“Harmful” gender stereotyping has helped fuel the UK mental health crisis afflicting the younger generation, an influential report has warned, adding that it is at the root of problems with body image and eating disorders, record male suicide rates as well as violence against women and girls.
Stereotyped assumptions also “significantly limit” youngsters’ career choices, in turn contributing to the gender pay gap, according to the findings of an influential commission set up by the leading gender equality campaigning charity the Fawcett Society.
Warning that stereotyping persists in parenting, education and the commercial sector – notably toys, books and fashion – the commission is calling on the government to “take meaningful steps” to better support teachers and parents and challenge simplisic “pink and blue” labelling in the corporate sector.
The commission urges the Department for Education to make challenging gender stereotypes a priority all the way through teaching and childcare – from initial training, to the curriculum, to inspection frameworks. It also wants toy companies to drop separate categories in their advertising and product design, designers to end stereotypical imagery and slogans on clothes, and the representation of female characters improved in books, TV and online content.
Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said: “Gender stereotyping is everywhere and causes serious, long-lasting harm – that’s the clear message from the research for the commission. From “boys will be boys” attitudes in nursery or school, to jobs for boys and jobs for girls views among some parents, these stereotypes are deeply embedded and they last a lifetime. We need to end the ‘princessification’ of girls and the toxification of boys.”
The report is the culmination of an 18-month process of research and evidence gathering, co-chaired by Prof Becky Francis – now chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation and Labour MP David Lammy – formerly co-chair of the cross-party parliamentary group on fatherhood.
The exercise brought together a wide-ranging group of stakeholders, from online parenting group Mumsnet and the National Childbirth Trust, the National Education Union, campaigning group Let Toys Be Toys, Usborne Books and educational publisher Pearson.
In the home, a majority of parents recognise that there is a problem, with three-quarters saying people treat boys and girls differently from an early age. They are also seven times more likely to picture their sons working in construction and almost three times as likely to see their daughters in nursing or care work.
When playgroup and nursery workers and primary school teachers were asked whether they had seen or heard gender stereotypes perpetuated, more than half said they had “often” or “sometimes” witnessed people say “boys will be boys” when they misbehaved.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “As a nation, we’re not making fast enough progress on equality between men and women. Issues such as subject choices in education and unequal pay in the workforce all flow from gender stereotypes. The NEU welcomes a conversation about the curriculum practices that could help teachers challenge gender stereotypes.”
In retail, an audit of 141 high street shops and 44 online retailers found that children’s clothes, cards and stationery were often sold using explicit segregation, and toys showcased using pink and blue. However, two-thirds of parents said they wanted to see companies advertise items to boys and girls in the same way.
In the run-up to the Christmas peak – and highly profitable – toy-buying season, the report singles out a precedent set in France. Last year, a charter was drawn up by the French government with toy manufacturers and retailers, to counter insidious messaging that discouraged girls from subjects like engineering and computer coding.[The Guardian]