What is gender stereotyping?

As we’ve already seen, gender goes beyond biological sex and the binary of male and female. It is what one chooses to identify with. The word stereotyping refers to an imagined idea that a particular group of people will exhibit only a certain kind of characteristic or behaviour. Gender stereotyping points to the assumption that people of one specific gender possess only a specific set of traits or abilities.

Why is it harmful?

Gender stereotyping is dangerous because it makes a sweeping generalisation of human characteristics and/or behaviour, rather than acknowledging that irrespective of our gender, each of us has different traits that make us who we are. In short, it is a bias, and refuses to see our individual interests or abilities. Here is an example. In a class or at home, when only girls are taught to sew a button and only boys are taught to paint, it would suggest that this is what each gender is capable of or should do. It denies girls who love to paint a chance to do so, and denies boys the chance to learn a life skill. After all, anybody could lose a button on their clothing and would need it to be sewn. Or a button could come off a curtain or your secret diary. Teaching only the girls to sew a button implies that it is somehow their job to do it and that boys could be excussed from doing what could be seen as domestic work for the creative pursuit of art.

In the long run, such actions condition individuals into following these stereotypes. And slowly, what is essentially a social construct becomes an individual belief. This could limit their choice in several aspects of their life. On the other hand, offering individuals choice with an open mind is a step towards inclusivity and liberty. It helps people make informed decisions, be independent, inquisitive, and explore their interests.

Good to know

  • Social construct: An idea of something created based on collective views – rather than individual views – in a society.
  • Inclusivity: Involving all types of people, and not excluding anyone on any basis.
  • Bias: To be unfairly in favour of or against someone or something.

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