Girls are sweet, boys are strong – enough with the gender stereotypes

Mar 8, 2022.

Girls love the colour pink and playing with dolls. Boys like to play with toy cars and dinosaurs. Girls are well-behaved, boys are strong. To mark International Women’s Day, we are sharing four things that parents can do to counteract outdated gender stereotypes. Because strong girls become strong women.

Let's start with two prime examples: if boys are taught that they are not allowed to be weak and that “real men don’t talk about feelings”, they do not learn how to express their feelings. Girls, on the other hand, are taught that it’s their job to take care of others and to put their own needs aside.


This type of behaviour is shown by children at nursery, at school and later on in their professional lives. Putting one’s own needs last while also demanding higher pay doesn’t really work, and so the gender pay gap becomes larger. We need new role models; confident women who know their worth and who communicate it loudly and proudly, and empathetic men who know that alphas are not desirable and who don’t feel the need to be dominant at all costs.


There is no manual on how to raise your child in a perfectly gender-sensitive way. And while every child is unique and is wired differently, these four tips can help to inspire reflection and perhaps even encourage you to try some things out.



1) Do away with preconceived notions

Differences can be observed between the behaviour of girls and boys even before they reach their first birthday. Science assumes today that gender-specific behaviour is partly biologically influenced. Despite this, it is important to know that the similarities between girls and boys, and also between men and women, predominate. In addition, social influences also play an important role. For girls, the focus is often on how they interact with others; for boys, it is often on how they behave. Girls are usually praised for their social behaviour, boys for their ability. Depending on the behaviour, children are thus often reduced to typically gender-specific characteristics. So, rather than always telling your daughter how sweet she is for looking after her little cousin, tell her how clever she is instead. Or if your son wants to paint his fingernails? Let him go right ahead; it will look wonderful! Children should be allowed to experiment with their own creativity.


2) Put a new spin on children’s stories

Show your children a world that is not limited by rigid gender stereotypes. Reverse the roles when reading a story, for example, or invent one yourself and improvise the narrative together with your child: the kind prince suddenly takes care of the Seven Dwarfs, while the strong girl slays the dragon. You will also find a selection of exciting books compiled by the city of Zurich's Office for Gender Equality here (in German).


3) Encourage gender-sensitive play

Children who play with things not typical for their gender are more likely to experience negative reactions from those around them, and boys are more affected by this. It is our job as adults to create a friendly environment in which children can play freely. Try to support and encourage your child’s interests and abilities, regardless of their gender. You can do so by avoiding praising gender-conforming behaviour, and by refraining from ridiculing or belittling behaviour that does not conform to classic gender roles. Creating a gender-sensitive play environment also applies to the physical objects that children play with. Almost exclusively “female” props are often found inside a doll’s house, such as handbags, doll prams, kitchen utensils or ironing boards. Drills, workstations and workbenches are usually missing. This suggests that it’s the woman’s job to keep a home while the man goes to work, and the line between gender roles in the private and professional spheres becomes further reinforced. We therefore recommend that you deliberately buy “male” props for your child’s doll’s house.


4) Offer alternatives

Let children play games and with toys that do not conform to typical gender roles. Get physically active with your daughter, give her a toy excavator to play with and encourage her to play sports. And with your son, you can sing, dance and play musical instruments, or do creative activities. This encourages children to engage independently with something new and discover their interests.


Our commitment

The Human Safety Net Switzerland, a Generali Switzerland foundation, promotes early education and care in Switzerland together with our partner the Marie Meierhofer Institut für das Kind. So that children can develop positively and get an equal start in life. The Marie Meierhofer Institut für das Kind is an early learning competence centre and a partner of The Human Safety Net Switzerland.



This text was created with the help of the following sources: