Girls Can’t Run, Boys Can’t Cry

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Hollie Anderton

Hollie is currently an English teacher and Head of Year in North Wales with a degree in Theatre. She trained in Bath Spa University to gain her PGCE and is currently a Network Leader for WomenEd Wales Hollie is the author of the Teacher Toolkit...
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Could we be damaging the future aspirations of our children?

Gender stereotyping is not a new trend. In fact, in no way is it new and unfortunately it doesn’t look like a trend that will phase out any time soon. Every child comes across stereotyping at some stage whether this be in school, at home or in the media. Children, who are born open-minded, are taught that some things are ‘not for boys’, and some things are ‘not for girls’.

In the media, ‘real’ women are emerging more and more. Powerful and influential women are become more openly accepted into business and politics. However, still the focus of the media remains on what these women wear, how they act around other women and what the latest bigot has had to say about them.

Unfortunately, this is the message that is being delivered to the children in our care. And without our help, the things that our young girls AND boys hear on the television are going to be taken as fact.

3 Tips For Damning Those Stereotypes

  1. Always avoid using gender pronouns for praise. All teachers – including myself – have been guilty of the time-old phrases ‘you’re such a good girl’ and ‘what a good boy’. It’s easily done, but it’s also easily eradicated. Try to stick to gender neutral pronouns; good behaviour is good regardless of gender!
  2. Try to give ‘gender surprising’ examples of people. For instance, if discussing scientists, make an effort to imply that the scientist is female; or if talking about nursing then suggest that men can also do this job. Children make assumptions about the jobs people can do and this sometimes can encourage them to stay within these limits that are set by society.
  3. Don’t reaffirm stereotype behaviours.  ‘Boys don’t cry’ may seem like an archaic phrase but sometimes it can slip out. With the focus on male mental health currently, instilling the belief that it is okay for boys to share emotions will pave the way for the next generation of men to feel as though they can express emotion without being judged or ridiculed. At school, we can clarify this from an early age when young boys are more likely to get upset publicly.

It may seem that this is political correctness gone mad but I think it important to note that these stereotypes can have lasting effects. We recently had an entrepreneur visit school to talk to Year 6 and when asked what jobs men could do, both genders of children responded with, ‘own a fishing company’, ‘drive a truck’, and ‘be a doctor’. Of course, men can do all of those things and they were well received responses. When asked the same question about women, the answers astounded me: ‘beautician’, ‘housewife’, and ‘nanny’, were commonplace. These answers were not given by boys.

Whilst all of the above mentioned jobs are respectable careers, I was still severely disappointed that even at this young age, the children were putting themselves into male- and female-only categories. It was only when one child saw the horrified look on my face that she responded with, ‘Maybe she is the one that owns the fishing company!’ 

Stereotypes should be a thing of the past. Don’t let children believe that their gender defines who they are and what they can do. Let’s not let them believe that men can’t be caring and that women can’t be leaders.

It was a part of our past, let’s not let it be a part of their future.

4 thoughts on “Girls Can’t Run, Boys Can’t Cry

  1. Okay – let’s not stereo-type boys and girls regarding what jobs or careers they can do or roles they will play in adult life. This has to strat with teacher expectations of them as learners too. Boys can’t be neat or sit still and girls are better readers – really? This is another far more damaging form of stero-typing and one as teachers we need to focus on more than what job or career people can have because of their gender. Here is an example of what I mean from the Telegraph back in 2012 where it reported that too many boys are failing to get a good start to their education. The headline was “Thousands of young boys ‘struggling to write their name”

  2. I’m not sure of point one. Why shouldn’t I say “you’re a good boy”? Saying that isn’t saying the child is good because of being a boy. The other thing to consider is that yes, make it clear that anyone can do anything they want to, irrespective of gender but also remember not to force a girl to like a tractor and a boy a doll if you see them gravitate towards these toys naturally. Weren’t there studies that showed influence of hormones on this?

    1. That seems a very normal thing to say, but only because we are so used to saying it. What we’re doing is implying gender relevance in a situation where it is not appropriate. If you think in different terms, the point is more obvious. Let’s say half of your class has brown hair, half blonde. Would you praise by saying ‘good brunette’? I suspect not, unless you were deliberately trying to strengthen a student’s association with other brunettes for competitive purposes, for example.

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