How can we teach gender equality to our children?

gender equality

I have just finished reading Jo Swinson’s fantastic book Equal Power, which is a fantastic overview of how to some degree we are all still very much shackled by the constraints imposed on us by our gender, even in this modern day world. In some cases, it feels like we have come so far, but still gender equality in so many parts of life feels a very long way off.

I really feel that as parents, the power is in our hands to instil the values of gender equality in our children, who will hopefully be the generation to really push things through to the next level. We can all do our bit, and so this post is just a little nudge in the right direction of how we can teach – or should I more say – instil gender equality in our children.

Respecting each other’s work and contributions

Most of what a child learns comes from the home, and if you want them to catch onto the notion of gender equality, then you need to walk the walk at home. This means respecting each other’s work, working together as a team, and having a fair division of time and duties. This will look different for everyone, but the point is here that whatever your work and contributions look like, that they should have been arrived at with mutual agreement and consideration in the mix.

I would like to caveat this by saying that I feel a lot more needs to be done in the commercial world to make this happen in terms of flexible working provisions. My partner and I are both very lucky to work for ourselves and so can make this happen, but companies need to provide more and better flexible working options to reflect and support the new dynamics of family life.

Go against the grain (or at least keep it open)

My daughter is as much princess as she is tomboy. She certainly doesn’t need any encouragement in being the former – society does a worryingly good job at doing that! So I personally work hard on redressing the balance – whether that’s sword fighting with her, encouraging her to be bold and adventurous in all that she does, buying her remote controlled cars as oppose to dolls as presents, getting her involved in science experiments etc. Basically, the absolute opposite to what is expected of “nice little girls”. As the wonderful Steve Biddulph – one of the world’s most respected parent educators says, you’ve got to raise girls like boys and boys like girls!

Debunking stereotypes wherever possible

We’ve all been there – “but mummy, boys don’t like pink and blue is a boy’s colour!”. Once upon a time, these statements used to really pee me off but now I do a inward happy dance when I hear them as I know these are a perfect opportunity to debunk the highly ingrained stereotypes which have taken root in our society. Yes, boys can wear princess dresses (and we know quite a few that do – hurrah!) and girls can wear a builder costume if they so please!

How to teach gender equality to our children

Choose your words

It’s so easy to praise a girl for being kind and caring and a boy for being strong and adventurous but don’t forget to praise the other way round to help them realise their full potential in life  – for when a girl is being brave and adventurous and a boy is being considerate and gentle too!

Equally, be mindful about what you are praising them about – it’s so easy to praise the girls for how they look and the boys for achieving in sports, but try to break down these norms and widen their view of how they can achieve wins in their life – i.e. for girls it’s not just about being the prettiest in the class and for the boys it’s not being the sportiest in the class. This will help them to be ambitious in all walks of life, not just in those dreaded stereotypes which can be so hard to shake off.

Look for the heroines

If you look at book and films, the vast majority of them will feature a hero as opposed to a heroine, although of course there are some well known exceptions to the rule. Well as far as I can see, the heroes have enough air time but it’s the heroines in life which could do with a lot more – so make a point to celebrate the heroines in life – whether they be the ones in books and on screen, in history, across science or in every day life too.

In a world where we have been pre-programmed to blindly follow gender stereotypes, it can be hard to then re-programme ourselves to do the opposite but that’s exactly what we need to do.  With just a little bit of mindfulness as parents and  as teachers, we can address one of the most challenging problems in parenting – how can we teach gender in a way that will lay the path for the future?

What are your thoughts about instilling gender equality in our children? Do you try to do any of the above? Do leave a comment and share as I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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  1. I have a boy and a girl so gender equality is something I think a lot about, and I get pretty militant about it! I love that it’s being talked about everywhere now as a real issue, but it’s so disheartening when you walk into a toy shop and see how gendered kids products still are – my daughter’s new school even had ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ dressing up boxes, and I bet you can guess the costumes in each of those. I think you’re so right to say that it’s going to be the next generation that really start to make a difference though.

  2. I whole heartedly agree with all of this here and think it’s such an important topic for our children today. My daughter knows that both mommy and daddy do housework and we encourage her to play with dinosaurs and trains as much as dolly’s and unicorns.

  3. Such good ideas – I think the words we choose to use make such a big difference in the way we all look at things. It’s an important message to teach our children 🙂

  4. This post speaks straight to me heart! I’m a girl who never really cared for pink, my favourite colour was always blue. I wasn’t a girly girl, nor a tomboy. I just liked what I liked. Now I am mum to two boys, and my eldest – who is almost 8 – has always loved pink. He experimented with dresses, but found they were not for him. He loves unicorns and rainbows and glitter, and playing with dolls and My Little Pony. He also loves cars and dinosaurs and is obsessed with Transformers. He knows he can be whoever he wants to be, and that there are no such thing as boy colours or girl colours. He challenges his peers on these things too. But we still have out work cut out for us – the other day his little brother came home from nursery saying he was wearing “girl pants” because he’d had a little accident and his teachers had put a spare pair of pink pants on him.

  5. Totally agree! I think kids often naturally steer towards what could be seen as stereotypical behaviour – my boys love to wrestle, shoot guns, play cops and robbers, and none of this was encouraged by us (it wasn’t discouraged, either). We certainly never bought them guns when they were little, for example. But there is so much that can be done to try to address inequality. I am lucky to live in a country where the balance is pretty fair but even then, still not equal and you are right, it needs to start in the home when they are little!

