Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Gender inequality is still a major issue and women are still expected to shrink themselves in order to accommodate men.


 Please close your legs.


No, it’s not what you think… You’ve heard of mansplaining, manflu and all those other deeply annoying habits or behaviour attributed to men, right?

On the whole I don’t hate men, but to make a sweeping statement, they are problematic. You know, patriarchy, misogyny, sexism, etc - and I do know that there are women who advance these ideologies and yes, yes, yes #notallmen.

It seems like women continue to have to shrink, to accept having our rights encroached on and generally change our behaviour to suit men’s proclivities.
For those who don’t know what manspreading is, think about the last time you used public transport and had to rethink your seating plan because a man had splayed his legs invading your (or someone else’s) personal space.

We don’t wear short dresses to avoid rape, we take longer routes home to avoid the street corners that are notorious for being littered with catcallers and harassers, we don’t breastfeed our children in public, and we don’t talk about our periods publicly to avoid contempt and disgust.

The way in which girls and boys are socialized contributes to how we eventually behave as adults – from manspreading to having to hide sanitary towels on your way to the bathroom at work.

We learn there are things that boys can do but that girls cannot. As a child, my mother would scold me each time she found me lying on the couch with my legs spread while watching television. “Musatigarire beya” she would shout – Sit properly like a girl!

Photographer Marianne Wex’s photobook has around 5000 images that document men and women in different contexts and the differences between their body language – women have for decades, actually centuries, sat or stood to make themselves take up less space.

Why? Because men have a long history of social conditioning to sprawl out across as large an expanse as their testicles need ventilation.

It seems like women continue to have to shrink, to accept having our rights encroached on and generally change our behaviour to suit men’s proclivities.

Or tucking in or twisting our limbs around us to accommodate others.

But we don’t.

We need to take back our spaces. Men, join us, by closing your legs and accepting women as equals.Bottom of Form









Sunday, 3 September 2017

When BAME women struggle to Champion each other at work.


Like many BAME women I know, I have been incredibly fortunate to have had some amazing BAME women as mentors and colleagues. We‘ve supported each other, shared our knowledge and championed each other when other folks didn’t want us to succeed. My good friend Eugenia played such a role when I first came to the UK. And while I am grateful for the amazing BAME women who have blazed trails and been my sponsors along the way, I too have had to contend with women who looked like me who worked steadily and steadfastly against me. My experience many many moons ago in Botswana comes to mind!

Here are some ways of learning to put these disappointing experiences into perspective without losing your mind.

BAME Women are not monolithic

The idea that every BAME woman you meet wants to see you do well, is a fantasy. People come to the workplace with their own set of values, experiences, and objectives. There is no prototype for BAME women in the workplace. Don’t assume that just because someone shares your cultural, racial, and historical experience that she is wired to be in your corner. Two weeks ago I wrote about the queen bee at the work place and to an extend as women we can also be our own enemies BAME or Caucasian.

Remember BAME women aren’t immune to jealousy, competition and poor character. Figure out what you are dealing with and do what you can to mitigate the damage.

What Challenges is She Navigating?

Sometimes we wrongly assume that a BAME woman who appears to have ‘’arrived’’ isn’t still negotiating her own set of challenges just to maintain her position. She may be struggling to maintain her position , jumping through interoffice political hoops. She may have a position but not have the full power of her role or the institution behind her to help position you. Some organisations believe in visual diversity, but they aren’t built to lean into BAME women’s decision making and power.

While white men are said to be judged for their potential, women – and BAME women in particular- often find themselves in situations where their track records and successes are challenged on almost daily basis.

Internalized Racial Inferiority Might be a thing.

In short, internalized racial inferiority refers to the acceptance of white supremacy by people of colour. In practical terms, it leaves BAME women vulnerable to normalising and elevating other values and supremacy in the workplace. It leaves some to almost always defer and defend white supremacy in the workplace and to question not only her value and worth, but the value and worth of other people of colour at work as well. It can be likened to a kind of racialized Stockholm Syndrome- but it is always a clear signal that this particular sister won’t have your back.

