Speaking out about gender stereotypes

In our Girls' Attitudes Survey girls told us they're exposed to gender stereotypes almost everywhere, Charlotte speaks out on how stereotypes affect her

21 September 2017

You just can’t win with stereotypes.

They encourage us to judge others in an instant, forcing us to adopt generalisations when looking at an individual.

They trap us in boxes with no space to express who we are. Stereotypes will never let us win.

One of the most common forms of stereotyping that we can fall victim to are the ones surrounding gender. I've had people scoff when I've told them I'm interested in politics and interrogate me when I've mentioned my achievements in karate – both of which don’t align with the typical teenage girl stereotype.

They've also dished out frequent eye rolls and side eye when I've admitted that I can also like ‘girly’ things such as my favourite colour being pink and that I do actually like Harry Styles' album. All of these people passing mindless judgements were also adults, those who kids are looking up to. When I've rejected or conformed to stereotypes it's been grown-ups who have continuously been ready to put me down - denying me any sort of complexity in who I am or what I like.

Luckily I'm resilient enough to not let it bother me that much. However, when I see the statistics from Girlguiding's most recent Girls' Attitudes Survey saying that approximately a third of girls aged 11 to 21 say that they often see gender stereotypes from teachers and parents, it reminds me of all those adults who were ready to put down a teenage girl as soon as she spoke up about her interests.

These harmful messages are also encouraged by the media with constant reminders on the telly and on billboards of who you are expected to be. What I find more heart-wrenching though, is that the survey also found that gender stereotypes lead girls (aged 7 to 21) to actually change how they behave - most notably over half of them saying it affects their ability to say what they think.

I'm not that shocked to find out how some girls and young women feel defeated by the presence of gender stereotypes. Through my senior roles at my previous school and being a young leader at my local Guide unit (members being girls aged between 10 and 14), I've had too many moments when I've been disheartened by how stereotypes have restricted the young girls I talk to.

They've told me how they'll never be good at sport or maths like boys are. One girl said she can't play with boys because she’s too 'girly', while another is too much of a 'tomboy'. Once again, you can never win with gender stereotypes. These findings are saddening, but I'm numb to the shock of them by now.

I've been very fortunate with my experience in Girlguiding. Whether it be feeling free to like whatever I want on a Baden-Powell adventure weekend when I was fourteen, spending one day battling in a mud assault course and the next being pampered with free beauty samples; or more recently, on the Advocate panel, feeling empowered to use my voice and discuss political issues like Brexit in focus groups and speak at the House of Lords about online abuse. Girlguiding has never made me feel shame for rejecting or conforming to stereotypes because it recognises that - as a youth organisation responsible for the wellbeing of young women - it shouldn't.

Girlguiding takes action against stereotypes

Girlguiding continues to expand how it addresses the issues of gender stereotypes.

Through the Girls' Attitudes Survey, Girlguiding is also providing young girls and women with a platform for their voices and views, where they can shout loud about how 93% of girls aged 11 to 21 want adverts to stop using gender stereotypes of men and women.

As part of the launch of the survey, they are also calling on girls to use social media to share how they challenge these stereotypes and offering a range of programme activities and badges for girls to do this - because Girlguiding sees that actually we can defeat gender stereotypes and we won't let them win.

Girls' Attitudes Survey 2017

To find out more about what girls and young women have to say about gender stereotypes and the other issues that affect their lives, read the report from the Girls' Attitudes Survey 2017.

Find out more