by Miss Cathy Clur
Gender stereotypes tell kids how to behave, what to be interested in, and how they should exist in the world. Gender stereotypes are enormously powerful – they affect the friends we make, the skills we learn, the way we communicate, and the way we deal with our emotions. Gender stereotypes can limit choice, stifle creativity and negatively affect our self esteem.
We live in a society with endless opportunities, but when we make decisions based on gender, we inadvertently limit the opportunities our children are given. When we put girls in ballet classes and boys on the footy field, we are telling girls they should be quiet, pretty and thin; and boys they should be loud, rough and muscly. We tell boys not to cry because sadness is weakness. We tell girls not to show anger because anger is unattractive. What the world really needs is grown adults who have the emotional maturity to cope with both sadness and anger.
Children who don’t conform to gender stereotypes will struggle with self esteem, self worth, confidence and negative thoughts – “I’m not like the others”, “I’m different”, “There’s something wrong with me”.
Gender stereotypes reinforce inequality, and contribute to women and girls facing greater disadvantages. They are at the root of a society where disrespect, inequality and violence against women is common.
Our society isn’t going to change overnight, but as educators and parents, we have the power to make small changes in our classrooms and families that help break down gender stereotypes, and empower children to be themselves.
If you’ve been wondering how you can make positive changes when communicating with the children in your life, we suggest you simply pay attention to a few things:
Pay attention to your compliments
Have you ever caught yourself complimenting a little girl on her pretty dress? This is such a big one and we are all deeply conditioned to do it! Next time you notice this kind of compliment, try to bring the focus to the colour or some other aspect of the outfit rather than the prettiness of it!
Pay attention to how you describe certain children
“She’s bossy”. “He’s a bit of a sook.” Both of these reinforce gender stereotypes that girls should be quiet and boys should be brave. The world needs women who can be leaders, the world needs men who can feel their feelings. Both are right, and don’t need to be judged.
Pay attention to your reactions and advice when kids are sad or angry
Instead of saying, “Don’t cry” ask, “Why are you crying?”
Instead of saying, “Don’t yell” ask, “Wow you sound angry, tell me more about that?”
Pay attention to talents and interests
If a child has a particular interest, be it princesses, ponies, magic or lizards. Embrace it. Boy or girl. Let the child guide you and be completely positive when they share these little nuggets of their identity with you. If your child loves to sing, let them sing. If your child wants to get muddy, take them for a bush walk. The point is not to judge, not to let gender stereotypes get in the way and to let kids be themselves.
“So you let your son play with dolls? Aren’t you afraid he’ll turn out to be a…. good father?”