A US study published in the journal of Science last year revealed that “girls feel less smart than boys by the age of 6”. (Bian, Leslie, Cimpian, Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests, Science, Vol. 355, Issue 6323, pp. 389-391, 27 Jan 2017)
“The study itself surmises that these stereotypes become entrenched at a very young age and ultimately discourage adult women from entering professions that require special mental abilities.” (Perry, CNN.com, January 27, 2017)
The good news is that parents and educators have the power to combat these negative perceptions and change the very way our girls perceive their intelligence and role in society. Here are a few ideas how we can help our girls fight gender stereotypes:
1. Read books that shatter stereotypes. Books like:
- Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Favilli and Cavallo
- The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
- Cinder Edna by Ellen Jackson
- Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole
- BBC.com has a great list of books that can be found on: http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-38770936
2. Encourage mixed-gender playdates. During these playdates, kids get the opportunity to play different games or do projects together such as make-believe games, art projects, time outdoors, board games, cooking/baking, puzzles, building forts, etc.
3. Reinforce behaviors that promote gender equality.
- Buy clothes and accessories that have positive messages like “Girls Power” vs. “Princess”. JoJo Handbags will be launching a new line of canvas ‘Power Purses’ in January that highlight girl power messages. The sassy canvas purses have metallic girl power text, can be worn around the waist or as crossbody bag with the cool gunmetal chain and will retail for only $26. Girls and women can pick their power from one of the 6 girl power messages: GRL POWER, SELF MADE, HOT MAMA, QUEEN, BOSS and FABULOUS.
- A dad could tell his son who is emotional, “Sometimes I feel like crying too.”
- Focus less on the outward appearance of our girls ‘looking pretty’, focus more on how beautiful they are on the inside and how smart they are.
4. Question generalizations. We all know there are a plethora of these and sometimes we may even have to challenge our own biases. Question your child when they say gender specific statements such as “pink is a girl color”, “trucks are for boys” or “only girls cry”, to name a few. Encourage your child to deal with their peers as individuals rather than just by their gender.
Nowadays, our girls are lucky to have a lot of strong female influencers at school, at extra curricular activities, in Hollywood and even in Politics. So let’s empower our girls to be the best they can be.