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Educate Together Blog

Educate Together Blog

Gender Stereotyping: How You Can Help!

Orla Sadlier, Development & Fundraising Assistant

From curbing an individual’s potential to legitimizing sexual violence, gender stereotypes impact all of our lives in very real and destructive ways. Find out how Educate Together is working to dismantle these barriers to gender equality and what you can do to help.

As the issue of sexual harassment continues to dominate the news cycle, accompanied by what has thus far been a remarkable outpouring of solidarity and support for the victims, the more optimistic among us may be daring to believe that we might just be on the cusp of a significant cultural shift. A shift away from a culture that for too long has attempted to pass off a system of male privilege as a meritocracy, and patriarchy as equality. But whether or not you believe a feminist reckoning is upon us, we can all agree that this ‘illusion of equality’ has been shattered and reverting to business as usual is not an option.

Some of you may be thinking: “Gender stereotypes? Surely we’re past all that?! Everyone knows men and women are equal so even when stereotypes are used nowadays isn’t it all just a bit of fun?” And you could certainly be forgiven for thinking so. Since feminist criticism entered the mainstream in the 1970s, there has been a general sense that as far as gender goes we, as a society, are moving ever closer in the direction of complete equality. However, while there can be no denying that substantial progress has been made in this respect, our growing complacency around the power of gender stereotypes over human development and behaviour appears to be significantly undercutting that very progress.

Current research suggests that rather than diminishing in influence, gender stereotypes continue to have a profound impact upon how we conduct ourselves and interact with the world around us. Gender stereotyping can place significant limitations on young people’s perceptions of their own potential. One recent study found that at just 6 years old, girls had already begun to internalise the idea that genius and academic brilliance are male traits. The study also found that this is the same age at which girls begin to avoid activities said to be for children who are ‘naturally’ clever.

As children enter into adolescence and beyond into adulthood, gender stereotyping acquires a distinctly sexual dimension, as do instances of bullying and abuse. The stereotypes of active, assertive boys and passive, polite girls transmitted to children through everything from the toys they play with to the household chores they do, take on a sinister quality.

For example, for some young men, the taste for power, mastery and control they were encouraged to cultivate through play as children, without education or clear guidance, can be become toxic for both themselves and others. As Professor Debbie Ging, writing recently in the Irish Times on the need to update Sex Education in Irish schools, highlights, the fact that “there is little, if any, space for boys to discuss intimacy, hurt, sexual rejection and fears about sexual inadequacy” creates a situation where they may turn to “alternative sources online, from hardcore pornography to the burgeoning industry of pick-up artists (PUAs) who tap into male sexual rejection, and frequently encourage non-consensual approaches to so-called ‘seduction’.”

While there can be no doubt that gender stereotypes are deeply embedded in our social order, as well as in our collective psyche, they are in no way inescapable or inevitable. Just as gender inequality is learned, it can also be unlearned. As spaces so key to our formative years and if, as the research suggests, gender stereotypes are dictating our academic and behavioural choices from as early as the age of six, our schools and classrooms are vital locations for this ‘unlearning.’

Educate Together recognises this crucial role schools have to play in tackling gender inequality and we take that role very seriously. One of the core characteristics of our school model is co-education. This goes far beyond its traditional meaning of educating girls and boys together. For us it means ensuring that our schools develop comprehensive programmes to counter gender stereotyping in all its forms, and, are proactive in promoting an approach to learning that encourages and supports the wide variety and range of talents among students irrespective of gender. We share the belief that the rebalancing of gender roles based on equality and respect is central to the growth and development of society and so we are committed to ensuring that children are given every opportunity to explore and develop an equitable approach to gender.

Gender inequality is not something that can be eradicated overnight or through a single event, no matter how tide-changing it may seem. Sadly, the painful stories victims have bravely shared recounting their abuse at the hands of powerful men will eventually fade from our collective memory and our newspaper headlines. However, to ensure they haven’t been told in vain, we can, through consistent, seemingly small yet revolutionary acts, which provide our children with the information, support and opportunities they need to work out for themselves who they really are, unimpeded by the cultural baggage society will inevitably attempt to burden them with, effect real and lasting change.

This is something, as mentioned above, we at Educate Together are committed to doing. If you are too, and you’d like to ensure the continuation of our work, please consider joining our community of regular donors. A monthly contribution, regardless of the amount, is one of those small yet revolutionary acts which will help make gender inequality truly a thing of the past. 

 

Address: Educate Together, Equity House, 16/17 Upper Ormond Quay, Dublin 7, Ireland - Charity Number: CHY 11816