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Allow children and young people to play and learn without being constrained by narrow stereotypes - expert comment

Dr Maria do Mar Pereira, Associate Professor and Deputy Director of the Centre for the Study of Women and Gender at the University of Warwick, comments on children’s play and gender stereotyping in schools following the Church of England issuing new guidelines today.

“I welcome the CoE’s efforts to raise awareness of these issues, and to publish detailed guidance for schools on challenging homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying.

“The idea that boys and girls should wear, do or play entirely different things is not natural; it is a social norm that has evolved and changed over time, and that can, in many circumstances, have very harmful effects on all children, of all genders and sexualities. These norms can cause low self-esteem, bullying, physical and verbal violence, health issues and a tragic loss of potential in our young people.

“Trying every day to live up to rigid and unrealistic stereotypes of masculinity and femininity creates a range of problems in children and young people. They withdraw from activities that they enjoy and which may be very beneficial for their health and academic achievement because they are not considered appropriate for their gender, or they might force themselves to do detrimental things because gender stereotypes expect them to do so. Children and young people who struggle to conform to these pressures are much more likely to be subjected to very damaging forms of bullying, which can have lifelong detrimental effects.

“Therefore, we must recognise that there are many ways of experiencing and expressing one’s gender and allow children and young people to play and learn without being constrained by these narrow stereotypes. In our work with children and young people, we must actively promote ideas about gender which are less rigid and damaging. This includes not limiting children’s toys and fancy dress choices on the basis of narrow ideas about gender and sexuality, ideas which are often based, consciously or unconsciously, on sexist, homophobic, biphobic and transphobic stereotypes.”

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