Pink for girls, blue for boys…
Within the world of academia, the view that gender is a social construct has been widely accepted for years, decades even. So why is it taking the rest of the world so long to catch up? Worryingly, the findings of a new report published by Accenture have revealed that 57% of teachers admit to gender stereotyping children in schools, subconsciously pushing them to pursue the subjects that are traditionally associated with their gender rather than promoting messages of equal opportunities for both sexes. Consequently, young girls are being put off STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths), and the skills gap and lack of diversity in science and technology sectors remains problem.
In the 21st Century, we can’t continue to tolerate these harmful and limiting gender stereotypes, particularly when they are directly influencing the future of our younger generations. Sex and gender are two completely different things, with the first relating to a person’s biology and the second their psychological socialisation. We’re not born with the knowledge that pink is for girls and blue is for boys. Gender is not inherent; we learn it in the early stages of childhood, as Simone de Beauvoir famously said, “one is not born a woman, but becomes one”.
But why does society insist that we must learn to put ourselves in gendered boxes? What if the world we lived in didn’t have separate aisles for remote control cars and Barbie dolls in Toys ‘r’ Us? It’s hard to imagine what an ungendered society would look like, but I bet that it would have a lot more female astrophysicists populating the workforce than we have currently. Although a society in which gender doesn’t exist may be unattainable and, in fact, undesirable, the disparity between young girls’ and boys’ academic and career choices needs to be addressed. A school in America is already actively taking steps towards creating a gender stereotype free learning environment but training teachers in gender inclusion. By making simple changes such as not addressing the class as “boys and girls” or “ladies and gentleman”, it takes any emphasis on gender away from the classroom, allowing their learning to take centre stage.
It’s no crime for a child to like the things that are stereotypically associated with their own gender, just as it’s no crime for them to like the things that are not. Let the boys play at dress up and the girls play with Nerf guns, and let both sexes know that any career is open to them. STEM subjects should not intimidate girls, and boys should not turn their nose up at textiles for fear of being emasculated. Our younger generations have more opportunities than ever before, so we can’t let something as meaningless as gender stereotypes stop them from seizing them. The future is theirs for the taking, they can build their lives into whatever they want to be, so lets throw away the gendered cookie cutter moulds and see what they become.
In celebration of International Womens’ Day, we’re flying the flag for equality #BeBoldForChange. Thanks, Sue
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