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6 Steps Parents Can Take to Challenge Gender Stereotypes

Demeaning women is caused by patriarchy.

In a patriarchal structure, men are supposed to be the bread winners (which is seen as more important) and women are supposed to take care of children (which is seen as less-important).

To promote gender equality, parents need to deconstruct the propagation of patriarchy. Below are actions that parents can take to create more tolerance and understanding across genders:

  1. Encourage boys to talk about their feelings. 

Boys have the same capacity to be empathetic as girls, but tend to mask or hide their feelings. Their feelings are implied and conveyed with their behavior. These undercurrents can send strong messages that overshadow the explicit words being spoken. 

If we listen to emotions and understand what they mean, then we can address them, and their intensity will fade. But if we ignore what emotions are telling us, then our feelings build up, and we may eventually express them through destructive, violent behavior. By listening to the feelings behind the words, we can help boys openly express their feelings without feeling ashamed or uncomfortable.

  1. Protect girls from stereotypes of what women “cannot do”. 

Very often, girls grow up hearing stereotypical phrases such as “girls cannot do math and science,” “girls should not be rough in sports,” or “do not hit like a girl”. Telling someone that they “hit like a girl” implies that women are weaker and subordinate. 

If being called a girl is shameful or detestable, then we are suggesting that women are inferior and incapable of holding similar status to men in the society. If girls grow up hearing these condescending messages and are not taught to ignore them, studies show that these stereotype can worsen their performance and boost their anxiety. 

We can encourage girls  to explore subjects such as math and science, and allow them to roughhouse with their peers, play sports, or build things; so that they do not feel limited because of their gender.

  1. Do not use the phrase “boys will be boys” as a reason for not punishing boys. 

The problem with using the phrase “boys will be boys” is that it justifies boys’ aggressive behaviors by attributing them to innate or biological impulses, while ignoring environmental factors (such as media influences, messages at school, family, etc.) as well as individual factors (impulsive thinking, personality, nutrition, etc.). Hence, boys may grow up believing they do not having to be accountable for the consequences of their impulsive and harmful behaviors. 

  1. Avoid overprotecting girls. 

It is important to encourage girls to take realistic risks at a young age. Some parents tend to restrict girls from going out more than boys, for the fear that they might get hurt. As important as it is to care for our children’s’ safety and admit that girls are more at risk of attack than boys. It is critical not to inhibit girls by teaching them that they are unable to venture out into the world because of their vulnerabilities as females. Instead, we can educate them about these risks and on what they can do to be safe. This allows girls to develop a sense of confidence so they flourish and thrive. 

  1. Expose Children to All Types of Settings and Activities

We as parents, can provide equal amounts of exposure to various activities, career options, toys, color choices, and other forms of expression that are stereotypically expected of either girls or boys. Doing so will allow children to develop a wide range of interests and potential career opportunities, so they will not feel constricted to certain options in the future because of their gender.

By letting girls play with toys like building blocks, we are allowing them to develop the creative spatial skills and problem solving skills needed to excel in STEM fields. On the other hand, letting boys play with stereotypically female toys such as dolls, baking kits, play houses, etc. prepares them to be nurturing caregivers (and desire to be caregivers) when they grow older. 

  1. Let Your Children Choose

Oftentimes, young children do not have a concrete idea of what their favorite hobbies, interests, or activities are because they have not had time to explore their different options. When parents enroll their children in piano, swimming, or karate classes at a young age, they are helping their children gain a better sense of what their passion or expertise is, since they have not yet formed this foundation. By encouraging children to choose and explore non-stereotypical activities, we are also guiding them to discover their strengths and interests.

6 Steps Parents Can Take to Challenge Gender Stereotypes

Aaron Karmin

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APA Reference
Karmin, A. (2018). 6 Steps Parents Can Take to Challenge Gender Stereotypes. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 20, 2019, from


Last updated: 13 Jul 2018
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