A little while ago we looked at how gender stereotyping can have a detrimental effect on our children’s confidence, achievement and opportunities. (Read the piece here)
Another effect recently reported is that gender stereotyping early on can also contribute to the huge discrepancy between the amount of girls and boys who choose subjects like science, technology, engineering and maths (also known as stem subjects). There is still only a small minority of women who go into careers within these subjects. Likewise, it can be hard for boys to choose humanities and arts subjects because of that gender bias.
A recent article suggests that this might be because of the tendencies parents have to groom their children towards those gender stereotypes by influencing their choices right from being very young. And it’s those early influences that have a big impact, although we might not even be aware we’re doing this when they’re are small.
Of course, it’s not just parents; toy manufacturers, toy shops, advertising and a host of influences online and within the communities where children reside, contribute to this by gentle references to what girls or boys ‘should’ be doing, playing with, enjoying, wearing, choosing, studying, etc. The commercial influence is extremely strong and marketing departments know how to entice kids to making certain choices. And make them follow the crowd!
You only have to walk round a large toyshop to get the drift of girl-orientated toys packaged in pink, or boy-orientated toys that reference activity and adventure. That quite often goes for educational materials too. And it also affects us; it’s easy to find ourselves encouraging them towards what we think they might like or be interested in, rather than truly listen to and observe their personal preferences without our own bias.
Added to that is the enormous influence of peer pressure as the children grow and notice what’s considered ‘okay’ in their group. It’s intensely important for young people to feel they belong and this influences their choices, unless they have strong ideas, passions and interests from an early age.
So how can we counteract these influences?
Establishing confidence in themselves and their choices, from an early age, will build personal strength. This will help youngsters be more resilient to those outside influences and choose subjects right for them.
Some ways we might encourage this is by:
- Avoiding making stereotypical presumptions about, or references to, what our kids would like or activities they’d like to do
- Observing and encouraging their tendencies and interests and allowing them to make their own choices
- Offering a wide range of activities, toys, materials, tools, technology, regardless of any commercial gender bias
- The same goes for experiences; encouraging physical play or activity, investigation and exploration, which helps build confidence without trying to influence their choices
- Allowing and encouraging activities and friendships with all or any children without any reference to gender
Hopefully our awareness early on in their lives will help our youngsters grow the strength of character to make the subject choices they really want to later on.