7 ways to free up gender stereotypes and why it matters


Studio portrait of a boy wearing a t shirt with “I’m a boy” printed on it against a gray background
Studio portrait of a boy wearing a t shirt with “I’m a boy” printed on it against a gray background

Exploring gender stereotypes among young children to create a more equitable society.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement and World Health Organization claims that one in three women worldwide experiences sexual and/or physical violence in their lifetime, Melbourne City Council instigated a program designed to build respect and equity among preschool children. Its aim? To foster respectful relationships and an innate sense of gender equity among kids at a young age, that will feed into their teenage and adult relationships, and in turn reduce violence against women.

The pilot program was born from research that found by the time children started school, sexist beliefs and gender stereotypes are often already formed. Dr Kylie Smith from the University of Melbourne, who led the research that led to the program, said: “I was excited that educators and families wanted to explore opportunities to support gender equity and [they] could see how young children were beginning to develop bias.”

The project team worked with parents, carers and educators to help them explore gender stereotypes and create a more equitable community and world.

“My hope is that all early learning environments in Melbourne have access to training, resources and mentoring to implement gender equity teaching that prevents gender bias and violence,” Dr Smith said.

7 easy ways to ‘free up’ gender stereotypes with young children:

  1. Model respect and equality by sharing chores, joint decisions and complimenting your partner’s work.
  2. Encourage outdoor play for children, where the emphasis is less on ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ toys and more on gender-free physical movement.
  3. Use story time or bedtime reading to sometimes promote discussion around gender roles. Children are usually keen on things being fair so ask them if they think stories are fair.
  4. Be aware of how media, advertising and popular culture reinforce stereotypes, e.g. Dad may get to drive the new 4-wheel drive, while Mum debates the merits of laundry powder.
  5. Encourage children to treat their friends of both sexes equally and challenge gender-based comments like “She can’t play football, she’s a girl” or “Boys don’t do the vacuuming”.
  6. When buying toys for children, don’t always buy along gender lines, e.g. dolls and jewellery for girls; trucks and dinosaurs for boys. Think outside the (gender-delineated) box.
  7. Model an environment where boys are encouraged to express their feelings and emotions, and where crying when physically or emotionally hurt is as valid for boys as it is for girls.


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