Gender Stereotypes That Modern Parents Still Make

by Eva Selamlar, Founder the PepperMINTas Initiative

Time for some Spring Cleaning: Let’s sweep those dusty unconscious biases when it comes to raising our children.  

We all know how important it is not to pigeonhole our children into stereotypes, but it happens to the best of us.  And while they should develop free from societal norms, without the constraints of today’s modern society, why do we as parents keep stumbling into the traps of gender stereotyping?

Two Innocent Gender Stereotype Traps

Here's an example of a beautiful faux pas that I stepped into all by myself:  My youngest daughter, 6 years old, expressed her desire for a bicycle with a basket on the steering wheel. I automatically responded with, "So you want a real girl's bike?".   I don't know what got into me. Even as I spoke, I could have slapped myself. My husband looked at me - his 100% feminist wife - in amazement and fortunately corrected me: "No, the girl has already said it correctly, she wants a bike with a basket".

 Why do we keep falling into these stereotypical traps? The answer is simple. We ourselves are the product of our own upbringing and the social influences that our caretakers carried.  Over the years this has created behavioural baggage that we now invisibly carry around with us constantly, and often unconsciously. And such a load, filled over the years, cannot be discarded so quickly overnight. The first step is to acknowledge this invisible load in ourselves.  For example, the grandparents who give the boy the great big tractor, the girl the high-quality IKEA wooden kitchen, or the godmother who gives her godson a Ronaldo jersey.

Have you yourself ever stumbled upon some dusty, unconscious prejudices blocking your way? 

Of course, a little dust on its own is not bad. But it quickly adds up, and over time the dust layers may get so thick that it becomes not only inconvenient, but hazardous to health and happiness.

A second example is from our open-minded kindergarten teacher, whom I love dearly.  She recently reminded her students to tell their mommy, and not their daddy, to check the size of their slippers. This is just another innocent example of a tiny bit of dust that will settle and eventually add to the layer of unconscious biases.

Gender Appropriate Education

High-time for some spring cleaning: We all contribute to the persistence of certain social traditions and beliefs. This therefore means, first and foremost, that we ourselves must address the issue of gender-appropriate and unbiased education. Each and every one of us, whether in the role of educator, I actually like the word "companion" or “mentor” better, or in the role of any other caregiver of a child, exerts an influence consciously or, for the most part, unconsciously. Therefore, we must sweep our own dusty mindset before doing anything else 

In a study in the United States, eleven-year-old boys were asked what they would do if they had been born as girls. And conversely, eleven-year-old girls were asked the same thing. The girls gave answers with activities such as "climbing a tree," "riding around on a bike," or "getting dirty." The boys answered alarmingly by saying, "throwing myself off a bridge." 

So what's happening during child-raising between 0-11 years old? This is what the world famous Laura Liswood asked herself at the World Economic Forum 2022. And came to the conclusion: above all, we need good role models and mentoring.

"It needs good role models and mentoring on all sides, both from the father and the mother".

When doing the experiment myself and asking my daughter what she would do if she were born a boy she said she would play soccer. To which I replied in amazement that she could of course do this as a girl just as well. She replied: "Yes, but the professional soccer players are all so much more famous".

One way to tackle this approach is to watch  soccer matches with all together, not just invite the boys in the room. Merchandise from the women's national team is also an inspirational gift. Especially now that the Women's European Championship is coming to Switzerland, its a good time to reel in both genders in this boy dominated sport.  

Moral of the story? Question yourself. Constantly. Stay open and curious and dare to try new things. When planning activities with your children, try to leave the invisible backpack at home. It doesn't always work out, but the more you try the more you succeed.  

4 Tips To Bring Girls Closer To STEM

1. An Excursion

Girls sometimes need an extra push to get interested in math, computer science, natural sciences or mathematics.

That is why the pepperMINTas initiave organizes a Mentor the Mentor program so that the adults in their life can guide the young girls with fun and easy activities. 

Join the City Tour and Private Guided Tour Observatory Zurich on May 3, 2023,

supported by pepperMINTas, Gülsha und Prof. Kathrin Altwegg.

2. An Insightful Podcast

How to inspire women for natural sciences? By Kathrin Altwegg

3. A Book Recommendation

The Loudest Duck, Moving Beyond Diversity While Embracing the Differences, by Laura Liswood, Canada 2010.

4. A Movie Recommendation

Billy Elliot, by Stephen Daldry, 2001, nominated for three Oscars and won three Bafta Awards.

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