“Don’t be such a girl.” “That is not how a young lady behaves.” Comments like these are more common than we realise in a child’s world today. The words we use have so much power over our children. They set boundaries and limitations that children take on as truths and, more often than not, limiting beliefs.
Women have been battling labels like “bossy” for years. As a society, we have been course correcting this type of negative labeling. The awareness brought about by political movements has helped us notice it, name it and do better by the aspiring young female minds of the future. But, does this mean that it is only a feminist issue?
Poor mental health in men and boys is on the rise. Being male makes you much more likely to be identified with ADHD and Learning Disabilities. It also means that, as an adult, you are much more likely to suffer from substance abuse and suicidal ideation. Why is this?
Boys often hear language that encourages them to stifle any emotion other than anger and joy. Their emotional vocabulary becomes limited and often riddled with sexist metaphors. It is no wonder that men have such a difficult time dealing with stress and anxiety when as boys they were not allowed to learn it.
Gender Bias is not always as overt as “You throw like a girl” or “Good Girls don’t get mad”. Subtle gendered undertones and overtones exist in the toys they play with, the media they consume and the clothes we offer them. For example:
It’s clean up time in a year 1 classroom. The teacher comes in and says, “Can I please have some strong boys help put away the chairs and some helpful girls put the paper away?” These are reasonable requests for any child to do. At the age of 5, there is no difference in strength between boys and girls. Likewise, there is no inherent “helpfulness” in girls that is somehow lacking in boys.
How could this teacher do better? Simply change the language. “Can I please have some helpful students carry the chairs and put away the paper?” In this language, there is no implicit bias to one gender or another. Also, the teacher is instilling the value of being helpful in all of her students.
Removing gender bias does not mean pretending that gender does not exist. It simply means removing the unnecessary limitations based only on gender that we put on bio-psycho-social development of our children. Both sides of the binary benefit from allowing their innate and learned characteristics to be freed from arbitrary restrictions.
How can we allow girls to be girls and boys to be boys without limiting them with gender stereotypes? How can we provide them with opportunity to succeed and the tools to cope with emotions at the same time? These are the issues that the 21st century parent needs to tackle in order to help their children be their best selves as children and most successful as adults.
Recently the male allies network for one of our banking clients asked us to create a session geared towards parents of young children covering this topic of unconscious gender bias and it was extremely well received.