Stereotypes start in kindergarten
When my five-year-old daughter came back from school telling me it would be better to be a boy, my husband and I were puzzled. That same evening, I realised, that the cover page of one of my son’s books about a firefighter called Leon, was labelled “little boy”. I found this very scary!
Needless to say, both of my kids loved the book.
Many kids like firefighters’ trucks, police cars and ambulances. It is very challenging for parents to avoid gender stereotypes. They are everywhere, starting with children’s books and cartoons.
Time to redraw the balance: the role of education is key
Most preconceived ideas about gender are developed at a very early age. At the age of two, many children start identifying genders based on socio-cultural elements such as clothes or haircuts. Going to a supermarket, looking for baby clothes, in many cases, half of the shelf is pink and the other blue. Tough choice! Scientific studies highlighted that as early as the age of 2 or 3, most kids are aware of gender roles.
It is common to say that the most important years in education are before 6. After this age, most of the biases are set. However, most gender roles do not come from biological differences but are the results of cultural and social constructs, as shown in the following video by Inspiring Future.
Like many other kids her age, my five-year-old daughter likes everything that flies. She would like to become an astronaut or a Rega pilot. Her dream jobs may change over time. I really hope that five-year-olds will continue to envision a wide horizon when they grow up, regardless of their gender or sex. Things are changing but as shown by a 2018 meta-analysis on the development of children’s gender-science stereotypes, there is still a long way to go. When asked to draw a scientist, 73% of primary school children drew male scientists in the last decades. Girls are driving the change though, with 58% drawing female scientists in 2016. Interestingly, the study shows that stereotypes grow over time: 70% of six-year-old girls draw a woman, while only 25% of 16-year-old girls do. Children seem to learn stereotypes about scientists as they encounter science in school and in the media.
Women need inspiring stories to gain confidence
As a fun fact, I had already decided to write a blogpost referring to ‘the name of your firefighter’ when my colleague told me her mother was a firefighter. I could not believe the coincidence. What an inspiring role model! Mothers are the most influential role models for daughters. And role models matter, especially for women.They have an amplified benefit and contribute to overcoming stereotypes and social barriers. Research also shows that role models are needed to encourage women to have a career, especially in some male-dominated fields like STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) or politics. Role models help open new horizons, inspire women to level up their ambition and show concrete mindsets examples and behaviours.
In Europe, men still represent 75% of news sources and subjects, even though 75% of the European population are not men. So once again, it is time to redraw the balance and bring more women to the spotlight to ensure we can reach SDG4 (Quality Education) and SDG5 (Gender Equality).