Internalized racial inferiority is compounded by the fact that many workplaces that espouse mentoring and collaboration as core values, generally look askance at BAME women circles of support- Are you a gang? What are you up to? BAME women who support each other may find themselves penalized in the workplace and conversely BAME women who choose to go the road alone may find themselves rewarded. Either way this is for real and it complicates things.

Your Mentors Don’t have to look like you.

My BAME women mentors have helped me to navigate the racialized waters of the workplace over the years- waters where I am almost always being judged and where my words, actions and achievements are always weighed by my dual identities in a sexist and racist society. That being said, I have had wonderful white male and female mentors. I have been mentored by white folks who understood the nuances I’ve had to traverse, and who were in a unique position to help me view my capabilities and potential beyond the constraints of race and gender in ways that might not have occurred to me. (You know yourselves folks and thank you).

Remember, the reality is that no one owes you anything and you are in control of your own destiny. It doesn’t matter who supports you and who doesn’t. Be clear about who you are and what you are capable of.

 

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Why women of colour need more films like Girls Trip.


Another important conversation about why representation in media and film matters.

Domestic worker. Drug addict. Lazy.  Struggling single mom who has been abandoned or whose husband is in prison.

Baby momma. Gold digger. Primary emotional care-giver to white employers kids.

Slave. Victim of society. Token black funny friend with swagger and attitude. Angry black woman.

These are the roles reserved for women of colour on screen.  And they’re all true reflections... to an extent. The renderings are necessary to educate the masses about the struggles of black women. But a lot of these roles are also harmful perpetuations of racial and often sexist stereotypes.

To women of colour like myself, they come across as offensive, false and to be blatant, they make us cringe. Still, we feed the pockets of white filmmakers who produce and direct them (and who have no idea of the real struggle) because we are so desperate for representation.

We are so desperate to see someone who looks like us and might feel like us on the big screen. We want to relate. We deserve to relate.

I take nothing away from these struggles. They are real. Art depicts life and life depicts art. But women of colour are more than these roles. We are also powerful. Successful an bright.

We come in different ages and sizes. We have relationships outside of the ones that show us as sad and abandoned.

What we do need is a portrayal of the portions of our lives that deserves no punishment for having a good time.

We have friends, good families, support structures. We have hobbies and careers. Weddings and parties and baby showers and bachelorettes are not reserved for white women with quirky personalities.

We are fun. We too are capable of having fun and dammit are we funny. We are funny as hell!

Again: Art depicts life and life depicts art. Where are these films? Where are these depictions?

I have one answer for you at present. One very successful story and it involves the blockbuster record-breaking film: Girls Trip.

This film is a case study for the ages if white audiences and white funders of commercial films ever needed one. It is scientific proof if you will, that stories of women of colour with dynamic personalities and dynamic lives work.

Why?

Because it is a vacation. It’s a vacation in its narrative (four women travel to New Orleans for the annual Essence Festival) and it is a vacation from society.

Women of colour, believe it or not, are currently treated worse than any time in history (according to a research paper on the social transformation of black women).

The burden of these struggles is all too real in everyday life, regardless of the social lives we live outside of them. We’re still faced with a lot of castigation and adversity in ‘da clurrrb’ for example. In this way, Girls Trip is a chance to escape from these burdens.

We know these burdens well and while the rest of the world needs to be educated on them, we ourselves do not need reminding on a night out to the cinema.

The struggle for reflection must end. And the exposure and appeal of films like these does not have to be exclusionary.

What we do need is a portrayal of the portions of our lives that deserves no punishment for having a good time.

The fight for diversity in films when it comes to representation continues. But there is another angle to this fight. And that is the struggle for diverse stories.

Get Out and Moonlight are just two examples of films that got bums of all races in seats.

