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Gender stereotyping no way to raise a child

June 05 2017 By Khadija Gbla, Our Watch Ambassador

Disrespect and inequality are the building blocks for violence against women.

I am one of the 79% of parents, who, according to research released today by Our Watch, want to challenge the gender stereotypes that surround children.

Why? Because gender stereotypes can be restrictive and sometimes even harmful. 

Because my child is born with a penis, society tells him he has to be tough, that he has to be in control, that he has to be a leader. 

Society says stoicism should be the armour of our boys and men. My son will be told that crying, or showing any emotion for that matter, makes him less of a man. 

And women and girls, we’re told that we are either too pretty or not pretty enough, and that this is important because ‘prettiness’ is our most prized attribute.

Stereotypical boxes have a firm grip on society, both in Australia and around the world.  They include the idea that girls are naturally gentle, sensitive, and passive, enjoy playing with dolls and are good at caring for others; while boys are inherently active, boisterous, adventurous, and noisy, enjoy playing rough and are good at figuring out how things work. 

I say, what a load of rubbish! I say, let’s encourage our children to be whatever they want to be, to play with whatever they want to play with (harmful instruments not included, obviously). 

If my son wants to dance – what’s wrong with that? If my daughter wants to play with trucks – what’s wrong that? Being limited because of biology is not fair, in fact, it’s ludicrous and potentially harmful. All we should see is a baby, a child who should have access to a rich and fulfilling life, full of love and support and free from violence and abuse.

According to the aforementioned research, the overwhelming majority (92%) of parents of 0-3 year olds agree that it is important to treat girls and boys the same.  

It indicates that most (79%) parents agree with the statement “I would like to challenge the traditional gender stereotypes that surround my children 0-3 years of age”.

So, parents, join me. Let’s not let society box our children in. 

Let’s work together to challenge rigid gender roles and stereotypes. Let’s expose our children to a diverse range of role models who all encourage openness and respect. 

That way, our children will know that they can seek to be anything, without limitations, without barriers. 

The other aspiration I have for my son is that he grows up to be a man who respects women and treats them as equal. I want him not to feel entitled and to understand consent. Given my own experience, this is all the more important.

Parents may not realise it, but by challenging rigid gender stereotypes and instilling respect from an early age, we are effectively front-line workers in the battle to end violence against women.  

This is because disrespect and inequality are the building blocks for violence against women.  

Disrespect breeds control, abuse and violence. I want my son to respect the value of women and their strengths. Women don’t need saving by a knight in shining armour, they need to be respected. 

And it’s never too early. I want respect and integrity to underpin my son’s every action, and know one thing for sure, if it doesn’t, he will be accountable for his behaviour.

As a male in my culture, my son is supposed to be the king of the house. People in my culture say to me – “Khadija, he’s a king, you should do everything for him” - and I say he is not King, he is equal to everyone else. No silver platters here. Everything he wants he will have to work for, including respect.  

No matter our sex, we are all equal and should be treated as such – let’s not let stereotypes or archaic notions of what it means to be a boy, girl, man or woman hold us back!

Download a copy of the Power of parents snapshot report here. 

Khadija Gbla has a two year old son. She is the Executive Director of No FGM Australia and an Our Watch Ambassador. 

This article was originally published by The Sydney Morning Herald

About Our Watch

Our Watch’s purpose is to raise awareness and engage policy-makers and the Australian community in action to prevent violence against women and their children.

To do this the organisation works to increase gender equality and respect in all aspects of everyday life, such as through schools; workplaces; media; sporting organisations; social marketing, and developing and influencing public policy.

Our Watch’s work derives from the government’s commitment to the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010 – 2022 and gives expression to many of the activities in the Second Action Plan 2013–2016 – Moving Ahead.