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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Toronto MU chapter.

Every time I hear any story regarding sexual assault or harassment, I cannot help but wonder what frame of mind one is in to enact such cruelty onto another person. No matter how many times I see or experience any sort of sexism, it boggles my mind how people still discriminate against women to this day.

We are supposed to be living in a world where sexism is diminishing, yet it is seemingly still present, so where is it coming from, and how can we end it?

To answer these questions, it is imperative to reflect on how this generation was taught about gender as children and how that is being passed down to children today.

To see where sexism comes from, it is important to identify if sexism is even present in the lives of kids.

Rebecca Bigler, a psychologist and women’s and gender studies researcher at the University of Texas, states that by a child’s first birthday, most babies can distinguish between male and female faces but adults “assign” gender to these faces.

“We use gendered nouns all the time: ‘Good morning, boys and girls,’ ‘What a good girl,’ ‘The male is at the corner,’ ‘Ask the lady,’” said Bigler. “That tells kids that gender is really important- because otherwise, why do you label it hundreds of times a day?”

Once children start paying attention to gender, they go on to see sexist attitudes and behaviours surrounding them, whether it is from parents, teachers or online.

This leads children to see gender wherever they go, highlighting power discrepancies and unequal gender norms present in the world, like associating men to be strong, bold and aggressive and women to be soft, nurturing and feminine.

In a survey conducted by the National Library of Medicine, children aged 8 to 11 were asked to categorize a list of actions and social roles into three sections: male, female or both. 

Male Female
– Playing football
– Driving 
– Being the leader at work
– Being the leader in the family
– Earning a lot of money
– Being president
– Playing video games
– Fighting in sports
– Being a scientist
– Working in police
– Cooking
– Dancing
– Teaching
– Caring for children
– Cleaning 
– Grocery shopping
– Talking for a long time on the phone
– Reading 

The survey also stated that boys had a higher response level to male stereotypes (26 per cent) than girls (18 per cent). 

In another survey conducted by Save the Children, 900 fourth and fifth-grade students in West Africa were asked if they agreed with a series of misogynistic statements such as “boys are smarter than girls” and “a wife should obey her husband.”

The results also showed 61-70 per cent of boys believed they are smarter than the girls around them, but surprisingly more than a quarter of surveyed girls agreed that boys are smarter.

The same survey also stated that more than 90 per cent of boys and girls in Sierra Leone and 75 per cent of those surveyed in Côte D’Ivoire believe that wives should always obey their husbands. In the United States, nearly 70 per cent of boys and girls feel that looking after the house is “female work.”

This heavily suggests that girls are delegated to these sexist attitudes from extremely young and delicate ages, proving that the results of this survey give a clear indication of how easily children identify gender and how short of a time it takes them to understand sexism.

It is easy to understand why sexism still exists in a world where it is allegedly diminishing. Children are able to understand sexism and apply it to themselves and those around them.

This bleak understanding leads young girls to face the brunt of sexist behaviours and beliefs, leading them to doubt their role and worth in society, even those closest to them.

Save the Children reported that 30 per cent of fathers believe their sons are smarter than their daughters, and 25 per cent of these fathers think it is more important for boys to be educated than girls. This proves that this lack of self-worth comes from those closest to them, those who should be providing positive encouragement instead. 

If young girls’ parents are not protecting them from ingrained gender stereotypes, they will be suffocated by these stereotypes for the rest of their lives. How else are girls supposed to embrace their womanhood when the world around them is telling them to conform to what they believe a woman is?

If parents are not protecting and motivating their daughters, these gender stereotypes will exist in society for their children, supporting a generational cycle of sexism. Parents need to help their children build an understanding of how to fight inequality, so they know how to reinforce equality.

🙋‍♀️ Related: So What Exactly is Intersectional Feminism?
Adriana Fallico

Toronto MU '25

Adriana Fallico is a third-year journalism student at Toronto Metropolitan University. She enjoys playing with dogs, watching the Toronto Maple Leafs and following politics. Her love of journalism stems from wanting to shed light on stories that require people's attention.