But mainstream movies with an all-black female cast who give women like me a sincere feeling of representation are still a rarity.

The struggle for reflection must end. And the exposure and appeal of films like these does not have to be exclusionary.

Societies have been conditioned to seeing women of colour a certain way because of the way mass media reflects our stories. Well, it needs to end.

We need to shake society out of their seats so they can stop seeing us in a way they’re comfortable with, and start seeing us in the way we see ourselves.

Hopefully women of colour will be seen as people in all areas of work.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Signs Someone Is Always Playing The Victim


Many moons ago when I was an undergraduate at the University of Zimbabwe, I was so excited about learning , I decided to do Psychology side by side with my main course which was English Literature. Little did I know it was going to be useful.
 
A conversation last night with a friend made me look into this.

What do all humans have in common?
We have all played the victim before. How many of us have blamed our little sister or brother for breaking a family heirloom? I know I have. How many of us have pointed the finger at our co-worker for screwing something up at work? But, playing the victim is like eating bad food- it will only make you feel worse in the long run.
Here’s the bottom line: people that believe they are victims tend to push friends, family and coworkers away.

Let’s look at  some 14 signs that someone is playing the victim card and what they need to do instead:
 They don’t take responsibility
This is a classic sign of victim behavior. A victim has trouble accepting they contributed to a problem and accepting responsibility for the circumstance that they are in. Instead, they point the finger, or simply ignore their role in perpetuating the problem. They are not overtly saying “I’m a victim”, but instead indirectly sending the message that they’re a martyr.

What’s the remedy here? Every circumstance, situation, and event in their life offers the victim an opportunity for growth. They may not be completely responsible for what has occurred, but they can always ask if they contributed somehow. Asking this question invites a person to be responsible, mature and cooperative. Plus, it will help them avoid similar situations in the future.
They are frozen in their life

Victims believe that they are at the mercy of everyone and everything around them. Usually, a victim will not make progress or advance in their life because they perceive that they are powerless. As a result, their life is stagnant. If you were to ask them why, they would respond by giving you a laundry list of reasons why they are stuck. The real sticking point here is that the victim will not usually tell you what they plan to do about their lack of progress in life.
What’s the remedy here? The victim needs to see that small behaviors or changes in their attitude can reap big rewards. Try to help the victim make a list of small, achievable steps they can take towards a goal in their life. Hold them accountable and ask them to hold themselves accountable too.
They hold onto grudges

The victim likes to hang onto old grievances. They carry these around like weapons, just in case anyone ever tries to hold them accountable for something. A victim will bring up old memories and events in which they were probably legitimately hurt, but they use them as reasons why they can’t make changes to their attitude, their life, or their circumstances in the present. These hurts and grudges underpin the victim’s hobbled life. .
What’s the remedy here? This one is pretty simple. Let those grudges go! The victim needs to see that keeping grudges is only holding them down, and not doing anything to help anyone else either- although the victim may not believe this. The victim needs to recognize that freeing others of blame is actually returning all power and self-control back to the victim, so guess what? That means they no longer have to be the victim!

They have trouble being assertive

The victim does not truly believe they can control their life, so they struggle to state what they need, desire or deserve. The victim’s life will usually involve repeating patterns of submissiveness and passivity. This pattern is detrimental to self-esteem and personal development. The victim fails to break this pattern and suffers from potential anxiety or depressive disorders.

What’s the remedy here? A first recommendation is to seek help from a professional psychologist, counselor, or life coach. This is a chance for the victim to turn the direction of their life around. It could also be beneficial for the victim to read a book on assertiveness, commonly available in libraries or bookstores. Ultimately, learning to be assertive is not a quick fix. It will take time, practice, learning, failing, and trying over and over. In the end, however, the victim will no longer feel that gnawing sense of powerlessness and self-pity that has kept them down for so long.
They feel powerless

This could be a shadow behavior, meaning that the victim does not outwardly show that they feel powerless. Instead, the victim will try to be manipulative, coercive, and underhanded in getting what they need. You may have dealt with someone experiencing this kind of powerlessness. Usually, the victim is someone that is suspicious of others, feels insecure, and constantly needs to know the latest gossip.

