The world is constantly changing, often for good reasons and causes. Recently, new and older generations are questioning the meaning of gender in our society and the roles it plays in our everyday lives. As a matter of fact, gender does shape our roles in society and can even shape our school and career decisions, frequently negatively, particularly for girls and women. That's why understanding gender bias and stereotypes are so important nowadays.
In this article, we will review what is gender stereotypes and gender bias and how it affects our lives and children lives and what we can do to help ourselves and therefore help them to avoid repeating certain mistakes and stereotypes.
Gender bias definition
In order to grasp the concept of gender bias, it is essential to first understand what is gender? Gender refers to the social attributes and opportunities associated with being male or female and the relationships between women and men and girls and boys, as well as the relations between women and those between men. These attributes, opportunities and relationships are socially constructed and are learned through socialization processes. Gender is considered to be part of the broader socio-cultural context and includes other influential criteria for socio-cultural analysis such as class, race, poverty level, ethnic group and age.
Then, how does gender bias happen?
The European Institute for Gender Equality defines gender bias as 'prejudiced actions or thoughts based on the gender-based perception that women are not equal to men in rights and dignity'. In simpler words, gender bias is a gender stereotype that views or preconceives roles, attributes, or characteristics to be performed by women and men. The gender stereotype is harmful when it limits women's and men's capacities to develop any aspect of their lives, from professional career, personal choices or abilities of everyday life. Gender bias is the result of a lot of time reproducing these stereotypes.
Gender bias in our society
Gender bias is present in every aspect of our lives, whether, in a hostile or seemingly benign way, both are equally harmful and perpetuate inequalities. Further, gender bias can have a disproportionately negative impact on certain groups of women that belong to minority or indigenous groups. Gender bias can be taken as far as resulting in a violation or violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Like going to school, practising sports and further being forced to marry or prohibited to abort.
A common example, women are considered to be nurturing, this traditional view of women as caregivers means that child care responsibilities often fall exclusively on women. Further, women are perceived as the sexual property of men.
Where does it originate?
Gender bias is present in every social and cultural aspect of our lives, this means that it is a multi-faceted problem and a challenge to deconstruct it. Gender bias is typically enacted by adults and children who reproduce the same social and cultural patterns they see in their environment. The construction of gender and gender stereotypes has a long history, thus questioning it is a first step to acknowledging its existence and understanding what we can do to stop it.
This is not only enacted by adults and parents, it is present in every child surroundings from toys, advertising, online, on the media, and in the communities where children reside. We can even find gender bias examples in educational materials as well. In conclusion, it is everywhere you look and affects everyone, it can even make parents think they know what their children like or are interested in, rather than truly listen and observe their children personal preferences without their own bias.
What does it cause in children?
When gender bias goes unacknowledged for long, it can cause negative effects on children at an early age. For example, the effects reported related to the gender bias are huge discrepancies between the number of girls and boys who choose subjects like science, technology, maths, or engineering.
There is still a minority of women and girls who pursue a career within these subjects. Similarly, it can be hard for boys and men to select humanities and art subjects because of gender bias and the influence of peer pressure within children.
In other aspects of their lives, children will grow to reproduce the gender bias in their lives and be negatively affected in other areas of their lives: in their intimacy, personal choices, careers and so forth. Where violation or restriction to express themselves and their freedom is most important, thus more harmful for their physical and mental well-being. Some children will suffer dysphoria, with their parents not realizing it.
Deconstructing gender bias since childhood: Where to start?
Deconstructing gender bias, start with ourselves, and it takes time. Wanting our children to be different from us seems impossible without us challenging how we think and enact in certain situations. Here are essential things and behaviours we can start to learn and re-learn to deconstruct gender bias.
Self and gender awareness at an early age
Self-awareness plays a major role when wanting to deconstruct gender bias, thus setting an example for our children while they learn to listen to themselves.
Here are some examples where it is important to be self-aware:
- Avoiding and stopping making stereotypical presumptions about, or references to, what our kids would like or activities they’d like to do. But also to any other adult person.
- Honouring and encouraging their tendencies and interests and allowing them to make their own choices. Just like we want to do as adults.
- Presenting a wide range of activities, toys, materials, tools, technology, pronouns regardless of any commercial gender bias. Simultaneously allowing them to choose without judgment.
- The same goes for experiences; encouraging physical play or activity, investigation and exploration, which helps build confidence without influencing their choices
- Permitting and encouraging activities and friendships with all or any children without any reference to gender
Being open and talking about difficult questions with our children, such as what is a boy or a girl? What are gender and sex? Why do we use different pronouns to address someone? Handling complex questions is a good exercise to make our children think for themselves and reflect on the world that surrounds them.
It is always possible to practice these questions with a mental health professional or children specialist that can give you further guidance on how to address these questions within your family and as a parent. This practice will create a strong connection between you and your children, where, asking questions in a safe environment, encourage them to build their self-awareness and confidence.
Constantly educate ourselves to help our children: Be curious with them
Being constantly curious about the world that surrounds us and questioning our traditions, ways of thinking, judging and living is an invaluable experience. It will not only help your kids be more aware of the world and develop a profound identity but also be aware of the persons next to them. Also, it will enrich your life and parenting experience. Remember that as a parent, you are the primary support system of your kid. Encouraging them to talk at a young age about how they feel, will create valuable people for their future and future generations.
There are many things we can learn from the curiosity of our children, do not stop the wonder with which they came to the world.
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