Harmful impact of stereotyping children revealed in report

Children’s potential is being “significantly” limited because of harmful stereotypes, a new report warns.

A commission established by the Fawcett Society called for changes in areas including education after reporting that the phrase “boys will be boys” is still commonly heard in schools when boys misbehave.

Gender expectations cause problems such as lower self-esteem in girls and poorer reading skills in boys, said the report.

Stereotypes also contribute towards the mental health crisis among children and young people, are at the root of girls’ problems with body image and eating disorders, higher male suicide rates and violence against women and girls, it was warned.

Racegoers at Royal Ascot (Brian Lawless/PA)
Racegoers at Royal Ascot (Brian Lawless/PA)

The problem also affects the world of work, contributing to the gender pay gap, it was suggested.

Seven times as many parents could see their sons rather than daughters working in construction, while almost three times as many could see their daughters in nursing or care work, said the report.

A study of 141 high street shops and 44 online retailers for the report found that children’s clothes, cards and stationery are often sold using gender segregation, and toys are still sold using gender stereotyped colours and grouping of “boys’ toys” and “girls’ toys”.

Sam Smethers, Fawcett Society chief executive, said: “Gender stereotyping is everywhere and causes serious, long lasting harm – that’s the clear message from the research for the commission.

Pensions gender gap
Models of a man and woman stand on a pile of coins and bank notes illustrating a gender pay gap (Joe Giddens/PA)

“From ‘boys will be boys’ attitudes in nursery or school, to jobs for boys and jobs for girls views among some parents, these stereotypes are deeply embedded and they last a lifetime.

“We need to end the ‘princessification’ of girls and the toxification of boys.

“The commercial sector too often uses gender stereotypes and segregates boys and girls simply to sell more products.

“But this is not about making everything gender neutral.

“We also have to make women and girls visible when, because of pre-existing bias, the default male will still be the prevailing assumption.

“So for example, routinely showing children women leaders or scientists is important.

Construction workers watch the sun set (Hannah McKay/PA)
Construction workers watch the sun set (Hannah McKay/PA)

“The majority of parents recognise that there is a problem and increasingly they want something different.

“They want to see real change coming from Government and companies and need practical help to make changes themselves.”

Professor Becky Francis, who co-chaired the commission, said: “What every parent hopes for their child, and what educators hope for children in their class, is that they will be free to achieve their potential, yet what the evidence shows is that we still limit our children based on harmful, tired gender stereotypes.

“That adds up to real harm.

“From boys’ underachievement in reading, to the gender pay gap, the evidence is clear that the stereotypes we impart in early childhood cause significant damage to our children.”

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