It's no secret that women and girls all over the world are held back by sexism and misogyny. But a new study shows that despite cultural differences or geography, girls are taught the same harmful stereotypes across the globe. Religion and culture aside: Girls and women are fed the same old gender stereotypes. According to the study, which was released on Wednesday by the World Health Organization and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, children are taught that girls are weak and boys are strong.
If only that weren't so surprising. The researchers studied children all over the world aged 10 to 14 years old, which is just when puberty sets in. At that point, the study found, girls have already internalized that their bodies are the most important things about them and that they have to be kept "safe." If something happens to them, it's their fault. So in the United States, for example, that can lead to girls being taken out of a high school class because their skirt is deemed to short, while boys can remain in class despite their physical appearance or clothing.
In Egypt, on the other hand, researchers spoke to a girl who said that when she realized she was "grown" that she wouldn't be going out as much, given that her body is a "target."
The researchers began interviewing children in 2011 and asked them questions about growing up, such as "Do you remember a situation where you realized you were no longer a child?” or “Can you tell me a story about when you did/talked about something with your friends today that you did not when you were a small child?" They asked parents similar questions.
Robert Blum, who chairs the department of population, family and reproductive health at Johns Hopkins and led the study said in a statement to HuffPost:
In every single place, girls are given the message that they are weak, that they are vulnerable. That their bodies are a target. They’re told "cover up and stay away from boys."
He added that when girls don't, the “sanctions they experience are pretty profound," according to HuffPost. The boys suffer, too. While the girls are taught that they are weak and a target, boys are taught that they are aggressors. Women suffer more from depression as a result of being the target (and often not being allowed freedom over their own bodies) all over the world.
Boys, because they grow up to believe they are so strong are more likely to die from injuries from fighting and substance abuse, according to the researchers. Blum told HuffPost:
Boys engage in and are the victims of physical violence to a much greater extent than girls. They die more frequently from unintentional injuries, are more prone to substance abuse and suicide. As adults their life expectancy is shorter than that of women. Such differences are socially not biologically determined.
But the effects can be more severe for girls. Internalizing that their bodies are targets from their parents, teachers, and media, girls begin to withdraw from public life all over the world, Blum explained. They start to settle into their gender roles: Men have freedom and are strong, women do not have freedom and are small.
So later, when a woman shows up in a university or company, she's viewed with skepticism. When she reports sexual assault or harassment she is less likely to be believed since, after all, girls are supposed to protect themselves.
It's a very vicious cycle. What's so alarming is that this "hegemonic myth," that women are vulnerable while men are not, is the same in each and every country the researchers visited, including Belgium, China, Egypt, India, Kenya, and Nigeria. Sexism is like a disease that's spread all over the world.
Although there were some more progressive views in Western countries, Blum and his team didn't find them to be all that different from other countries where girls have even less rights. Hopefully, communities and outreach programs can do better, because gender stereotypes can be hard to unlearn.
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