How to Teach Girls to Confront Gender Bias with Exact Words

DEI for parents, girls against misogyny

Remember that picture from a few years ago of the little girl standing up to the Wall Street bull? Keep that image in your mind's eye as you're reading this post.

The goal here is to teach your daughter the exact words and actions needed "stand up to the bull" so to speak. She needs to learn how to confront gender bias head on, instead of walking away from it feeling meek and defenseless. 

Define gender bias together

First things first. Start by offering your definition of gender bias. Define it at her level so she can relate. You could say something like:

‘Sometimes in the classroom, teachers unintentionally show gender bias by allowing more boisterous behaviors from boys than girls, or expecting girls to turn in homework more consistently, or calling on boys more often to answer math questions.’ 

Hopefully she'll chime in here and add to your definition. The goal is to make it feel like a two-way conversation to her, and not a lecture. Ultimately, you want her to feel confident about her participation.

Helping her feel confident from the very beginning is super important because it's something you're going to build on later in the conversation. 

TIP: Before you begin any focused conversation, keep in mind that when kids sense the important adults in their lives are concerned, they usually worry that they’ve done something wrong. To prevent them from spending the entire conversation trying to figure out what they did, tell them right away that you’re not angry about anything. 

Talk about false gender stereotypes

This step is to help her understand that just because a stereotype is repeated over and over, doesn't make it true. In fact, stereotypes are sometimes the exact opposite of the truth.

Based on her maturity level, here are some streamable TV shows and movies you could watch together to drive home your point about false stereotypes.
  • Project MC2 – a TV series where being good at math and science are more important to four girls than their appearance. Trailer
  • Andi Mack – a Disney TV series about a young gay girl who's trying to determine where she fits in and the many amazing ways she can live her life without conforming to gender stereotypes. Trailer
  • Arrival – a movie about an unlikely, accomplished female professor who leads an elite team of investigators to avoid global war. Trailer
  • Billy Elliott – a movie about an Irish boy who wants to be a ballet dancer despite his macho father’s objections. Trailer
While you're watching together, don't forget to comment here and there about gender stereotypes and how harmful they can be even when they're false.

Continue engaging her in the conversation and building her confidence. Try t avoid putting her on the spot, but keep trying to get her to participate. 

Help her 'discover' entrenched gender bias

Language examples of gender bias are usually the best way to help kids recognize that we use language every day that's derogatory against girls and women, and don't even notice it.

Here are a few examples to get her started:

  • drama queen
  • man up
  • grow a pair
  • throw like a girl
  • don’t you worry your pretty little head
  • honey, dear, missy
  • boys will be boys
  • you guys

She needs to know that this kind of unconscious bias blindly dictates everyday decisions. Explain to her what the hidden meanings are and how it might affect her and her friends.

Typically, girls perk up and start noticing everyday language that they've never thought of before as biased. If your girl wants to keep contributing to the list after you finish talking about it, you can suggest that she start writing down examples. This is a great way to boost her confidence and help her feel like she's discovering this topic on her own.

Give her specific words she can use  

DEI for parents, how to teach girls confidence

Now for the nitty gritty. 

Once you feel like she understands what gender bias is, how entrenched it is in our culture, and why it's so demeaning, it's time to give her specific words so she can "stand up to the bull" and feel empowered instead of defeated.

For example, suppose she tells you there's a boy in her class at school that keeps telling her she's not good at math because she's a girl. She could respond to him by saying something like:

‘Some girls are better than boys at some things, and some boys are better than girls at other things.’

Or use humor:

‘You just WISH you were as good at xyz as I am.’

Or simply:

‘What made you say that? Can you explain it to me?’

Even pointing the behavior out without being accusatory can sometimes make a difference. Tell her that.

If you give her enough options, she'll hopefully pick the words that feel right to her and assume ownership.

Without putting her on the spot, ask her what words she would use. Help her come up with her own response. Work on wording together. She needs to know you're her ally.

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