7 November 2018

Girl? Boy? Just Human, Actually

| Rebecca Vassarotti MLA
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Woman and child fixing chair.

Deconstructing gender stereotypes – one picture at a time. Photos: Supplied.

Painting nails; arranging flowers; doing housework; enjoying maths; fixing stuff.

How often have you been ensnared by gender stereotypes without actively being aware of it? How often do you stop doing something you might enjoy because of beliefs about what men and women should get involved in? It’s 2018, but still, there are strong expectations about what boys and girls should do, play with or wear, And these expectations often spill into adulthood and limit our options.

While the general community might be content with accepting gender norms, more and more young women are questioning and challenging them. You may have heard the recent reports of eight-year-old Daliah who wondered why Kelloggs only showed male characters on some of their product boxes. She not only questioned this, but she was also moved to action. She got in touch and challenged them to show girls also doing cool stuff. They are now changing their imagery to include both men and women.

She is just one example of girls and young women pushing us to think about the negative impact of gender stereotypes – on men as well as women. Recently, another group of young women tackled this issue head-on through a simple but compelling social media campaign dubbed #justhumanthings. This campaign included a collection of images of women and men doing things that they loved that are generally thought to belong in the domain of the opposite gender. These images were then shared on Instagram and Twitter. Through the campaign, individuals were encouraged to share their experiences of challenging gender stereotypes. They wanted to spread a message that the things that we do and the things we love are #justhumanthings. As such, they shouldn’t be limited to only men or women.

Often social media can be a scary place – particularly when you are trying to explore a different message. The project was well aware of this and even included training for the young women on how to handle the negative comments that would inevitably seep into the conversation these women were trying to encourage. This helped the project be an overwhelmingly positive experience for the young participants.

Zahra was inspired by the amazing people out challenging stereotypes. She reflected that she learned some great new skills and made some lifelong friends. She also gained insight into the change that you can be part of. Tanvi realised that change is already happening, and we need to highlight it. Kate realised that the conversation about challenging gender stereotypes is ongoing. She now feels we need to keep talking to make society more inclusive. Anwesha realised that as a young woman she does have power and can make an impact. Tilly learned that just by breaking stereotypes and exceeding in your own life, you can inspire and empower others.

Wherever you look, there are great examples of the leadership of women and girls. When I attended the announcement of the ACT Australian of the Year Awards recently, I was deeply moved and inspired by the young women who were finalists for the ACT Young Australian of the Year Award. The four finalists were all young women doing amazing things in the community. Sophie Fisher started Girls on Bikes: a free program that provides bikes, helmets and bike lessons to women and girls that have not learned to ride, or come from countries where riding is not common. Sally Hill has been promoting Indonesian language studies through the National Australia Indonesia Language Awards. Karlie Noon is identifying traditional Aboriginal astronomical knowledge provided through Dreamtime to demonstrate the links with the western discipline of Astronomy. The winner of the Award, Hannah Wandel has been connecting with rural young women to develop their leadership potential. While these young women are diverse in their backgrounds and interests, they all believe in themselves. They also understand that their actions can make life better for other people in the community

It can be easy to dismiss young people and their contributions – but every time I talk to a young person, I learn new things and feel more confident that our community will continue to get better.

What are examples you have come across about young people doing great things?

Check out the #justhumanthings campaign on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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