We all carry biases that are based on gender; throughout our lives we receive daily messages about what is expected of different genders. These biases become ingrained and it’s often impossible to completely get rid of them. But, if we can be more aware of our biases, we have a better chance of counteracting them.
Use these tips and suggestions for understanding and addressing bias with your kids.
Don’t Just Let “Boys Be Boys”
Too often boys’ demeaning stereotypes and remarks about girls go unchecked. Often both adults’ and kids’ peers don’t know how to intervene when boys make demeaning remarks about girls and often they fear being written off or ridiculed. Yet excusing these behaviors as “boys being boys” sends them the message that those behaviors are okay.
Take time to consider how to intervene when boys are demeaning to girls, and step in immediately if you observe or hear these behaviors.
- Talk about real honor and strength. Point out to boys the false bravado in demeaning girls and the real courage and strength in defying one’s peers when they devalue girls in general or divide girls into “good girls” and “bad girls.” Talk about commonly used, denigrating words to describe girls and why they’re offensive, even when they’re used “just as a joke” or sarcastically. Brainstorm strategies with boys for talking to their peers about this denigration that won’t cause them to be ridiculed or spurned.
- Allow boys to express their full selves. Encourage them to talk about vulnerabilities and worries, and appreciate them when they do. Encourage and recognize their expressions of empathy and care, especially for girls and others who are different from them.
- Teach boys to value and stand up for girls and women. Help boys understand their responsibility in counteracting gender bias and stereotypes. Reinforce that being an ally to girls and women means not just avoiding demeaning girls but also speaking up when others do. Show them that you support and appreciate the women in your life.
Build Girls’ Leadership Skills and Self-Confidence
Too many girls are dealing with biases about their leadership capacity specifically. Perhaps the best way for girls to counteract their negative images about their own and other girls’ leadership capacity is for them to experience themselves as effective leaders.
Expose girls to various, appealing examples of leadership and help them develop the skills and confidence they need to become leaders in a wide variety of fields. Too often girls avoid leadership because they don’t feel confident in skills such as public speaking or because they fear their peers will disapprove. Many girls fear appearing bossy
- Connect girls to leadership opportunities that are meaningful to them. Discuss with girls many types of leadership and explore with them how their interests and passions align with these different types. Show them images of girls and women in a range of leadership positions, such as the lead scientist in the recent Pluto mission.
- Help girls develop specific leadership skills. Give girls chances to practice public speaking, to participate in decision-making processes, to work in teams, and to give and receive feedback. Invite them to practice these skills in decisions your family makes, for example, or encourage them to take action on problems they’re concerned about in their schools and communities.
- Talk to girls about their fears. Start conversations with girls about the things they feel hold them back from leadership. Model for them that it’s okay to feel nervous or worried about how they’ll be perceived or the reactions they may get when in leadership roles. Explore with girls various strategies for dealing with disapproval and criticism. Consider with girls how they might engage peers as supporters and allies when they face disapproval.
- Encourage girls to lead in collaboration with diverse groups of girls. Collaboration and teamwork are essential skills for leadership in today’s workplace, helping to develop social awareness, problem-solving abilities, perspective-taking and other key skills. And working in racial and economically diverse groups can enrich girls’ understandings of different cultures, expose girls to a wide range of leadership styles and abilities, and enable girls to draw on various kinds of cultural wisdom about leadership.