Mr. CEO and the Female Secretary

Gender stereotypes are everywhere, and they are enforced on children perhaps more often than adults. In many ways, this notion is biologically driven and assumes that boys and girls are different, and that this distinction has little to do with child-rearing and cultural assumptions about gender. Boys are often viewed as more driven, aggressive, and dominant, whereas girls are deemed more passive, nurturing, and sensitive.

Emily Kane, author of The Gender Trap: Parents and the Pitfalls of Raising Boys and Girls, found that depending on the anticipations parents had about gender (gender being biologically driven or socially constructed, as well as views in between), they either reinforced or contested traditional gender beliefs. Some parents who stated that their daughter was naturally more calm and passive reinforced such behavior more in girls than boys, by telling their daughter to either be still or be quiet. Girls were also more likely than boys to be reprimanded for being rowdy. Therefore, many girls were told at a young age to be calmer, quieter, and passive, even though parents attributed these traits to biological differences between girls and boys. At the same time, many boys indicated to their parents that they wanted to wear colors more commonly associated with girls, or play with Barbie dolls. Depending on the parent’s views about gender, these activities were either prohibited or encouraged. Therefore, parents’ cultural and biological beliefs about gender help maintain or challenge current gender roles. Kane concludes, “With concerted effort, we can reduce the force of the gender trap and open up the possibility of a better, less constrained, and more equitable world for our children and for ourselves.”

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