Now we know that children in 2018 still experience sexism, what are we going to do about it?

Of the 10-14 year olds that we surveyed, two thirds of girls said they are not treated the same by their peers and a third of all the respondents said that parents and teachers treat boys and girls differently

Attitudes to gender are deep-rooted and part of the fabric of society
Attitudes to gender are deep-rooted and part of the fabric of society

The recent media storm around the #Metoo campaign shows no sign of abating. Every week brings another story, another victim and further calls to raise awareness of gender inequality.

From the BBC gender pay row to the sexual harassment cases in Hollywood, these issues are steeped in historical and outdated attitudes. But with women now speaking out and indeed, being given a platform to speak, change is being achieved and stereotypes are beginning to be challenged.

When I started out in journalism as a trainee reporter on a South London newspaper, all the editors and senior staff were men. I don’t think it is much different today.

So what can be done to ensure that all the good work being done to raise awareness of gender equality has some real and long-term impact? Legislation to ensure that women are well represented on business boards and in Parliament is a possible option, but this runs the risk of “tokenism” – which must be avoided.

I firmly believe that business and politics should operate as a meritocracy, with the best people reaching the top positions, regardless of gender, race or background. What is important though is that everyone is given the chance and necessary support to reach their personal goals, free from prejudice and stereotyped views.

This is no easy task, when attitudes are so deep-rooted and part of the fabric of society.

I was keen to look into at what point attitudes to gender are formed. So as editor of children’s newspaper First News, I commissioned some research among our 10-14 year old readers. We asked them whether they think girls and boys are treated differently by adults – (teachers and parents) and their peers.

The results showed overwhelmingly that these young people do feel they are treated differently according to their gender. In fact two thirds of girls said they are not treated the same by their peers and a third of all the respondents said that parents and teachers treat boys and girls differently.

Comments from these children included a vast array of depressing anecdotes about their experiences – ranging from a teacher who says that girls have “better memories than boys”, through to a girl being told she couldn’t play football and to “act more ladylike”.

Over 70 per cent of girls and 60 per cent of boys surveyed had heard sexist comments being made about their friends. Everyday sexism, it would seem, is very much part of our children’s lives.

Frustratingly, many of us are unwittingly reinforcing the very stereotypes that we are working so hard to get rid of. Telling a secondary school pupil that “of course she can be a pilot” but then restricting the sporting activities available to her just doesn’t add up.

The key to gender equality is to take the gender part out – it is about equality. Equality no matter what your gender, your background or anything else. This message must be ingrained and made a reality from day one, continued through education and into the workplace – reinforced by parents, teachers and children themselves.

This isn’t about gender neutral toys or clothes. It’s about ensuring all our children grow up to respect one another, embrace their talents and have the opportunity to follow any pathway they are passionate about. This isn’t about forcing a girl who wants to be a teacher into engineering, but equally, for the girl who wants to be an engineer, there should be nothing at all to hold her back.

Likewise for a boy who wants to play with a doll – so what? One of our young readers told us that he’d been told boys don’t cry. “Why not?” he asked. Seriously, why not? We don’t want a nation of emotionally-suppressed men because of gender stereotypes.

It saddens me to think that the future generation seems no closer to wiping out the gender stereotypes that we have all being facing for so long. Yet the fact that the issue has been identified on a huge scale is a positive start and hopefully gender will, at some point, be taken out of the equality equation.

Nicky Cox MBE is the editor of First News

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