We explore how supporting gender equality benefits children and adults alike
Research from Fawcett Society, Cardiff University and more has shown that, from a very young age, children often receive implicit messages about what they can or can't /should or shouldn't do based on their gender. The issue with stereotyping so early is it can place restrictions on the development of children's interests, skills, hobbies and behaviours, which can impact on their long-term aspirations and personal goals.
According to Parentzone Scotland, gender stereotypes can affect:
This isn't to say that parents should completely reject toys such as pink LEGO Friends or racing cars. The point is to be aware of not imposing limits, and to encourage children to explore the full range of choice when it comes to toys and interests.
Encouraging choice in the early years means that children are less likely to drop subjects that interest them simply because of peer pressure, or because 'girls/boys don't do that'. Challenging stereotypes in the home provides children with positive role models whilst helping them to develop confidence and acquire skills in a wider range of areas.
Children's charity Zero Tolerance asks adults to think about how they speak to children and suggests reframing the language to promote equality:
It also helps to challenge gender stereotypical language you hear children using. For example, if a boy is being called a 'girl' as insult, explain that boys and girls are of equal worth and importance. If a child says that a certain activity or toy 'isn't for boys/girls', ask them why they think that is. Children are still learning, so remember to make it a discussion and not a criticism.
Examine how the roles that adults in your child's life play may impact their beliefs about gender. Female relatives might be the ones who normally comfort them when they are sad, but this doesn't mean that male members of the family can't do it, or shouldn't. Ask your child if they think of certain tasks as a 'woman's job' or a 'man's job'. See if you can change those assumptions by altering the roles you and those in your household take on.
Similarly, think about the tasks you ask your children to do that might be based on gender stereotypes, especially with older children. While your daughter might be adamantly uninterested in sports or getting dirty, being able to change a lightbulb or put up a picture is a useful life skill for anyone. The same goes for cooking, cleaning and consoling people. If you wouldn't ask your son to listen to a friend and help to cheer them up, why? Compassion can be taught from a young age and helps prevent an unequal emotional burden for girls later on in life.
Combatting gender stereotypes is a big ask and it won't happen overnight. However, small changes made today will help keep the doors of opportunity open for everyone, regardless of their gender.