Gender stereotyping has bothered me since the first years of my education studies. When I learned to recognize that we, as teachers, make assumptions about kids even if we do not like to admit it, I realized that I could influence the kids I worked with by using positive prejudice or limiting prejudice.
The gender stereotype is one of the biggest and most limiting stereotypes. It influences how we make decisions and we often make bad decisions based on it. Let’s try some of them.
- Women do housework and men do garden work.
- Women are more caring than men.
- Men have more chances at getting management positions.
- Girls are more artistic than boys.
- Boys with long hair are gay.
- Women are from Venus and men are from Mars.
- Men only care about sex and sport and women want commitment.
- Women talk more than men.
Although I understand there are some major differences between boys and girls, men and women (for example, having different physical features), I think the main difference is due to the way they are treated since childhood. Yes, I know, it is not easy to admit that we treat boys and girls differently and by that, we teach them to behave differently, but I think it all starts with dressing girls in pink and boys in blue.
Many years ago, during the 1920s, pink was considered a male color. The trend of differentiating the genders using color started then. Only in the late 1960s, the trend was reversed. Girls were dressed in pink and boys in blue.
In 1976, Will and colleagues discovered that mothers treated infants differently based on their gender stereotype. They dressed 6-month-old babies in different colored outfits that did not necessarily match their gender. The participants had no way of knowing if the baby was in fact a boy or a girl. Sometimes, the infant was dressed in blue and was called Adam and sometimes it was dressed in pink and was called Beth. There were three toys in the room: a train (boy stereotype), a doll (girl stereotype) and a fish (neutral). The first discovery was that people interacted with the child based on their gender stereotype expectations and not based on the “real” gender of the child. Babies dressed in blue and thought to be boys were more likely to be given the train. Babies in pink or “girls” were more likely to be given the doll and more people smiled at “Beth” then at “Adam”.
In another study by Smith and Lloyd in 1978, the researchers investigated new mothers. The gender stereotype of the babies was once again manipulated using colors, such that sometimes the boys were in blue, sometimes in pink, and likewise with the girls. Again, they had gender-stereotyped toys. The new mothers showed the same results as those found by Will and colleagues, but this study also found that the infants dressed in blue (the boy stereotype) were verbally encouraged to participate in more physical play than infants who were dressed in pink, regardless of the actual gender of the baby. The conclusion of the study was that interaction with infants had nothing to do with their behavior but everything to do with the stereotype expectation.
Another study was done on aggression in babies. Participants watched a video clip in which they saw a baby playing in a crib, dressed in blue or in pink. They were asked to determine the baby’s aggression level. The same baby, when dressed in blue, was considered more aggressive than when dressed in pink.
Unfortunately, treating babies so differently may have negative implications in the future and may influence children to make choices based on gender stereotypes. Look at high schools, for example:
- How many boys do art and music? Is it true that girls are more artistic than boys?
- How many boys do dance? Is it true that girls are better dancers?
- How many girls do science? Is it true that boys are better scientists?
- How many girls do trade work? Is it true that boys are better carpenters?
If you are a parent and want to allow your kids to enjoy a world of possibilities, to be able to recognize opportunities and have a variety to choose from (without being limited by gender stereotype), make sure not to always dress girls in pink and boys in blue.