Gender equity

Fay Prideau tackles the sticky question - Is it a level playing field for our boys AND girls?

In days gone by, boys who dared to admit to an interest in art or dance were called ‘sissies.' Girls who sought out a game of marbles or cricket at lunchtime were labeled ‘tomboys.' The majority of us quite happily stuck to our ‘same sex' social circles and the associated activities.

In classroooms across the country, girls still turn up their noses at the idea of sitting next to boys who in turn are reluctant to play with the girls lest it dent their macho image. While kids deal with these dilemmas, parents and teachers wade through the plethora of evidence that suggests that not only are the genders physically different and emotionally poles apart, but they are wired very differently for learning.

Looking back ....

Historically, studies have indicated that boys are generally more mathematical/logical in their thinking, while girls have a natural leaning toward the language and expressive arts.. While we all have strengths, weaknesses and preferences for certain subjects, educators try to guard against the idea of particular subjects, being the exclusive domain of one gender. The continual diversification of the curriculum ensures we can continue to break new ground. Boys are encouraged to join choir, dance and writing groups. Girls are encouraged to play sport, join computer classes and take an interest in science. We are not aiming at making boys more like girls, or vice versa, but encouraging both to have a go at everything and anything, rather than being locked into the experiences of previous generations and stereotypes.

Learning styles...

Observations in the classroom reveal that approaches to learning can also be different for genders. Boys are often more ‘hands on' in their learning style than their female counterparts, preferring to be ‘doing' rather than watching or listening. Engaging boys in discovery learning activities is often more productive than passive approaches. An educational project that involves designing and making, will more easily hold the attention of boys. Girls, have a tendency to be more comfortable with ‘visual' learning. This difference becomes quite apparent in the approach to homework. Boys usually benefit from a good half hour in the back yard, engaging in physical exercise before attempting homework, whereas girls will more readily walk in the door, unpack the books and start work. Girls are more likely to spend hours decorating a page or attending to artistic aspects of their work. Boys conversely, will often deliver the bare minimum in presentation and cut straight to the core of the task. Personalities and interests as well as gender, contribute to these tendencies. Awareness of these differences means we can create homework environments to accommodate them: a positive step for parents and teachers.


Children get their first glimpse at gender roles from family life. As fair and open- minded adults, we readily reassure ourselves that our children live in an environment free of gender bias; however, we subliminally send messages to our children in many ways, long before they step into classrooms. The simple act of giving children household chores and responsibilities can unwittingly set up stereotypical images. Do your sons know how to knit or thread a needle? Do your daughters know how to hammer nails into timber? As they grow older will your daughter take lessons in lawn mowing from her father, while you explain the finer points of vacuuming to your son? If not - why not? Both genders are equally capable, but may never realize they are by sticking to traditional behaviour patterns. To alternate the chores, so that one week loading the dishwasher is our daughter's responsibility and the next week it is our son's, and vice versa for putting out the garbage, is a simple way of sending a balanced message. After all in real life, chances are they will have to cope with both chores at some time.

Media matters.....

The media play a powerful role in forming attitudes towards gender roles, particularly for women. Openly discussing at an age appropriate time, the limiting female roles projected from glossy magazines, prime time television shows and advertisements is a good start. Your attitude toward these images is a powerful tool for influencing how your children perceive the world. If you take these projected images as something to aspire to, so too will your children. Encouraging our children to question images that are presented is good insurance against stereotypical behaviour and a healthy start for developing individual opinions.

Significance of sport....

Sporting curriculums in schools have undergone major changes.

Sporting opportunities range from archery to dance, hockey to surfing and everything in between. Being involved in sport has benefits beyond the physical; team work, a sense of fair play, honesty and self improvement. Acknowledging the strengths and weaknesses of yourself and others, learning to support fellow team members and be gracious in defeat as well as valiant in victory are worthwhile spin offs.

Beyond school..

Looking beyond the classroom we can take heart that some attempts to break down gender bias are working. It is evident that our literary worlds, sporting fields and art galleries abound with males and females in increasingly equal proportions, defying stereotypes from past generations. So somewhere along the line, the black and white version of what girls and boys should aspire too, has become more of a grey area. Parents and educators alike are contributing to this trend by encouraging the idea that all learning opportunities should be available to all children, without gender being an obstacle. Only then does it become a personal choice as to whether a particular field is of interest and within a child's capabilities.

Steps toward an even playing field:


  • Show an interest in non-traditional activities. Be seen to be doing some ‘boy stuff' yourself.
  • Ensure equal access to the computer to encourage technical skills.
  • Give positive feedback when girls try something different.
  • Include daughters in ‘fix it' demonstrations around the house.
  • Encourage an interest in sport and fitness.


  • Include domestic chores in their weekly routine for pocket money.
  • Avoid gender-based comments that devalue female/male abilities.
  • Encourage their cooking skills.
  • Give positive feedback to all new non -traditional endeavours.
  • Encourage ‘dad' to be a good role model by showing interest in the domestic scene.