Why gender stereotypes are harmful

The divide between pink and blue has grown wider in the last decades, with a damaging impact on boys and girls.



A report out this week focuses on gender stereotypes and the damaging role they play in limiting children’s career ambitions and how they affect their mental health.

It’s a subject I have followed since having children, which is to say, a long time. I was interested before that, but as a parent you really, really notice all the many different ways and levels these things operate on.

Daughter one, for instance, never particularly liked the whole princess thing. I remember taking her to a party where every single girl was in a princess or a High School Musical outfit. Daughter one was dressed as a punk. She liked football, but the boys wouldn’t let her play. She set up a website called anti-pink.com which had a manifesto on it about not telling her how she should be. The website also had a series of fairytales which she had rewritten to make the female characters less passive and more interesting.

My mum used to rail against the fact that every birthday the pink tyranny seemed to dominate more and more. She ended up having to buy daughter one boy’s pyjamas one year because there were no pjs that were not pink in the shops. There were birthday cards for boys and birthday cards for girls, but virtually nothing in the middle for girls who were not into pink and princesses.

When only son was born 10 years after daughter one, people immediately jumped to the conclusion that I had not given up having children because I was ‘trying for a boy’. I was asked if I had felt different in pregnancy because only son was a boy. I was told boys don’t where yellow, don’t wear ducks on their pjs, don’t cry. I thought that went out with the ark. Only son, who has three sisters, liked to wear dresses as a toddler. One morning he went out into the garden and I asked him if he wanted to put a jumper on. He said no. My neighbour, without looking over the fence, said ‘that’ll be because he’s a boy. They don’t feel the cold so much’. She then cast an eye over the fence. Only son was wearing a tutu, fairy wings and several scarfs wrapped around his middle, plus around 10 hats.

The gender straitjacket appears to have got much worse over the years [even if some of it is almost cartoonish and ‘ironic’] and runs alongside the girl power thing and attempts to get more girls into tech, engineering, etc. It must be incredibly confusing for children growing up amidst all of this. I can see that market-wise it makes sense to have blue things and pink things because you can sell more things.  But it doesn’t really allow children to grow and develop in their own way and it robs girls in particular of hours of their lives which they could devote to other things than being ‘hot’. But being hot is where it’s at and huge industries have been built on undermining girls’ self confidence and selling it as ’empowerment’.

It’s very hard to swim against the tide when you are still trying to figure out who you are. The impact of all this selling one way of being will be felt for many years to come, not just in career terms, but in personal ones.

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