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  • Gender stereotypes and roles are composed of the beliefs and expectations held by society about the characteristics, abilities or functions that are considered feminine or masculine.
  • They are transmitted to children during the socialization process that occurs through family, schooling, peer interaction and media exposure.
  • In many cases, gender roles and stereotypes respond to unconscious biases, and we transmit them without realizing it, through our behaviour, our language, or the expectations we project on others. Therefore, making ourselves aware of them and trying to change them is essential if we want to achieve a more egalitarian society.


Gender stereotypes determine the development of each individual’s identity from birth, pressuring us to fit into a series of characteristics, abilities, functions, and activities, while rejecting others. In spite of being cultural and social constructions, changing from one society to another and through history, an important part of the content of these stereotypes and roles seems universal. In any case, they represent an artificial differentiation of men and women (and boys and girls), following the gender binary, and of what each person can become, constituting a mechanism that generates inequalities, discrimination, and personal discomfort.

To the extent that we are aware of their existence and how they affect our daily lives, we can try to limit their impact on future generations.

9.3.2. DEVELOPMENT OF THE TOPIC General concepts

As can be seen in the topic 2, gender identity is not a biological aspect, but a social construction of what it means to be born with female or male genitals, differentiating between feminine and masculine, respectively. Within the broader concept of gender, we can speak of stereotypes and gender roles.

Gender stereotypes are made up of cultural beliefs about the qualities or traits that men and women possess and/or that are desirable in them. The Figure 13 shows some gender stereotypes (Langford & MacKinnon, 2000).

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Figure 13. Gender stereotypes

The fact that men and women supposedly possess different personality traits and qualities, allows the establishment of gender roles, which refer to the behaviours and activities that we assign to people according to their biological sex. Traditionally, the male role has been integrated by functions that make it possible to acquire wealth and cover one’s own and family’s material needs: the performance of a paid job, being the head and authority in the family, participation in political life and decision-making processes, etc. (what has been called the “provider role”). On the other hand, the role of women has been composed of the functions of caring for children and dependent people, performing household chores, etc. (the so-called “expressive role”).

According to Saldivar et al. (2015), the female role belongs to the private world, little valued and socially recognized, in which women perform activities for the benefit of the family and society without receiving remuneration or recognition. The male role, on the other hand, dominates the public and productive world, and is highly valued socially and economically. This differentiation between what it means to be a woman, or a man generates social inequality and, frequently, discrimination against women within the social structure and the distribution of work. Gender role attitudes are related to gender segregation during education and gender inequalities in educational attainment, occupational segmentation, and gender differences in work conditions (generally characterized by worse employment conditions and salary for women) (Halimi, Davis & Consuegra, 2021).

However, it must be acknowledged that, in terms of academic and work roles, the studies show a change in trends. Girls are increasingly encouraged to choose fields of study such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (Tong, 2012). It does not seem to be an equal push to get boys to consider fields such as nursing or childcare. Society seems to feel more comfortable when women enter traditionally male fields and less comfortable when men enter traditionally female fields. Development of gender stereotypes and roles

Gender stereotypes and roles are present before birth, are acquired during childhood and are accentuated during adolescence. They are transmitted through family socialization, schooling, relationships with peers and the media.

The family

The family constitutes the first space for socialization, where social norms and values are transmitted, as well as the differentiation between the two biological sexes. This is the basis on which the identity and gender role of children is built. Frequently, the family offers different activities, toys or clothes to girls and boys. The way in which adults in the family relate to children is often influenced by the gender assigned to the children. Furthermore, a child would often reproduce their parents’ behaviour (Halpern & Perry-Jenkins, 2016), so the adult figures in the family system serve as models of “appropriate” behaviour for each gender.

Families have changed a lot in recent decades, especially after the massive incorporation of women into the labour market. This has resulted in some changes in roles, but not as many or as favourable as it might have been expected. The greater burden of childcare and housework still falls on women, even though they also work outside of the home. However, scientific research shows that in families in which both partners participate in raising and caring for the household, and in which decision-making is shared, male and female roles are not so strictly differentiated, and this is perceived as such by the children (Halpern & Perry-Jenkins, 2016).

Children construct their own identity in the process of discovering their own peculiarities through differentiation with other members of their family. Gender-roles are restrictive and limit children’s exploration of their own interests and unique identities. Children face bigger problems of having to abandon and deny a part of themselves to fit into the gender-role dichotomy. It is important that on this path, parents make sure that their children feel capable, accepted, and valued, as this is how they will develop their personal abilities, regardless of whether they belong to one sex or the other, or whether they are considered feminine or masculine.

The schooling

Children who go to school tend to follow their teachers cues about appropriate gender traits and roles. As established in the education literature (Bassi et al., 2018), receiving more teacher attention (positive or negative) may affect motivation, aspirations, and academic achievement, as well as decisions about future college or employment. Studies show that teachers unconsciously give boys more attention and instructional time than girls, even when they are committed to construct gender-equal classrooms. As we have seen in other chapters, studies show how men/boys occupy more space than women/girls, both physically and in discussions, and they were encouraged to do so. However, teachers also tend to regard the boys as the troublemakers and are more likely to detect behavioural disorders and attention deficit hyperactive disorder in boys rather than girls. Biases are often unconscious, based on myths and beliefs that are not necessarily grounded in evidence or even direct experience (Sadker & Sadker, 1985). Sensitizing teachers to gender biases should be combined with a review of the extent of gender bias in textbooks.

