As a mom of a 6-year-old boy, I often wonder whether his father and I are raising him the right way. So often, we hear things like “why is he cooking when his sister is around”, “why is he having a girl’s toy?”, etc.
And then the constant “boys will be boys” messages make me question whether certain troublesome behaviors and attitudes are just part of the male makeup. Experts say the answer to that is no: Boys’ behaviors are more cultural than biological.
Parents, relatives, peers, teachers, and the media send messages to boys that they should be tough, unemotional, competitive, strong, powerful, etc. While girls are weak, bad at driving, not competitive, emotional, etc.
So, teaching gender equality from a young age is a vital part of breaking the stereotype and ensuring equal opportunities for all and inspiring the next generation.
Here are a few ways to promote gender equality even from a younger age:
- Avoid gender stereotypes: Avoid teaching gender stereotypes in the first place. Offer a variety of toys and activities, even if they’re typically considered to be for girls. Provide books and movies featuring characters of each gender and in non-traditional gender roles, such as male nurses and female athletes.
2. Prevent feelings of superiority: To prevent this line of thinking, encourage mixed-gender friendships. “The more you encourage boys to spend time with girls and see them as individuals, the harder it is for them to stereotype the whole group or think boys are better. It’s also important for boys to get along with and be tolerant of people with other differences.
3. Positive affirmation: Children need positive words as they grow up. These words shape their mindset towards the future. Their thinking and reactions towards the other gender start from what they have learned from their tender age. Using words like “boys are stronger than girls”, “don’t be as weak as a girl” is not a good training of the mind to children.
4. Encourage emotions: Never tell boys, “Big boys don’t cry” or “You’re acting like a girl.” In addition to reinforcing gender stereotypes, that type of talk can actually be harmful. “If boys are cut off from honestly communicating hard feelings, the energy of the upset doesn’t simply diminish or go away; it can drive misbehavior and taint how a boy feels about himself and life in general.
5. Teach equal opportunity: Make children understand that there is no specific job for a male and a specific job for females. Don’t say certain things are for boys only or for girls only. Provide equal opportunities for both genders. Let them learn anything they want to learn. E.g. Boys learning ballet dance, cooking, sewing, and girls learning football, video games, etc.
6. Positive role model: Let the children read books about influential women they can emulate as their role model. Of course, you’ll probably talk a bit about gender equality, but for younger children and even preteens, stories are a much more effective way to get the message across.
International Women’s Day aims to promote this very message in our society. The ways in which students are encouraged to interact with their peers at school carries on to how they interact with those in their communities. Our students will grow and carry these habits into adulthood.
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