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Encouraging critical thinking and resilience in the face of limiting gender stereotypes

The facts

  • The more TV any child watches, the more likely they are to believe that “boys are better”, according to a 2013 study by developmental psychologists

  • Stereotypes can work against boys as well as girls. As Gender Action points out, boys are just as likely to be put off studying English and drama as girls are to feel they aren’t capable of pursuing physics and business studies

I WANT TO… tackle the gender stereotypes in my child’s life
  • Gender stereotypes sound like:


“Boys like…” “Girls don’t, can’t or shouldn’t…” “Boys are naturally…”


Watch out for them and gently challenge why it isn’t OK for girls to play with tractors or boys with dolls. Choose books, clothes and toys on the basis of children’s interests, not because they’re pink or blue. 


  • It’s usually unconscious, but many parents…

    • unconsciously allow more aggression in your boy and tolerate more sensitivity and crying in their girls

    • hold their boys to higher standards for bravery and physical prowess and their girls to higher standards for calmness, creativity and focus

    • let their boys off the hook for tidying and cleaning and their girls off the hook for physical exertion and chores like mowing the lawn (remember that chores have no gender, the Girl Scouts point out)

Every now and again, picture your Edward as an Edwina and test yourself: would you still be saying the same thing? ​

For every exclamation that “Girls can’t ride motorbikes!” I show them female Motocross riders doing epic stunts on YouTube and ask them if they still think that’s true

Ella Duncan – Being a Feminist Mum to Boys (Zero Tolerance, May 2019)


  • It’s exhausting to confound stereotypes at every turn but try to pick at least one or two areas around the house to show that dads can clean and mums can put up shelves

  • With your children, think critically about magazine ads, billboards, music videos, movies, TV programmes and song lyrics. Question the imagery and messaging about sex, sexuality, sexiness, gender stereotypes and the objectification of women that we all take for granted

Girls are taught to view their bodies as un-ending projects to work on, whereas boys, from an early age, are taught to view their bodies as tools to master their environment

Gloria Steinem, author and activist

I WANT TO… push back on friends and relatives


Point out and gently question stereotypes little and often – but without a critical flavour


You can say what you like at home – children can be confused by the different messages they hear from carers they love and admire


Ask questions about how differing beliefs took shape. Respect others’ underlying values and tell your own story

  • Start generalised discussions at low-stress times, without attaching them to criticisms over a particular behaviour. Exploring current affairs together and gently self-questioning can work better than challenge and conflict. Show them this BBC gender experiment (in which volunteers play with children) or this Scottish social attitudes survey (finding that many more parents would buy a girl a toy truck than buy a boy a doll). You could ask your family member: what would you do?

If Grandma insists on splitting up the cousins based on gender or only gifting them certain things, you have every right to remind them that “girl” and “boy” are concepts us grown-ups created

Karen Fratti – 6 ways parents can challenge gender stereotypes… (Feb 2018)

  • Find common ground… Try to look at gender issues through a lens they are familiar with or care about. Maybe they’ve got an all-time favourite dance show featuring male dancers? Maybe they had some great treatment from a female doctor? Try to validate their perspectives: ridiculing someone’s opinion long-held opinion can feel like treading on their history

You might be in a rush, you might be tired, you might have already had that exact conversation with that person about that thing they keep saying, you might not feel safe in that situation to speak out, you might be worried about being labelled a Social Justice Warrior, or an Angry Black Woman

Jenny Lester, Zero Tolerance

  • “But it’s natural!” “Things have always been this way”… When you’re being challenged on your views and methods, these myth busters can help

I WANT TO… help my child make friends of another gender


Challenge your own language – out loud! – to make sure you’re not drawing boys and girls apart unnecessarily 


Setting children into very distinct gender groups may mean they find it harder to interact healthily as young adults


Start by saying “children” and “people” rather than using the words “girls”and “boys” for no reason

  • Ask your child what games they play in school and who they play with – the answer might surprise you

  • It might be easier for children of different genders to foster their relationships outside of school at each other’s houses. It’s surprisingly easy to fall into single-sex friendships or play dates only. The more you mix up girls and boys, the more gender-neutral their play will become

My oldest has two best friends – one called Joshua and one called Amelia. One day I asked him what it was like to have one best friend who is a girl and one best friend who is a boy. His answer? “It’s the same. We all like computer games and running around and making up stories and crisps. It’s great!”

Ella Duncan – Being a Feminist Mum to Boys (Zero Tolerance, May 2019)

  • If your child is actively restricting their playmates to one gender, try opening the fridge and asking: “If I decided to only eat food from the lefthand side of the fridge, what would I be missing out on? Would that make sense?”

  • This is important work: forming healthy and respectful sexual and romantic relationships may come easier to young people who are used to interacting with people of another gender from a young age


Gender resources

More help with #gender stereotypes
A mighty girl.PNG
The world’s largest collection of books, toys, movies and music for parents, teachers, and others dedicated to raising smart, confident and courageous girls  Go to A Mighty Girl >
Zero Tolerance.PNG
The Anyone Can Play project from Zero Tolerance explores the best ways to talk about gender stereotypes and their effect on children. Includes the Talking Gender factsheet series, posters and social media links  Go to Anyone Can Play >
A recommendations service with a great section for parents on sex, gender and body image. Find parents’ and kids’ reviews, lists of the best and worst kids’ films for gender stereotyping, advice on talking about gender etc  Go to Commonsense Media >
Gender Diary.jpg

Follow a mother and father on Twitter as they parent one boy and one girl. They’ve now published a book – The Gender Agenda  Go to Gender Diary >

Good Men Project.png

One for positive masculinity enthusiasts – a kind of “Upworthy for men” with plenty of inspiring content to explore - like this article about dads, daughters and the chat. Go to The Good Men Project >

Remember: every child is different. Adjust these suggestions for the age and stage of your child. Children with special educational needs and disabilities, looked-after children and children who have experienced abuse may all need different support.

If you’re in doubt about your child’s development, you should seek the advice of a professional

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