Making a chore of gender equality
The findings of the Girlguiding Girls’ Attitudes Survey 2017 showed that 57 percent of girls think girls are better than boys at household chores. The question may be a little ambiguous (does ‘better at chores’ mean the chores are done to a higher standard, or that the chores have been done more regularly or without complaint?), and may not provide sufficient scope for respondents to present their attitudes about how the world could be (i.e. should household chores be shared equally?), instead capturing only their experiences to date – but it raises an important point in the on-going pursuit of gender parity.
With 32 percent of girls surveyed saying that they often see or hear gender stereotypes from parents, it is important that parents and other family members and friends take a moment to reflect on whether actions, attitudes and language used in the home present the sort of picture we would wish children to paint. I suspect that the girls who think girls are better at household chores think this because this is exactly what they have seen evidenced in their own lives. 34 percent of girls surveyed actually said they think boys are in fact better at household chores, and this is probably because this is what they have seen to be true in their lives.
This is the real point. What children see around them will go a long way to informing them of their own attitudes as they grow up; so how adults behave in their day to day lives, as well as in their interactions with young people, plays a pivotal role in the attitudes developed by the next generation.
Should women stop doing the housework when children are around? Should men do more when the children are looking? Perhaps. Perhaps not! Clearly this depends on each family’s make-up and culture, individuals’ responsibilities and personalities, and so many more factors. Either way, parents should take a moment to think about the impact we might be having on our children’s attitudes to equality because of the roles we take in our families, and the ways we approach some of our daily chores.
57 percent of the seven to 10 year old girls surveyed also said that gender stereotypes affect the sport and exercise they do; 51 percent said gender stereotypes affect how much they participate in class. Before even starting senior school, more than half of these girls have been affected by gender stereotyping to the point that is restricting their participation in sport and exercise, and in their learning. With 33 percent of the girls surveyed saying that they pick up gender stereotypes from teachers too, it’s essential that as educators we also monitor our vocabulary and behaviour for any implicit gender bias – for instance through hosting events such as our inaugural Dads4Daughters event in March 2017 to discuss implicit bias. Teachers should be addressing stereotypes that are seen in lessons, but also those overheard in the corridors, or in the playground dressed up as ‘banter’.
The best way to positively impact children’s attitudes towards gender as they mature is to consistently provide positive role models. From parents at home taking a fair share of chores (not having girls' jobs and boys' jobs, just jobs that need to be shared in whichever way people agree) and teachers giving the same opportunities and having the same lack of assumptions about boys’ and girls' interests and talents, to ensuring the visibility of inspirational men and women from the broadest range of disciplines and walks of life who can buck stereotypes.
This could be via invitation to pioneers of industry, innovators, those accomplished in the arts, renowned individuals from politicians to Olympians, and students’ parents to speak at Prize Giving events, in assemblies, or careers fairs. Or it could be through actions such as naming each of our Junior School classrooms after an inspirational female figure in history for the academic year, or participating in an ‘edit-a-thon’ to update Wikipedia with notable women’s profiles,or hosting an event like our GSA Girl Power conference.
However we do it, taking the time to inspire young people is vital, and showing them that gender is not an inhibiting factor in achieving success is vital too.
It goes without saying, equality isn’t achieved by asking all women to stop doing housework, making all girls play football or take STEM subjects at A Level, or pressing girls to be the most vocal participants in the classroom. But ensuring they don’t feel dissuaded from any of the above because of gender stereotypes picked up in childhood is our responsibility. The role that adults play in advancing gender equality is to develop young people who are free to aspire to whatever they choose, without feeling in any way limited by their gender.