Brief description of the issue
We usually learn to use a universal discourse that let us believe that the world is only masculine, which contributes to making women invisible. The English language we teach children is unfortunately full of sexism and gender stereotypes. Some of these words associated to one gender or another are often at the expense of girls, but they can also have a negative impact on boys’ identity development. We often don’t realize the impact that the words we are using can have. For example, a study shown that the words used by early childhood educators when talking about the role of parents in domestic and caring spheres would refer most of the time to women, reinforcing the gender stereotypes associated with family models (Ducret et Le Roy, 2012).
This page shows a few words and expressions reinforcing stereotypes, what we can use instead of those expressions as well as an activity you can put in place with your students to uncover the stereotypes hidden in our interactions with children.
Stereotypical words and expressions
|Stereotypical word or expression||Why is it stereotypical?||What should we say instead?|
|Mankind||We refer to the human condition as being male.||Humankind, humanity|
|Man, men (used to refer to both men and women)||We use man as being universal an encompassing of both men and women.||Humans, people|
|Girls / Boys Gals / Guys||We categorize children in two groups, reinforcing the difference between them and ignoring other gender identities.||Folks, friends, group, etc.|
|Your mom/mother (referring to domestic tasks)||While referring to parenting and domestic tasks, avoid systematically referring to the mother.||Your parents or your parent|
|Your dad/father (referring to the working sphere)||While referring to the public or working sphere, avoid referring systematically to the father.||Your parents or your parent|
|Your mom and dad, your mother and father||When we always refer to children’s parents as being by default a heterosexual couple, we ignore other family settings and reinforce this stereotype.||Your parents|
|Fireman, policeman, stewardess||When we use masculine words to talk about traditionally male jobs and feminine words to talk about traditionally female jobs, we reinforce job-related gender stereotypes.||Firefighter, police officer, flight attendant|
|A strong man||When we need help to move an object, we must avoid asking systematically boys for help, telling them we need “strong men”, because strength isn’t exclusive to men.||A strong friend, a strong student, a strong one|
|Sweet pea, sweetie, honey / mate, fellow, etc.||Those words we use to show affection to children are different whether we are talking to a boy or a girl, reinforcing the idea that boys and girls are fundamentally different.||My friend or use the child’s name|
Activity: uncovering gender stereotypes together
Think about the stereotypical words or expressions you use the most and that you would like to stop using. Divide a rectangular poster in two on its longest part. Write on each row a word you use to talk to children and that you would like to stop using. Ask children to put a sad face (drawing it or putting a sticker) beside the words each and every time they hear you using it. This will allow children to be as much involved as you are in uncovering and breaking down gender stereotypes (BBC, 2018)!
To go further
Multiple resources can help you use a non-stereotypical language that is inclusive of all children.
BBC (2018). No More Boys And Girls: Can Our Kids Go Gender Free?, Outline Productions, accessible at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/proginfo/2017/33/no-more-boys-and-girls
DUCRET, Véronique et LE ROY, Véronique (2012). La poupée de Timothée et le camion de Lison. Guide d’observation des comportements des professionnel-le-s de la petite enfance envers les filles et les garçons. Le deuxième Observatoire, Genève, 67 pages. Accessible at: http://www.2e-observatoire.com/downloads/livres/brochure14.pdf