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4 year old boy puts dummy in dolls mouth

Breaking down the ‘rules’ for boys and girls


How often do you notice that there are unwritten rules for the way women and girls, and men and boys act?  Things like the man of the house mows the lawns while the lady looks after inside, like cleaning, vacuuming, and so on.

We are so used to seeing assigned gender roles we don’t even think about it sometimes. But I’ve been thinking about the harm that they do – and I don’t want that for my children. I want them to be who they want to be and do whatever they want to do.

So I made a promise to do something about it.

Gender roles and stereotypes tell us how we are expected to act, speak and behave based on our sex. And these divisions between men and women are harmful for everyone. But as long as everyday gender roles go unchallenged, we will struggle to address this.

The most obvious expression of gender roles is in how we dress. Girls and women wear skirts and dresses. Boys and men wear shorts and trousers. Thankfully, we’ve progressed to a time where women and girls can wear trousers too, but unfortunately not everyone is as accepting of seeing men in ‘women’s’ clothes yet.

And what’s with children’s toys? From a young age all of my daughters played with dolls and hairbrushes and frying pans, whereas my son has been madly into Lego and cars. In these simple gifts (and big advertising campaigns) our children are being told the roles they should play in the future – regardless of what they want to do.

I have spoken to my kids about this and it demonstrated how subtle and deceptive this stuff is.  They had not really considered it until we spoke about it.  They hadn’t considered until now that they might have been manipulated.  They remember their friends and cousins playing with similar toys so had no reason to think it was anything but normal for boys to have certain types of toys and girls to have other certain types.  Of course that opens the obvious question – “So what is ‘normal’?”

Thankfully none of them got upset and blamed me for rail-roading them down a predetermined path by giving them ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ toys.  And in my defense, I didn’t consciously do it. Can I argue that I was actually protecting them from ridicule and being treated as different?

But have they already now been pre-wired to conform to gender roles?  Is it already too late for one of my daughters to ask me to show her how to change the oil in the car?  Is it too late for my 11 year old son to take up ballet?

I started thinking about this more deeply as part of the 16 Days campaign <<hyperlink to video>>. If I don’t address it now, what will the future look like for my children? Will they equally share housework with their future partners, so that they can both enjoy rewarding careers? Will they be able to do the jobs they want to, rather than the ones that people think they should?

We need to look out for the boys that want to be dress-designers, the girls that want to be bricklayers and those that want to be both.

We should be telling them they can be whoever they want to be.


Throughout the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, our Leadership Team are speaking out and taking action. Keep following to find out more.