A friend’s daughter said something once that greatly disturbed me. She was probably seven or eight at the time. When her father asked her to help him with some yard work, she replied, “No, that’s boys’ work!”
The reason this disturbed me was that if she already saw a division between chores appropriate for girls and for boys, how could that not lead to a division in men’s jobs and women’s jobs? In men’s careers and women’s careers? How much had she already limited her career choices without even realizing it? How much had her parents and the other adults in her life limited her career options by promoting work stereotypes through words and by example?
People cannot make a choice if they do not know that a choice can be made. If girls think that they cannot, or should not, do anything other than “girl’s work” how can anyone expect them to enter male-dominated fields, such as STEM, if they do not even see it as an option?
Another aspect of this, of course, is that it limits boys in their career options as well. It also influences them to think that there are things that girls cannot do. They can then too easily grow into men who think there are things that women cannot do.
I believe that work is work. Whoever has the ability, time, and/or desire to do something should do it. Gender does not matter. I think it is great for children to see fathers doing housework and laundry and see mothers doing yard work and home repairs. If they see their greatest role models doing everything, it encourages them to think that they, too, can do everything.
It is wonderful that so many schools are doing more to encourage girls to be interested in STEM. However, if girls are being taught stereotypes at home, school may be too little, too late. If children see stereotypes in chores, then that has to lead to stereotypes in jobs and careers.
Are you inadvertently promoting work-related and career-related stereotypes to the children in your life?