Have you noticed? Gender is everywhere. Did hashtagMetoo grab our collective attention, or did it just tap into a growing wave of anger at the state of things? Either way, businesses suddenly seem more interested in the career advancement of women, higher education institutions are looking at how to get more women into STEM, the rich and famous are increasingly attaching their names to gender-related causes, and your family probably had an argument about it over the holidays.
This attention is all good and needed: Women hold 29% of FTSE 100 board positions (with only 7 female CEOs), represent less that 20% of those in STEM careers in the UK, and are paid less by 78% of companies in the UK. Even more darkly, one in five women have been sexually assaulted, 91% of rape and sexual assault victims are female, and an estimated 1.2 million women in the UK experienced domestic abuse last year. I'm sure each of us could go on and on.
However, there are a few key things missing from the way we're responding to gender inequality in society:
1. Interventions mostly focus on women and girls, but we need to focus on men and boys just as much. Why don't more men take a lead role in parenting and go part-time at work? Why don't more men become teachers and nurses? Why are men more likely resort to substance abuse and violence as a response to stress, anxiety and depression than women? Why are roughly 3/4 of suicide victims men? Both men and women suffer from gender inequality.
2. We're starting too late. There are lots of great programmes for girls, but they mainly start in adolescence. Gender identity embeds around age three. While the formation of a gender identity is a part of how toddlers learn to understand the world, this identity does not need to limit what children think they're allowed to like, how they should act, or what they are good at.
I've seen both of these issues play out in my own children. My four-year-old daughter has already strongly gravitated to what she herself calls "girlish things", but is constantly reminded by all of the adults around her that princesses can also be brave, play football, and like math. My two-year-old son loves balls and trains, but he also loves baby dolls and dancing. Most of the adults around him latch onto how he's going to play for Spurs and not how he's going to be a great dad or dancer.
If we don't start teaching boys that it's ok to express themselves, nurture others, and show vulnerability, we're never going to chip away at the walls women keep running into in adulthood.
This is why we started You Be You. Our aim is to break down gender stereotypes starting early in primary school -- for kids of all genders, races, religions, and social backgrounds. To do this we'll need the help of everyone who surrounds a child: teachers, parents, carers, and other children. It's a massive undertaking, but we're taking it one step at a time.
Step one for us is the classroom. We were amazed that busy and surely exhausted teachers, head teachers and researchers were willing to volunteer their evenings to help us, but it turns out that people who work with children really see the need for this. We now have a set of fun and creative lessons that can be used to teach existing subjects, and that teachers are excited about. Our pilot launches next month, and we can’t wait to measure the impact these lessons have on pupils.
It's early days, but we feel encouraged by how much support we've already gotten, from the education sector, local MPs, and our generous funders at Unltd. Watch this space-- we'll be updating periodically on how the pilot is going!
Janeen and Bilkis