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Kids weigh in on what it really means to be a man (WATCH)

Kids have fathers who cook, brothers who love fashion, male friends of theirs that love to dance. So why is the media so slow to realize this?

This workshop was inspired by our friends at Common Sense Media and their recent report on Children, Teens, Media and Body Image. We chose to take on the media this time around and we found that kids today just aren’t buying the gender stereotypes advertisers love to perpetuate. In the survey we conducted, we discovered that 98 percent of men and women believe gender stereotypes exist. Fifty-two percent of the men we surveyed felt that in an effort to focus on empowering girls’ self esteem, boys’ needs have been ignored. And even more enlightening, we discovered that over half of the men we surveyed felt it was acceptable for boys to: 

  • Wear pink (65 percent)
  • Like hearts, stars and rainbows (59 percent)
  • Watch princess movies/TV shows (56 percent)
  • Play dress-up (55 percent)
  • Play with dolls (51 percent)

In addition to the above, we also learned that 91 percent of those surveyed found gender stereotypes harmful.

  • 4 out of 5 (78 percent) of all respondents see evidence of gender stereotypes in society, and 58 percent of men see them perpetuated in media and advertising.
  • 77 percent of men and women think it is human nature to stereotype people, but just as many (76 percent) believe these assumptions are typically false.
  • 49 percent of men and 39 percent of women admit to perpetuating stereotypes occasionally.

* In general, men are 84 percent more likely than women to use gender stereotypes in conversation than women (men: 46 percent vs. women: 25 percent)

  • 76 percent of men and 84 percent of women admit to using phrases like “man up,” “you run/hit/throw/catch like a girl” and “be a man” toward boys.
  • 70 percent of men and 55 percent of women say their male friends, co-workers and managers are the most likely to use gender stereotypes.
  • 61 percent of men think that people have become overly sensitive to gender stereotyping, while just 45 percent of women agree.

* 54 percent of all respondents feel it’s worse to use gender stereotypes on children than it is on adults

  • 92 percent say they care as much about boys’ self-esteem as they do about girls.
  • 87 percent of all respondents agree that gender stereotypes can lead to low self-esteem, eating disorders and depression (men: 83 percent, women: 90 percent).
  • Boys are most often stereotypically described as aggressive (73 percent), strong (69 percent), messy (56 percent) and athletic (53 percent), while girls are seen as beautiful (85 percent), emotional (83 percent), bossy (59 percent) and skinny (51 percent). Terms like funny (73 percent), smart (71 percent), artistic (64 percent) are seen as gender-neutral.
  • Women are 50 percent more likely to expect that boys under 12 years are unemotional than men (women: 45 percent vs. men: 30 percent).

* When thinking about their own lives, men report feeling conscious of the following stereotypical expectations in childhood, teen years, and as adults:

  • As a child (under 12 years old): an expectation to be athletic (52 percent), to defend themselves physically (51 percent) and to enjoy watching sports (50 percent)
  • As a teen (13-17 years old): an awareness of their own body hair (78 percent), physical attractiveness (72 percent), sexual orientation (61 percent), height (52 percent) and weight (50 percent), as well as an expectation to be physically strong (50 percent) and act chivalrous (42 percent)
  • As an adult (over 18 years old): a need to provide financially for others (64 percent)

Some notable quotes we received from those surveyed:

* “As a stay at home dad, I rapidly see negative male gender stereotypes changing. But it’s leaving a vacuum in its wake that needs to be filled with better teaching for self-worth for our boys.”

* “I believe that young men have it easier when it comes to the stereotypes they face. I was a boy who enjoyed writing, cooking and cleaning and had zero interest in sports. Today, I’m comfortable being myself. As a kid, it was a lot harder to be the way I am. I felt alienated.”

* “In general, it feels that society has become overly sensitive from a few generations ago. I think there are some negatives; children seem to no longer be able to lose or win, everybody gets a trophy now, everybody has to be equal at everything. There have also been positives around this sensitivity, like more sports outlets for women, better pay for women, more acceptance towards LBGT.”

* “I believe that cultural awareness as a society has become more prevalent nowadays and that we notice more things like this, whereas 10, 20, 50 or 100 years ago we didn’t have mass media or the internet. People only knew what was in their own backyard. Minds are like parachutes, they only function when open.”

* “We’re killing the next generation when we perpetuate the ‘take it like a man’ and ‘boys don’t cry’ nonsense.”

It’s time to rethink what it means to #BeAMan.

You can discuss this topic with your own kids by downloading our Male Gender Stereotypes and Body Image PDF and completing the suggested activities and discussion together.

Source: SheKnows Media Male Gender Perceptions & Stereotypes Survey, March 2015 (1,263 total responses; 31 percent U.S. men age 18-65, 69 percent U.S. women age 18-65).

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