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Supporting gender balance and equality

This page provides ideas to help ensure your child has equal opportunities to develop a range of skills and confidence regardless of their gender.

Gender stereotypes

Stereotypes are based on an assumption that all boys will be the same and like the same things, and all girls will be the same and like the same things.  This can lead to children being restricted in the interests, skills and behaviours they develop.

This page focuses on different expectations that can be placed on girls and boys.

Gendered messages

Children receive and absorb gender stereotyped messages about what they can and cannot do as a girl or as a boy from a very early age.

For example, toy manufacturers often market more aggressive toys to boys and more passive toys to girls, construction activities to boys and creative ones to girls. In picture books, women and girls are often portrayed as performing more domestic tasks while men are largely under-represented as parents. These stereotypes are unhelpful for both boys and girls.

Stereotypes suggest that girls and boys are very different and naturally like different things. For example, that girls are better at being carers and are not as good at maths, and boys are less emotional and are better at science or construction. Research suggests, however, that this is not the case. There is overwhelming evidence that there are no inherent differences between girls and boys which should limit a child's interests or ambitions. Genders are more alike than different.

Gender stereotypes can affect:

  • The toys and games a child chooses and therefore the skills they develop
  • How children learn to express emotion
  • How important a child feels the way they look is
  • Whether a child feels they want to work hard at school
  • How a child feels about sport
  • What kinds of jobs a young person considers

 

There is, of course, nothing wrong with making choices along traditional lines, as long as those choices are not being limited by ideas about gender.

Challenging gender stereotypes

  • Talk with your child about how girls and boys, women and men are shown in books, TV shows or films.
    • What does it mean to be brave? Can girls be brave?
    • Is it ok for dads to stay at home and look after the baby?
    • Can women be firefighters? Can men be teachers?
    • Would the story change if the main character was a boy or girl? What would the story be like if you didn't know what gender any of the characters were?
  • With older children, you could talk about how men and women are portrayed in adverts and social media. You might discuss jobs, roles at home, expectations of behaviour and appearance.
  • Look together at toy advertising:
    • How are they marketed? What messages are being given?
    • What makes something a girls' or a boys' toy?
       
  • Talk about different jobs and the skills needed for them. Few jobs can only be done by just men or just women.

Unconscious bias

We all have unconscious biases that can lead us to treat people differently without us realising we are doing it.

Research shows that adults tend to play differently with babies dressed as boys compared to those dressed as girls. Adults tend to offer 'girl' babies dolls and tend to hold them gently. They are more likely to offer 'boys' toy cars and balls and tend to play in a more rough and tumble way. 

Things to think about

  • Praise: we often praise girls for appearance rather than their efforts or achievements. This can lead girls to thinking that how they look is the most important thing about them.
  • Crying: boys are often encouraged to stop crying quickly. This can lead to boys having difficulty sharing emotions when they are older.
  • Reading: research suggests we read to girls more than we do to boys. This can lead to girls being more likely to read themselves and having better literacy skills.
  • Chores at home: when you ask your child to help in the home, consider whether the tasks are reinforcing stereotypes.

Related links

Let Toys be Toys: Why it matters

Girls toys vs boy toys: The experiement - BBC Stories

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