This article was originally published in Masalamommas.
I am a strong advocate for gender equality. It bothers me immensely when I see and overhear gender stereotypes integrated so casually into conversation. Whether it is talk between a couple of North American moms at the local organically sourced coffee shop or in the drawing room of a sprawling mansion with a group of South Asian women chattering over high tea. Despite one’s education and progressive thinking, the majority of us are unable to erase gender bias from our internal programming.
I am not going to get into the “why” and “how” of the origins of such stereotypes because we have all experienced it, regardless of ethnicity and culture. I will however discuss what we can do about it to ensure our children are armed with knowledge, perspective and an open mind to make equality a reality. Guess who the first change starts from?
A child’s earliest exposure to what it means to be male or female comes from parents (Lauer & Lauer, 1994; Santrock, 1994; Kaplan, 1991). Children internalize these messages with awareness of gender role differences from two years old (Weinraub et al., 1984). This is further reinforced through school and in particular the media. As children develop, these stereotypes become firmly entrenched beliefs and thus, are a part of the child’s self-concept (Susan D Witt, 1997).
Now if you are like me, your reaction to this last bit would have been…
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