“Girls can run the world, but they still can’t run away from gender misconceptions surrounding them- it’s about time for all the stereotypes to be fought,” child psychologist, Rasha Ragab, said, as a reminder that bold solutions are needed to effectively promote girls’ empowerment and to fulfill their human rights.
World leaders placed gender equality and empowerment for women and girls at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development two years back, because “empowering women and girls is a priceless investment that can change the world.”
Since 2012, October 11 has been marked as the International Day of the Girl to highlight and address the needs and challenges girls’ face.
“In a society which is rife with gender stereotypes and biases, children regularly learn to adopt gender roles which are not always fair to both sexes. As children move through childhood and into adolescence, they are exposed to many factors, which influence behaviors regarding gender roles, Ragab said.
Children learn at a very early age what it means to be a boy or a girl in our society. Through a myriad of activities, opportunities, encouragements, discouragements, overt behaviors, suggestions and guidance, children experience the process of gender role socialization, she added.
“Whether it’s through the expectation that boys are better than girls at math, or that girls have to be quieter and boys have to be stronger, or even the idea that only females can nurture children,” Ragab explained.
She further explained that gender perception starts as early as three years old and gets enforced when students begin school, where they learn only about prominent male figures and male presidents, or focus only on professional, male-dominated sports.
“When a society disregards a woman’s individual and inherent abilities based on predefined stereotypical beliefs, it hinders her ability to fulfill her potential,” Ragab stated. “Although these stereotypical beliefs can be rigid, they are not static. That’s the challenge and the opportunity we face.”
An American Psychological Association analysis released in 2014 found that girls get higher grades than boys in all subjects. But even when girls perform well academically, they tend to come away with the belief that it’s because they’re studying hard. Boys, on the other hand, seem naturally smart. Eventually that translates into a gender gap in middle school, high school and college.
“Gender stereotypes are definitely messing with our kids. It’s not just one movie. It’s not just one TV show. It’s constant exposure to the same dated concepts in the media over and over, starting before preschool and lasting a lifetime for concepts like boys are smarter than girls; certain jobs are best for men and others for women; and even that girls are responsible for their own sexual assaults,” Ragab said.
“The strongest influence on gender role development occur within the family setting, with parents passing on to their children their own beliefs about gender.”
For that, Ragab suggested several ways to “crush” gender stereotypes, and empower girls from an age as young as two.
- Point out people from real life or TV that show there’s more than one way to “do” gender, like pointing out when a mum works full time to support the family, and a man who knows how to cook well and take care of kids.
- Recognize characters who defy gender stereotypes, a movie showing men being emotional for example and tell your boys It’s OK to show when you’re sad, boys shouldn’t be embarrassed to cry.”
- Praise movie and real life characters who are instrumental for what they do versus what they look like.
- Seek out movies and shows with non-stereotyped characters, for example, female characters with realistic body types and non-aggressive male characters.
- Comment positively on healthy, supportive, and fulfilling cross-gender friendships and relationships by discussing what makes them such good friends and what each one teaches the other.
- Point out when female icons voice their own needs, are their own saviors, fix their own problems, reach prestigious levels.