How does Gender Norms Hurt Children

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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“It is a well-known fact that children are like sponges- they soak up information starting as early as 6 months. It’s also widely known that years 0-6 are the most critical development period in one’s life. If our lives are so influenced by learned behavior as a child, what happens when children are taught stereotypical sexist behaviors? Why has no one questioned why we start children off in pink frilly dresses or blue dinosaur shoes when they are too young to even know what clothes are? Why do we teach our daughters to play with barbie dolls and pretend babies while we teach our boys to play with blocks and cars? If we know that these ages are critical for development, then we also must recognize that teaching our children these gender norms will have a serious impact on the rest of their lives.

The entire cycle starts before the child is even born. In countries where women are subjected to serious inequality (some middle-eastern countries are known for their lack of respect toward woman), women are often not given the prenatal care they need. If the mother is not treated correctly, the chances are neither will the child. When necessary medical care is not made available, this puts the mother and the child at risk for many illnesses, including death. In some places where males are dominant, that idea is carried into reproduction “In areas with strong son preference, women are often under intense societal pressure to produce sons and may continue having children until a boy is born – thus putting their health and life at risk. Failure to bear a son may lead to consequences including violence, rejection by the marital family or even death” (Plan, Gender inequality and early childhood development. {2017, June 8}). When we don’t take care of our mothers, what kind of signal does that send to our children? We are telling our children that women are nothing more than a reproducing machine and that they can be used as a man sees fit. Also at a young age the girls are treated like trash and the boys are treated like kings which will have serious mental implications on the girls later on in their lives.

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Even though here in the United States we don’t have the same level of disrespect toward women, we are still far behind from where we should be. Today, Alabama has decided that a woman should be sentenced to jail time and even death over having an abortion. Not only are women being punished, but doctors are losing their licenses if they do the procedures. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but legally, just because you don’t like abortion does not mean you can take away another women right to have one. We currently have such a big problem in our foster care systems, why would we add more babies to it? So many children get mistreated or fall through the cracks because social workers are so over worked they don’t have time to visit every house an make sure the kids are being treated fairly. Since when is it okay to tell a women what she can or can not do to her own body? If a man wants a vasectomy no one stands outside of his doctor’s office with degrading signs protesting him as he walks in. No one, and I mean literally no one, has shamed men for getting this procedure done. Churches have not formed groups to protest this, so why are we doing it to women? No lawmaker had sat down and decided that a man doesn’t have rights to his own body. We are living in a man’s world and it’s noticeable. Women should be seen as equal and the simple fact is, when a grown man mistreats a woman, a little boy is going to see that and think it’s okay for him to do it to. When a little girl sees another woman being mistreated, she’s going to think its normal and that she’s supposed to be treated like that.

” It is during their first years that girls and boys learn gendered attitudes and expectations – from parents, caregivers, other family members and teachers – about how girls and boys/women and men should behave, their social worth and what their role is in society. As our research shows, in many countries and communities, right from the earliest age boys are prepared for their future role as provider and protector, and girls as mothers and caregivers. Learning these rules and expectations in terms of behaviors and roles can be limiting for all children – but is likely to be particularly limiting for girls” (Plan, Gender inequality and early childhood development. {2017, June 8})

Once children have these ideas instilled into them, they are hard to get rid of. Why would we willingly teach our children the principles that we have been trying to shake for decades? Women won the right to vote, the right to attend schools, and the right to work. Why would we take those giant leaps forward only to turn around and take 6 leaps backwards? It’s becoming increasingly relevant that how we talk to our kids about equality isn’t important, it’s when. Studies have proven time and time again that there is a window of opportunity to instill morals and equality ideals into children, and it’s when they are young. “In a recent US study, researchers found that by the age of six, girls were learning the common stereotype that associates high-level intellectual ability (brilliance, genius, etc.) with men more than women. This means that many girls believe that men will do better in fields associated with brilliance – such as physics and mathematics. Not only were girls aged six less likely than boys to say that their own gender is “really, really smart”: this stereotype appeared to already be shaping their interests (for instance, the girls were less likely to opt into a game described as “being for super-smart kids and, therefore, potentially narrowing the range of careers they would one day contemplate” (Plan, Gender inequality and early childhood development. {2017, June 8})

In a video put out by National Geographic titled “In their words; How children are affected by gender issues”, 9-year-old children from all around the world were asked questions like “why do you like or dislike being a girl (or a boy)” and girls were asked why they would like to be a boy-what they would be able to do. A girl from Kenya said she doesn’t like being a girl because she gets seduced by men. She is 9 years old and is worrying about being seduced by a grown man. Some girls were sad they couldn’t do physical activities like the boys could. On the other hand, the boys all said they liked to be boys, one even saying he liked being a boy because he had a penis and could use it to have sex with girls. Once again, they are all 9 years old. It’s obvious that where you are born, your culture, your religion, and financial status all have influences on your ideas, but to be 9 years old and already have it instilled in your head that you’re the lesser gender, or dominate gender, is unacceptable. We need to not only take into consideration the grown women who have to deal with these gender issues, but our young children as well.

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“One of the most well-established findings in well-being research is that girls tend to report lower well-being than boys (Cavallo et al. 2006; Inchley et al. 2016; Torsheim et al. 2006). Yet, studies addressing links between gender equality and life satisfaction among adults (Holter 2014) suggest that men as well as women benefit from high levels of societal gender equality. Moreover, an abundance of literature shows that males as well as females benefit from a more socially supportive climate (e.g., Chu et al. 2010; Diener and Diener McGavran 2008; Viner et al. 2012). Therefore, it can be expected that adolescent boys and girls benefit equally from societal gender equality.” (Looze, M. E., Huijts, T., Stevens, G., Torsheim, T., & Vollebergh, W. (2017)., The Happiest Kids on Earth. Gender Equality and Adolescent Life Satisfaction in Europe and North America, 2017 Oct 11) If we have so much research proving that people have higher life satisfaction when they are treated equal, then why are we still following old school, out dated gender norms.

In closing, I think its import to note that its going to take a lot of time to reform these gender norms and ideals. I think that we would all be naive to think this could stop overnight. If everyone plays their part in teaching parents, teachers, and children alike that we are all equal, regardless of gender, race, or religion, we could find a way to being everyone’s life satisfaction up. Our children are depending on us to shape the future for them. These ideals that are instilled into their heads are learned, its time to teach them the right way. Our children are watching us so now it the time to make a change.”

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How Does Gender Norms Hurt Children. (2021, May 10). Retrieved from