As early as age 10!
A recent study utilized 450 children aged 10 to 14 from 15 countries--high, middle and low-income--across different cultures including Nigeria, China, the US and South Africa. They asked each how they perceive growing up as a boy or girl. And sadly, they all seem to fit with a “gender straitjacket” that has lifelong consequences.
“What we’ve learned is that there’s more commonality than differences in 10-year-olds across the world,” says Robert Blum of Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and leader of the study. “We were very surprised to see such universality of the myth that boys are strong, confident and leaders, while girls are weak and incompetent, who should be quiet and follow.”
One main finding is the separate lives boys and girls are encouraged to have. At this age, the world shrinks for girls, while it expands for boys, says Blum. Boys get to explore and experiment freely while girls are subjected to stay inside their home.
“This is profoundly problematic, but that’s what gets played out everywhere, even in most liberal societies,” says Blum.
The pressure of these stereotypes even pushes boys to be reckless and risky while girls get to quit school and experience early pregnancy and sexual violence. Some countries even punish boys when caught associated with girls as they are taught to be unable to control their sexual urges, says Blum.
Some boys even say abuse of girls was “natural” due to these urges.
“Too often, we address gender norms late in adolescence when they are well established and have started to have negative impacts on health,” says Sarah Keogh at the Guttmacher Institute in New York. “This study shows that gender socialisation happens much earlier than that.”
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