Unit 4 The role and impact of gender stereotypes


Gender stereotypes

“A gender stereotype is a generalised view or preconception about attributes or characteristics, or the roles that are or ought to be possessed by, or performed by, women and men” (OHCHR | Gender stereotyping). These attributes or characteristics are ascribed to men and women only because of their belonging to that gender group. Gender stereotyping can be harmful for both men and women and it can result in men and women having limited life choices in developing personal abilities or pursuing certain career paths.

Gender stereotyping is often compounded with other types of stereotyping, such as discrimination against people with disabilities or people with a migrant background or different racial background, as well as stereotypes about people from a lower socio-ecomonic status. This compounding leads to further disadvantage for the people being stereotyped on multiple fronts and it can result in criminal violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Reflective Questions:

1.From your experience at work, can you think of any examples of gender stereotypes that are prevalent?

2.When do you think that gender stereotypes start forming in our minds? Can you think about any examples when you were aware that children conformed to gender stereotypes? These can be examples of phrases children have used or actions they took in class and/or at home.


The impact of gender stereotypes

The negative effects of gender stereotyping are more frequent for women who have seen many of their rights being violated over the years. Some examples of gender stereotyping that adult women face regularly include (Examples of Gender Stereotypes, OHCHR | Gender stereotyping, Gender Identity & Roles | Feminine Traits & Stereotypes ):

  • Being victims of domestic violence and forced to stay in such relationships, with their right to health being violated;
  • Being perceived as “bossy” if they are assertive at work;
  • Being thought of as having something wrong with them if they choose not to have children because women as perceived as naturally nurturing, which means they should all want to have children;
  • Gender pay gap in many countries where women are being paid less for the same work that men do;
  • For women who do have children, it is expected that they will leave their jobs to care for them when their male spouses are not expected to do so.

Additionally, some examples of stereotypes about men include:

  • Men should be aggressive and territorial meaning that (1) being violent is in their nature and (2) more sensitive men are perceived as not being masculine enough;
  • Men should be the ones working when they have a family fulfilling the traditional role of ‘breadwinner’ and they are not masculine enough if they choose to be more involved with the care of their children instead;
  • Men can be ridiculed if they are involved in doing household chores as these are seen as tasks ‘better done by women’.

Of course, as mentioned earlier in this module, gender stereotyping is a societal issue and it has its roots in how we experience the world from the start. Therefore, some examples on how gender stereotypes are manifested in early years are important to know:

-Toys: girls should play with dolls and boys should play with trucks;

-Clothes: only girls can wear dresses;

-Colours: pink is for girls and blue is for boys;

-Competencies: girls are ‘naturally’ better at reading and boys are better at mathematics;

-The “boys will be boys” attitude reinforces the belief that boys can and should show aggression and violent traits that in turn is forgiven as part of their ‘nature’.

Gender stereotypes, then, can influence boys’ and girls’ perceptions of what direction they should be following, thus affecting later life choices from career paths to violent behaviours (Why it matters – Lifting Limits).

Boys won’t be boys. Boys will be what we teach them to be. | Ben Hurst | TEDxLondonWomen (Disclaimer: everyday language about female and male body parts and genitalia)