  6. Spot on Talya! I totally agree. Having two boys myself I see them playing with action figures, play fighting, playing with their army men sets but if they wanted say a dolls house, then I’d get them one. I also see them helping daddy hang the washing out, bake and just the other day my 8 year old went shopping with his dad and bought me some flowers. We always encourage them to be who they are with no judgement. 🙂 x

  7. This is such a tough topic. I think, give children guidance yes but don’t restrict activities purely on gender I.e don’t stop buying princess dresses for your daughter just because its too stereotypical. Theyre children, let them be just that before they arent anymore. I think gender ‘equality’ is being pushed too far. Chances are men and women can not do the exact same things, but in proportion they can: don’t ask a woman to lift the same weight as a man, do it in proportion!

  8. I agree with all of this! Work places need more flexibility as I’m having to make a choice if it’s worth me going back to work full time. I also dress jasmine in all colours she infact has some sleepsuits that were in the ‘boy’ section as I thought they were cute!!

  9. I had never thought of this before and such an important subject to raise. I have always let my children play with what they wanted to when they were little and make their own minds up on what they like 🙂

  10. I’ve always let my boys play with what they want too. They have their own minds and I would never force ‘boys’ toys on them. Little J’s favourite thing for a long time was a pink peppa pig pram.

  11. Raising two boys I try and go out of my way to make sure they are not because my brought up with gender stereotypes. I work in finance which can still be a bit arctic, will be digging this book out and having a read x

  12. We work to ensure that both of our children (one of each) have an equality driven view of the world, and at home they play with all of the toys (including swords, dolls and princess dresses). We don’t push our children into stereotypical roles, but equally we don’t mind if that’s the path they take. They have strong enough characters to not become sheep #coolmuclub

  13. This has been on my mind a lot lately. Leo wants a unicorn themed birthday party, that’s totally fine with me but my husband and my husbands dad have got issues with it. Unicorns are for girls apparently and he will be picked on for having a girls party. Do you know what I’m doing? I’m ignoring their stereotypical, outdated opinions and listening to my child. If Leo wants a unicorn party then he can have one, just like last year he had a Batman party because that’s what he asked for! I definitely agree that if we want gender equality it starts with teaching our children so they grow up as a generation who doesn’t even take notice of the stereotypes that have separated us as males and females since forever xx #coplmumclub

  14. This is a tough one. My daughter was part of the ‘pink stinks’ generation (google it) and refused to wear pink only green. Hey, that’s cool and fine with me! I spent my childhood up a tree and refused to brush my hair so I’m all for letting children be children -and that means be treated equally and fairly. However, having a boy and a girl and teaching hundreds of boys and girls, they will often choose to play with typically ‘boys’ toys or ‘girls’ toys. In other words I think we have to be careful to give ALL children the choices to explore their favourite things whether that be army trousers, fairy costumes or superman outfits. This mutual respect for the individual hopefully will carry them through into adulthood. My main hate is the media and how teenage girls are reflected and how teenage boys see those girls: that is when things really change I think. How many music videos show woman in bikinis surrounding one man? How many girls watch YouTube to see how to contour makeup? It’s hideous. Great post btw. #coolmumclub

  15. I’m always really conscious with two boys. I often find the language used with boys really disturbing. I have had people say to them “don’t cry like a girl”. It’s demeaning to girls and makes them feel like crying is bad. Big was invited to one of his best friend’s party the other day. My mother-in-law was horrified because this best friend is a girl and it was a pamper party and he was going to get his nails painted. She kept telling him he shouldn’t get his nails painted. I asked her why not and she couldn’t actually answer. Grrrrr #coolmumclub

  16. I absolutely adore this! I just wrote a post about my search for gender neutral clothing as it is becoming more and more impossible! Definitely encouraging my daughter to do what she sets her mind to, not what she’s “expected” by society to do.

  17. I feel like they can be whoever they want to be and if that is pink and glittery then great but if its mud and tanks then that is cool too! I try to empower them to be who they want to be, but for me that also doesn’t mean telling the girls that they can’t play with baby dolls or the boys that they have to. I allow them to choose. I get very cross with my boys when they tell their sisters that they can’t do something because they are girls.
    We recently got Great women in History books so that the boys (and the girls) could see just what girls can do!! #Coolmumsclub

  18. It can be so hard when it seems like literally the whole world is trying to force a gender stereotype at your kid. L’s grandad asked the other day why he had some girls toys, an overly pink till and shopping set, this annoyed me on so many levels. One it’s not a girls toy, it’s a toy, he likes it, end of. Two, when we were sent the toys to review the pink for girls and they are shop assistants and handbag toting princesses and the blue for boys working in garages and racing cars toys marketing was really OTT and makes me see why people believe these notions. But I remained calm and just said to L, silly grandad, toys are toys for all children. Aaargh. It’s so hard. #coolmumclub

  19. I really think we can,by providing equal opportunities and resources from early childhood. My boys play with dolls. They hate football. It doesnt make them less of boy #BlogCrush

  20. This is a great piece. Like you say I think it’s all about leading by example and shutting down those lazy sexist stereotypes. Congratulations that someone loved this post so much they added it to the #blogcrush linky

  21. I have 2 boys and a girl. My eldest is very static about gender and would hate to be given anything pink. My daughter is happy to be a superhero or princess and my youngest will just copy the older 2! #coolmumclub

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