I grew up in a household where both parents worked full time and household chores weren’t influenced by gender. I was always encouraged to be involved in sports and any other activity I was interested in.
Yet even with a family environment such as this, gender stereotypes still infiltrated. Social perceptions and the way my own parents were raised meant gender roles and stereotypes were still very much an influence in my upbringing.
Whether it was intentional or not, I had an ingrained understanding as to what appropriate behaviours were for women and men.
As I journeyed through my teens and early twenties I found myself feeling limited and restricted because I was a woman. I was very much a ‘Tom-Boy’, I liked wearing shorts and I liked to play sport, just like my three younger brothers. I didn’t fit the mould of "feminine" and because of that I felt as though society didn’t see me.
That being said, I’m fortunate to have grown up during a wave of feminism, women speaking up about their rights. I’ve seen the women in my life stand up for themselves, and in doing so they helped pave the way for my daughter and I.
Now as a parent I often find it challenging to navigate these ingrained ideas, but I have a responsibility to continue smashing these out dated stereotypes. I want my kids to grow up with the same opportunities and choices regardless of their sex, so my husband and I do our best to show them through our own behaviours that gender stereotypes are just that, stereotypes. We keep the power dynamic of our relationship equal, and we don’t adhere to conventional roles. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy cooking, and it doesn’t mean we both work full time, it means we respect each other and our choices.
Gender stereotypes are simplistic generalisations, assumptions and judgements about a person’s personality, behaviour, appearance, skills and interests. We don’t want any of that for our children. So we encourage them to choose their own outfits, toys, and the activities they want to do. It can be hard as a parent to not interfere, but it’s up to us to give our children the respect to make their own choices When it comes to their feelings and emotions, we want our daughter and our son to know that any emotion they are experiencing is OK. They don’t have to hide their fears nor do they have to silence their anger or frustration. We do this by talking to them and asking them to describe how they are feeling.
Gender equality creates a fairer, happier and more prosperous society. There is no ‘equality’ that comes from gender stereotypes - they limit opportunities for both boys and girls, men and women. As a parent it is certainly perplexing to know what is right and wrong, and part of challenging gender stereotypes is reflecting on our own hopes, dreams and expectations of our children. This includes both for them as children and as future adults.
Parents overwhelmingly want equal opportunities for their children. Part of this is making sure that we're genuinely open to our kids going their own way, without limitations. I've recently collaborated with Our Watch, an organisation established to drive nationwide change in the culture, behaviours and power imbalances that lead to violence against women and their children. Our Watch research that shows parents want their children to have equal access to opportunities regardless of their gender.
However, while parents want to challenge limiting gender stereotypes, many find it’s not always easy to recognise where and how these stereotypes affect children.
To help parents with this, and to provide support and practical guidance in challenging stereotypes, Our Watch has created #BecauseWhy. #BecauseWhy is for families who want children to learn, explore and develop all the skills they’re interested in without the limitations that come with gender stereotypes. While children see gender stereotypes all around them, research shows that parents and families are the most powerful influence of young children's understanding of gender.
Families can encourage children to develop positive personal identities and respectful relationships that are not constrained by gender stereotypes. As parents, you can question and challenge stereotypical constructions of gender roles, masculinity and femininity, and support children to explore whatever they're interest is regardless of rigid gender associations. Violence against women begins with inequality, disrespect and sexist attitudes.
To change this we need to support everyone in our community to change these social norms and attitudes. Experiences in childhood have a particularly strong influence and can impact development and future life paths.
Traditional notions of parenthood, and particularly the gendered roles and identities associated with caring for children, can exert a powerful influence on how new parents approach and negotiate parenting roles.
For more information please visit the #BecauseWhy website: www.becausewhy.com.au