There is an explanation to gender stereotype across the world. At a very young age, people are forced to learn that girls always need to be protected while boys are strong and self-sufficient. As adults, they repeat the stereotypes with their own children, who also grow up thinking that boys are free to explore the world and girls must stay at home, according to new research by the World Health Organization and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Known as The Global Early Adolescent Study, it revealed that boys and girls are taught these strict gender rules not only by their parents but also their siblings, classmates, teachers, coaches, guardians, relatives, and clergy. Robert Blum, who led the study, said the findings were very similar in both conservative and liberal societies, as reported by The Guardian.
The researchers talked to 450 children from low-income families in the United States, Bolivia, Ecuador, Belgium, Scotland, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Malawi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, China, India, Egypt, Burkina Faso and Vietnam. Aged 10 to 14, these kids who were just entering adolescence took part in the study along with parents or guardians.
Starting in 2011, researchers asked children how they grew up in their communities. They wanted to hear their experiences when they realized they were no longer kids and stories about things they stopped doing or talking with their friends as soon as they entered early adolescence. As for parents or guardians, they were asked similar questions from their very own perspectives.
“In every single place, girls are given the message that they are weak, that they are vulnerable. That their bodies are a target,” said Blum. “They’re told ‘cover up and stay away from boys,’” he added.
Also the director of the department of population, family and reproductive health at Johns Hopkins University, the lead author warned that boys and girls are punished when they fail to behave according to the gender myths. He emphasized that it was all about social norms instead of genetically proscribed differences, as some people argue.
Lifelong consequences for women
Kristin Mmari, who led the qualitative research, said girls in New Delhi viewed their bodies as a risk that had to be covered up whereas girls in Baltimore told researchers they considered their bodies a primary asset that “need to look appealing – but not too appealing,” according to the report by The Guardian.
Regardless of the cultural differences that exist around the world, boys entering adolescence are considered predators looking for vulnerable girls, who are viewed as targets who need to be protected and even isolated in some cases. These young women are not allowed to choose what they will wear, who they will talk to nor how they will sit like because there might be boys planning to ruin their lives, according to one of the papers in the study. Girls happen to believe these social norms and internalize them to a greater extent in some places, as reported in a social supplement of the Journal of Adolescent Health.
A girl in Assuit, Egypt, told reporters that boys are allowed to come home late while a girl would be shout at by her parents if she went out as she wished.
Women are taught that they are constrained while men are allowed to enjoy freedom. There is evidence of that myth everywhere. For instance, in the criminal justice system, those who report sexual assault have to declare what they were wearing when they were raped as if a different fashion choice could have prevented the attack. As for the business and political world, sometimes there is skepticism about ambitious women who are not valued for their talents or efforts.}
Blum said girls have a very high price to pay when it comes to the consequences of being raised under gender stereotypes, as reported by The Huffington Post. Compared to boys, they are at a greater risk of experiencing depression by the age of 16. They are more prone to child marriage and early pregnancy. Additionally, they are more likely to drop out of school, and HIV rates are higher for them.
While these kinds of restrictions supposedly exist to protect girls, the gender-based norms actually endanger them as they lead to harsh sanctions that include physical abuse when girls fail to obey, the researchers concluded.
Boys suffer, too
Gender norms lead men to a greater risk of engaging in physical violence and drug abuse. Compared to women, they are more likely to die from unintentional injuries, are more vulnerable to commit suicide, and their life expectancy is shorter, said Blum.
Whereas girls are encouraged to do chores at home, boys in New Delhi and Shanghai are often told to go out and explore the environment. In both cities, both boys and girls said there was shaming and beating should they violate the norms.
Ironically, parents who admitted that boys were sometimes vulnerable still focused their efforts on protecting their daughters, according to The Guardian.
Forced to stay away from each other
Blum revealed that healthy relationships between boys and girls are not allowed once they enter adolescence. Daughters must be on guard and sons are taught they are aggressors.
The researchers found in the interviews that even though they spent time together as children, their friendship could not continue with puberty, which made them sad. The gender norms are apparently strict even in wealthier countries. Scotland was the only exception in the study. In Edinburgh, boys and girls are not taught that the boy must always take the first step in a relationship.
Source: The Guardian