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Research Shows That Gender Stereotypes Are Deadly

Here’s How You Can Help Fight the Binary

Olivia Clancy, Communications Intern

It’s no secret that gender stereotypes are an omnipresent aspect of today’s society. A trip to a toy store, visit to a playground, or afternoon watching children’s television programs reveal that from an early age, girls are expected to be vulnerable and in need of protection while boys are supposed to be adventurous and independent. These harsh norms are often ingrained into children before the time they reach age 10. 

Something worth noting about these stereotypes is that they also seem to be universal. A 2016 study looked at children ages 10-14 years from 15 countries globally and found that the way in which children are gendered from early on is socially based, not biologically. 

The consequences of imposing these roles onto young children are less known but just as powerful. A new study by the Journal of Adolescent Health revealed that girls conforming to traditional female stereotypes can result in depression, child marriage, leaving school early, and increased exposure to violence. Boys also feel the consequences of conforming, which can include engaging in physical violence, dying more frequently as a result of unintentional injuries, becoming more prone to substance abuse and suicide, and having a life expectancy that is shorter than that of women.

Knowing that children are pressured to conform to the gender binary at such a young age, it is important to begin modeling healthy behaviors for children early on. Here are three ways to start:

1. Model and live gender equality

Teach boys that they are allowed to play dress up and let girls know they can also learn how to fix cars. Have open conversations with them about gender inequality and how that is not okay. Most importantly, let them know their gender does not and will not determine their future. 

2. Have a value system based on internal values rather than external ones

Help children understand the importance of equating personal worth with care for others, loyalty, confidence, ambition, fairness, etc. instead of surface level qualities. 

3. Encourage children to talk openly (and listen!)

Letting children have a voice from the time they can use theirs will teach them that what they have to say matters. This will show them that they are loved and unique individuals and do not have to conform to societal expectations. 

Olivia Clancy is a sophomore at New York University studying applied psychology and child and adolescent mental health studies. She plans on using her own experiences with mental illness to help others in her future career as a clinical psychologist.