Defining gender stereotypes

Young girl with dark hair blowing bubbles at the camera. She is outdoors and the background is green and blurry.

Gender stereotypes are oversimplified ideas, messages and images about differences between males and females. They have become meaningful because society has given them meaning and value.

‘Sex’ or ‘gender’?

While a person's ‘sex’ is based on their biological features, such as hormones and physical anatomy, ‘gender’ refers to the learnt roles, norms and expectations we have of someone because of their sex. When we say… 'Girls only like...', 'Boys always go for...', 'Girls are better at...', 'Boys naturally know how to...', we are talking about gender, and we present these stereotypes as ‘fact’ – rather than considering actual evidence, or an individual child's talents or interests.

Gender stereotypes make generalisations, assumptions and judgements about a child's personality, behaviour, appearance, skills and interests.

And so kids get treated differently, learn different things, have unequal access to opportunities, and start to develop their own understanding of what their limitations and abilities are. For example, if you never thought to suggest dance classes to your son, or rugby to your daughter , it would limit what opportunities they thought were available to them.

When boys are told to 'toughen up' because they express sadness, or girls are called 'bossy' for being assertive they learn how they are expected to ‘be’ in life.

Language matters, and gender stereotypes in childhood 'grow' into adult attitudes – 21% of Australians surveyed believe women are 'becoming too outspoken'1, and 1 in 4 believe men make better political leaders2. Gender equality creates a fairer, happier and more prosperous society. There is no ‘equality’ that comes from gender stereotypes except that they limit opportunities for both boys and girls, men and women.

Reflection

  • Think about the toys you owned as a child and whether they were considered ‘boys’ or ‘girls’ toys
  • Have you ever bought a present for a child that went against what might have been expected for their gender (like a pram for a little boy or a truck for a little girl)? Are there challenges with doing that? Do you feel differently about giving a girl a 'boy's' toy to a boy a 'girl's' toy?
  • Think about how gender was represented in your childhood home. How would you like your children's experience to differ from your own?

References

  1. Our Watch (2018) Bystander Research Snapshot Report, p2 .
  2. Vic Health (2013) Australian Attitudes to Violence Against Women, p6 .