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Gender Stereotypes – What Can We Do?

It can be suggested that the majority of parents, carers and staff believe that girls and boys should be treated the same in the early years and beyond. However, it can be easy to inadvertently or subtly reinforce gender stereotypes and differential treatment of girls and boys. There are several things we can do to challenge gender stereotypes and support equality within work and home settings:

1. Create a safe space: Reassure children that it’s OK to be different and encouraging a culture of acceptance. For example, a parent may question boys dressing up as princesses – your role is to support the children in their choices. At home you can provide a range of toys no matter what gender your child is. Talk to family and friends about the toys they offer and the messages this sends.

2. Challenge stereotypes when you hear them:  You can set the example by questioning gender “rules”, and offering counter-examples from your own experience.

3. Provide a range of role models: Give children real-life examples that counter stereotypes, both in your own activities, and in topic work and external visitors. Ask for female fire fighters, male nurses or female police officers when there’s an outside visit. Positive role-modelling at home can also help children to see that things like cleaning, cooking and gardening are not gender-specific tasks

4. Diversity in resources: Take a look at the stories and resources in your classroom and at home. Are there examples of working women, caring fathers, active girls and creative boys? Are all the animals in the stories male? What discussions can you have with children about this? Use gender neutral posters and pictures, or ones that challenge gender expectations

5. Look at who uses which spaces and equipment at school and in nurseries: Do certain areas get dominated by certain groups, or by one gender or the other? Are there changes you could make to encourage children to feel equally free to use all spaces?

6. Pick other ways to divide up  children in groups: Are girls’ and boys’ coat peg labels coloured in traditionally gendered colours? Do boys and girls ever line up separately? Or sit girl / boy / girl / boy? Using gender to divide the children up can be convenient, but it gives them the constant message that being a boy or a girl is the most important thing about them and reinforces stereotypes. Thinking of other ways to group children – perhaps by age, birthday, alphabetically – can be a subtle but effective way of encouraging them to think about their identity in different ways. If separation by gender is happening at your child’s school or nursery can you talk to someone about it?

7. Use inclusive language: Small changes, like saying ‘children’ instead of ‘girls and boys’ and being aware of how you describe or define children can be really powerful (Eg. “pretty” girl, “strong” boy)

8. Think about rewards and sanctions: Are boys and girls rewarded differently, or given different sanctions for similar behaviour at home or in class? Do rewards imply that you think boys and girls can’t like or do the same things?

9. Communicate and discuss: Encourage children to challenge stereotypes and to smash gender expectations – toys, clothes, TV, books and even some nursery rhymes can all be used as a starting point for exploring these issues.