You hear it all the time: “pink is for girls, blue is for boys”. Boys, who supposedly don’t cry, are instructed to “man up”, while girls are praised for being quiet, nice and pretty.
If these throwaway comments leave you wanting to bang your head against the wall, take heart, because there’s a secret to combatting the damaging stereotypes kids are exposed to, and it’s achingly simple: read to them.
Kids’ books that challenges gender norms can undo children’s previously held perceptions, a study by the Fawcett Society has revealed.
It’s important we act now – exposure to gender stereotypes as a child causes harm in later life, with more than half (51%) of people surveyed saying it had restricted their career choices, and 44% saying it had affected their personal relationships.
Sam Smethers, Fawcett Society’s chief executive, says gender norms – which see children as young as six associating ‘intelligence’ with being ‘male’, and ‘niceness’ with being ‘female’ – can, and should, be challenged.
“This isn’t a trivial issue about who wears pink or blue, gender stereotypes are harmful,” she says. “The evidence is clear, the wiring in our brains is soft not hard. We can challenge attitudes and change lives, but we must wake up to the harm that gender stereotypes are doing to all of us and the price we are paying for it.”
There’s a light at the end of the tunnel – and it leads straight to the library. Here are six titles you might want to introduce to your child:
1. Goodnight Stories For Rebel Girls (Volumes I and II), £12.99
100 bedtime stories about revolutionary women from all over the world. Short but enticing enough to read one a night (and put stickers on the ones you get asked to read over and over again) – in my house, Joan Jett got 15 stickers, as did inspirational transgender primary school pupil Coy Mathis.
2. Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World, £3.99
Written by Kate Pankhurst, a distant relative of famous suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, the book is full of beautiful illustrations and incredible facts about people such as Amelia Earhart, Rosa Parks and Mary Seacole.
3. Stories For Boys Who Dare To Be Different, £13
Prince Charming, dragon slayer, mischievous prankster... little boys can grow up feeling like they have to conform to a stereotypical projection of masculinity. This is the book for those who’d rather pick up a book than a sword, who want to cry when they’re feeling sad or angry, or who want to see how it feels to wear a dress. They’re heroes too.
4. The Forgotten Forest, £22.50
A personalised adventure by Oh Zoe! books, in which you can choose the gender of your child – with non-binary options and pronouns including they, ve, ne, ey and ze, as well as the usual she and he. The book’s focus on inclusion means there are also options to choose wheelchairs or ear defenders on the characters, and eight different skin tones. Disclaimer: I wrote the story - but I’m proudest of the diversity options available.
5. Rosie Revere, Engineer, £8
I bought this along with a sister title, ‘Ada Twist, Scientist’, both by Andrea Beaty. They’re a fun, rhyming way to introduce the concept of STEM careers to children, and are a surefire hit in my house.
6. The Boy In The Dress, £4
Written by David Walliams and illustrated by Quentin Blake, The Boy In The Dress tells the tale of a 12-year-old boy coping with the break-up of his parents’ marriage in a unique way. It’s heart-warming, funny and touching – and has also been made into a musical and a film.