Help girls bust gender stereotypes

Gender stereotypes can hold all young people back from an equal future. Start smashing some stereotypes today!

05 March 2020

Girls can, and should, be able to do everything they want to do.

But when we’ve talked to girls, through our Girls’ Attitudes Survey and Future Girl consultation, we hear that they are still struggling with gender stereotypes that try to limit their interests and ambitions.

The idea that girls should be emotional and caring, with a love of all things sparkly, while boys are more active and practical, creates cartoon-like versions of what it means to be a girl or a boy.

This sounds pretty harmless, but for a girl who wants to play football, or a boy who hates team sports, it makes them feel they can’t express who they really are. Gender stereotypes try to put limits on what you can do and who you can be.

Guiding encourages girls to smash stereotypes, giving girls the chance to explore a whole range of skills and activities – from Craftivism to Digital design. We give them opportunities to talk with barrier-breaking women like adventurer Anna McNuff, and chances to make change happen as an Advocate or on our Action for Change programme. And older girls can run peer education sessions all about Breaking Free from gender stereotypes.

But what else can you do to bust gender stereotypes? Here’s how to start the conversation with the children in your life, so they can challenge the myths they encounter.

Think outside the box

Here’s a simple way to introduce the idea of gender stereotyping to young people. Create two ‘boxes’ or squares on paper, label one as ‘boys’ the other as ‘girls. With your child, try to fill the boxes with as many different stereotypes as you can think of. “Loves race cars”, “has long hair”, “cares about their appearance”, “like superheroes” are some good ideas to get you started.

Don’t just focus on appearance, try to encourage your child to come up with ideas around interests and behaviours as well.

When you have two boxes filled with stereotypes, talk about where these ideas come from. Then, smash those stereotypes by talking about the things that mean you both sometimes sit ‘outside the box’.

Almost everyone has parts of themselves that are outside the box, and don’t fit the typical stereotypes of their gender, so talk this through.

Finish off by talking about the problems of thinking that everyone must fit in a box, and how this can stop people doing the things they really want to do.

Watch and learn

When watching shows or reading books that show traditional or one-dimensional gender roles, point this out and talk to your child about it.

Did a film have a main character that was a man, and all the women had a small part in the plot? Was the ‘smart’ girl shown as less cool and the ‘pretty’ girl not as clever? Did the book only show mothers looking after their children, while dads go to work?

Ask your child what they think the affect of these images might be, and then think about people you both know in real life that show these generalisations aren’t real.

Find new heroes

Can you and your kid go on the hunt for new heroes? Find men and women, boys and girls that break stereotypes in their real lives. Or look for characters who break the mould.

Recent Disney films show that girls can be more than princesses in pretty gowns – both Moana and Elsa combine their love of their families and caring for others with their independence and need for adventures. And have a look through our blogs for more celebrations of inspiring real-life women.

Don’t forget that stereotypes can be very damaging for boys as well – can you think of examples of men who celebrate all sides of themselves? Dwayne Johnson shows that men can be kind as well as strong, Danny Cipriani has broken the tough stereotype of rugby players by talking openly about his emotions and mental health and pop superstar Harry Styles flaunts his love of fashion in the same way any girl band members might.