Updated: Dec 20, 2020
Rigid gender stereotypes are significantly impacting children's potential and mental health, according to a new report.
Stereotyping of boys and girls has long been a debated issue, particularly with regards to job roles, advertising and education. With recent awareness efforts around identification and the separation between 'gender' and 'sex', gender stereotyping is as prevalent an issue as ever.
Published by gender equality charity the Fawcett Society, the report says that expectations of gender directly impact child development issues, such as girls avoiding scientific subjects and boys developing poor reading skills.
These issues carry through into adult life and manifest as mental health issues, including eating disorders among women, and emotional issues that result in high rates of suicide and violence against women among men.
The 18-month study found that 74% of parents treat boys and girls differently, despite 60% believing that such an approach negatively impacts a child's development.
Concerns are also high that a child may be bullied if they behaved differently to prescribed gender 'roles', with 61% of parents fearing for their son and 47% fearing for their daughter.
Perceptions of gender-appropriate jobs remain strong however – seven times as many parents could see their son working in construction (22%) compared with their daughters (3%), with a similar pattern for children growing up to become a nurse or care worker (22% for girls vs 8% for boys).
“What every parent hopes for their child, and what educators hope for children in their class, is that they will be free to achieve their potential – yet what the evidence shows is that we still limit our children based on harmful, tired gender stereotypes," said Professor Becky Francis, Commission Co-chair. “That adds up to real harm. From boys’ underachievement in reading, to the gender pay gap, the evidence is clear that the stereotypes we impart in early childhood cause significant damage to our children.”
Outside of parental perspectives, the report also delves into stereotyping issues present in the classroom and in advertising.
Among nursery nurses, childminders, playworkers and primary school teachers, more than half had heard the phrase “boys will be boys” used when boys misbehave, while 6 in 10 say they ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ see other staff assume that boys and girls want to do different activities.
With regards to advertising, the report found that children's clothes, toys, and even stationery were explicitly marketed in a gender-segregated fashion among 141 high street and 44 online retailers.
"From ‘boys will be boys’ attitudes in nursery or school, to jobs for boys and jobs for girls views among some parents, these stereotypes are deeply embedded and they last a lifetime,” said Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society.
“We need to end the ‘princessification’ of girls and the toxification of boys. The commercial sector too often uses gender stereotypes and segregates boys and girls simply to sell more products."
To read the full report, click here.