According to Girlguiding, who commission an annual survey of girls and young women, gender stereotyping is STILL reducing opportunities for girls in all aspects of their lives by lowering or limiting their aspirations.
THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE. How can we help change this?
Well for a start – maybe we should be asking the boys how they are getting on too? I’m sure Girlguiding still do great things, but wouldn’t it be better to introduce Childguiding or Humanguiding and have the wider discussion with everyone involved?
Essentially we need to challenge the rigid gender rules we seem to have created for ourselves, whilst still respecting biological sex. We seem to be confusing the difference between gender and biological sex. Gender is the story society creates for the roles and status of men and women. Gender has stopped women from having the vote, from driving cars, from earning the same as men, from achieving their dreams, has stopped men from crying, from talking about their emotions, from staying at home with their children. On some of the bigger issues, we have come a long way, but we keep stalling, or even taking steps backwards on other issues. How have we not progressed at all in the world of children’s comics, shoes and clothes (still pink and blue). Possibly because secretly most of us still love it, but we forget how insidious it can be as our children grow older. It’s right that we are challenging shoe brands and clothing brands. We now need to do more to challenge the government, companies, the media, EVERYONE in order to start recognising that what women do should be paid as well as the jobs men do. We should not be attempting to prove that males and females are exactly the same, clearly they are not. But instead, to show that the ways that they differ do not justify the vast differences in gender role stereotyping that is found to pervade each and every one of the socialising agents – namely: parents, teachers, peer groups and the mass media (especially social media).
For women in particular biology shapes much of our destiny and many of us wouldn’t want it any other way. However, no (wo)man is an island and whilst we of course have to fit in as social animals to those around us, surely we can ensure that our roles remain relatively equal so that the net of what people want to do is widened to include everyone, but we remove the limiting stereotypes?
The recent Girlguiding survey found that the stereotyping was endemic in all areas of life; social media, television, films, parents, teachers and other girls – and I would add to this clothes, toys, comics and books. Over 50% of the 1,906 girls aged from 7-21 interviewed said that such stereotyping affected their ability to say what they thought, the clothes they wore and how they acted around other girls as well as resulting in them participating less during lessons at school.
There is clearly more to wearing pink and blue than fashion. As soon as we assign gender to a child we start shaping our attitudes and behaviours accordingly which obviously perpetuates the gender myths. HOWEVER, it is unlikely that all gender biases are entirely the result of cultural influences – a study in Uganda’s Kibale National Park found that the female chimpanzees play with sticks as if they were dolls compared to male chimpanzees who played with them differently. I did my own experiment when my children were 5 and 3. I gave my son and daughter a breadstick to play with during a meal out (because that’s the sort of crap parent I am – forgot to bring any colouring books) – my daughter wrapped hers in a napkin, drew a little face on it and rocked it and put it in the breadbasket for a sleep, whereas my son turned it into a gun and ran around causing havoc. This does suggest that there are biological differences for nurturing behaviour – but what do gender differences actually mean? Even statistically significant differences reflect average group differences – so men and women are far more alike than they are different and that’s what we need to focus on. If we base our assessment of people on stereotypes of men’s and women’s personalities rather than learning about each individual you will frequently be incorrect.
Because stereotyping is self perpetuating and culturally induced we should be able to remain optimistic about the possibility of changing and influencing it – it’s just that I can’t help feeling that we have regressed of late. Society has obviously moved on to a far more fluid understanding and acceptance of gender and yet we are still encouraging the pervasive differences, such as the furnishing of boys and girls rooms, the clothing and the toys they are bought. When world leaders singlehandedly take us back to the dark ages by playing to the most basic gender role stereotypes (Pussygate), what can we do? Theresa May, who should be a great role model, doesn’t help by talking about “girl jobs and boy jobs” and now we seem to think that gender reveal parties are a welcome cute new trend. How can it be acceptable in this day and age that we label our children before they are even born rather than treat them as individuals? Gender role stereotypes influence individual belief system and become deeply ingrained from a very early age, if not whilst still in the womb. There are exceptionally powerful cultural restraints operating on children and young people to maintain conformity to sex associated attitudes and behaviours and we must work to break these down.
We must stop our girls from being obsessed with their appearance – even when studies have shown that we as mothers make a greater fuss over the appearance of their daughter’s – with their hair, commenting on looks etc. This emphasis on external features, it has been suggested, will be absorbed and later reinforced by society’s view on the importance of a woman’s beauty. This has certainly moved on to the obsession of body image and looks on social media that is doing more harm than good to our children’s mental health.
Very few studies have examined the importance of the role of the father, but we all pretty much know that from experience the father’s job is stimulate their babies and children to higher but briefer levels of excitement – i.e. throw them around until they vomit and then put them down and leave. Faster tempo and less predictable.
The school, next to the home has been recognised as being a primary source of influence on the development and reinforcement of social attitudes and values. What happens in schools is seen as an extension of what happens in society at large and teachers should have special training. Thirty years ago a study course at Hackney Downs School introduced a “Skills for Living” course taught by a team of teachers to 11 & 12 year olds, giving boys a chance to do cooking and childcare studies, express themselves better and to relate to each other in ways that traditionally have been thought feminine. Of course, boys can do cooking now and the choice of subjects are certainly less restrictive – but we should be far more advanced by now. For a start, we need to pay teachers more. It is still a predominantly female choice of career, but such a crucial role – we must find a way to recognise the value of what they do. All teachers should be trained to communicate in ways that avoid gender stereotypes. School playgrounds should be designed differently so that football doesn’t have to dominate and girls don’t have to be marginalised to the sides. Games that both can play – ways to ensure girls can join in the football without feeling foolish, ways for boys to join in the dressing up games – or whatever…lessons are required in finance, relationships, sex, the internet, how to deal with social media, mental health, mortgages, bringing up children, working lives. REAL LIFE LESSONS. There is a lack of balance and we need to plant more seeds earlier on.
Perhaps our wonderful millennials and even younger adults should embrace the rather derogatory term “Generation Snowflake” and embrace it. Rather than allowing it to suggest that they are more prone to taking offence and less resilient than previous generations, or too emotionally vulnerable to cope with views that challenge their own, I think they should embrace the fact that every single snowflake is different. Each one unique. Lets start treating them as individuals, with their own hopes, dreams and fears, rather than trying to classify them.