sometime during the school year, a daughter/father science project and a son/mother dance.
I think a good rule of thumb with activities is to ask two simple questions. If it is an activity for boys, why not have the same one for girls? If it is an activity for girls, why not have it for boys? Honest answers can help determine what unintentional messages we may be sending and what stereotypes we are encouraging.