Society in general, and peers in particular, have also a lot of power to shape boys and girls into masculine men and feminine women, respectively. It is a natural human desire to be socially accepted, so defying gender norms can be really hard for individuals. This becomes especially relevant for teenagers. Adolescence is a stage when gender roles take on a particular significance, too. The physical changes of puberty make gender more salient in interactions with others compared to earlier developmental stages, so societal expectations exert greater pressure to behave in consistency with gender roles (Galambos, 2013). Also, adolescents increase their cognitive ability to understand social and gender norms and their capacity to make social comparisons. Their social network broadens, and, at the same time, teenagers become more sensitive to peer evaluation and they actively seek a sense of belonging to the group.

The peers

Peer acceptance is easier when they conform to social norms about masculinity and femininity (Kågesten et al., 2016). Pressure is greatest within same-sex groups, and especially for boys (Galambos, 2004). Studies generally show that boys have more traditional gender role attitudes than girls (Carlson & Knoester, 2011) and that the range of what is considered appropriate (and inappropriate) for boys is narrower than for girls (Mehta & Strough, 2009). However, recent research also shows that adolescents who perceive greater pressure to fit into gender stereotypes and roles in early adolescence, develop more egalitarian beliefs over time. This has been related to a social shift towards equality in recent years (Halimi, Davis & Consuegra, 2021), which in turn is related to education in gender roles (Davis, 2007).

The mass media

Children often learn gender role and stereotypes from books, songs, television, movies and social networks through their messages and models, that show how a male or a female should be like or should behave. According to Durkin and Nugent (1998), five-year-old children’s interests, occupations, and other activities are strongly influenced by television shows. Advertising is also an important element of socialization. It often includes gender roles and stereotypes that are passing through in the form of subliminal messages, making us unconsciously absorb and perpetuate them, as they are usually segmented by sex. It is important to remember that play is a fundamental mechanism of learning and development. Therefore, when advertising refers to games and toys, it exerts an influence in the process of construction of gender roles and stereotypes (Klass, 2018). Toys divided by gender according to what is considered “suitable” for boys or girls, can limit the development of different capabilities such as visuospatial, empathy, initiative, or social skills (Cherney & London, 2006). A study conducted by González-Anleo et al. (2018) concludes that children’s advertising in Spain currently reflects less “traditional masculinity” and that the content aimed at female audience is much more varied, although those roles that are historically more deeply rooted (motherhood and beauty) are still maintained. They also found that advertisements are mostly directed to boys or girls separately, decreasing the variety of play options directed to both together.

Juárez-Rodríguez (2020) carried out a study of children’s songs on YouTube and found that most of the leading roles in the songs are played by male characters, and that female characters are mostly limited to being the “wife of, the mother of, or the caregiver of” or the object of desire or dispute of males. His research also shows that models of masculinity based on aggressiveness and the normalization of toxic masculinities persist.


  • Offer a wide range of toys and games and encourage children and teens to explore gender-diverse forms of play.
  • Explicitly reversing a stereotype (counter stereotyping) is also a powerful way to disrupt gender stereotypes in play: choose activities that show males as caregivers or females as firefighters or construction workers.
  • Create opportunities for kids to interact with children of different genders in which all of them learn to work together as equals: choose sports teams and other extracurricular activities that are open to all genders, celebrate mixed-gender birthday parties, etc. All-gender activities help children recognize their similarities and are inclusive of children who don’t identify as a girl or boy (Hanish & Fabes, 2022).
  • Avoid having different boundaries for your sons and daughters.
  • Your expectations, and how you show them, are important. Expect that your sons and daughters will be equally good at different subjects and activities, such as maths, sports, or arts.
  • Educate your children, regardless of their gender, to cook, clean, tidy or take out the garbage, and serve as a role model by having all adults in the home share tasks and chores.
  • Give all children positive feedback about their qualities and try to acknowledge strengths and skills rather than appearance or gender-stereotypic performance. Create a safe space where children can feel comfortable and good about themselves, especially when your children have interests and abilities different from what society expects, instead of pushing children to conform to these pressures
  • Read books and stories and watch films that show characters who do not conform to gender stereotypes, so children see there are many ways to express themselves (McCabe et al., 2011).
  • Watch out for gender-biased content on the internet or television (movies, advertisements, video games, music) and explain to your children that these are outdated perceptions. Teach your children to stand up against gender stereotyping.
  • Use neutral and gender-inclusive language to avoid communicating erroneous notions and prevent the reinforcement of restrictive gender roles
  • Be aware of gendered marketing. Children’s toys and clothes are increasingly divided by gender, and so are the shops. Point this to your children and encourage them to explore what is available and choose for themselves.
  • Teach your children that the choices of what to play with, what to study, what to wear, and whom to be friend with, are free choices. They should not be dictated by societal constraints that limit their full potential. This also applies to their peer group: teach your children to never disregard other children, and to stand up against friends being bullied in any way.


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