What’s the remedy here? First, do not play the game with them. Stay away from the game of sharing gossip, listening to their stories of manipulation, or their stories of insecurity. Let them know you’re there to support them and to listen to them, but not to contribute to their feeling of powerlessness.
They don’t trust others

This issue is not only a problem of not trusting others. This is a problem of the victim not believing they are trustworthy themselves. The victim makes the assumption that other people are exactly like them – untrustworthy.

What’s the remedy here? Examine the evidence. Are all people untrustworthy? Probably not. There are trustworthy people in the world. There are people that want the best for you. There are people that want to help you. It is the job of the victim to begin revising their old assumptions about people.
They don’t know when to say enough is enough

In relationships, victims have no sense of limits. They don’t know when to say enough is enough.

What’s the remedy here? The victim needs to start creating their own boundaries. What is the maximum they are willing to take in a relationship, or in any given situation? It is the responsibility of the victim to decide these boundaries for themselves.
Emotional blackmail
The use or threat to use of strong emotions to control others can be very effective. Using this strategy, supervisees become overly emotional (tears, upset, victim) at the slightest hint of negative feedback from their colleagues. Everyone is on egg shells to keep the person from expressing their strong emotions all over the office. Crafty manipulators will go from office to office crying and talking about the horrible things the colleagues does to them. In the long-term, this gives the individual tremendous power. It doesn’t happen all at once but over time others are less and less likely to make or communicate a decision that will set this employee off.

What’s the remedy here: If you stay grounded and understand these remarks as manipulation attempts instead of factual statements, you can stay detached and keep your cool.  

They feel sorry for themselves

Victims have a habit of pitying themselves. Their mirror reflects a defenseless child that cannot fend for itself. Since other people do not usually show them sympathy or empathy, they try to give it to themselves, only to potentially appear immature to others. This further traps them in the victim role.

What’s the remedy here? Recognize that all people have tough days and experience bad events. Even the luckiest people experience unfortunate events. The victim must learn to avoid thinking that they are the only person in the world that has experience sad, difficult, or unfair circumstances.
They constantly compare themselves to others

The victim usually struggles with the habit of comparing themselves to others negatively. The truth is that we are all lacking in some respect compared to others. No one has it all.

What’s the remedy here? The victim needs to change their view. The victim must recognize that they have good qualities and likely have experienced privileges too. Yes, they’ve probably not always been super lucky, but it’s not all bad!
They see life as always lacking

Even when something good happens, the victim will seek out what’s lacking or what’s missing. The victim will complain about complaining and then complain that they can’t stop complaining. It’s a deadly cycle.

What’s the remedy here? They should count their blessings, The victim needs to treasure these blessings and develop a new habit of being positive and optimistic. They should aim to be the most thankful and hopeful person they can be.
They are a critic

The victim has a need to put others down and find fault in people. By doing these things, they get a fleeting sense of superiority.

What’s the remedy here? The victim should take all their energy and use it to build others up. This will reflect back on them in a positive way too.
They think they are perfect

Ironically, when there is a chance that a victim could be caught in an error, they suddenly become perfect. This arrogance and narcissism closes the victim off from having truly trustworthy and cooperative relationships.

What’s the remedy here? They need to remove the word ‘perfect’ from their vocabulary, and accept that they are human and are not perfect. In fact, the victim needs to realize that the more they own their mistakes and failings, the more others will gravitate towards them.
They cut people out of their life

“I’ve had it – they are out of my life for good!” If you’ve heard that statement before and it wasn’t in reference to an actually dangerous or abusive situation, then you’re probably dealing with a victim. Rather, this statement was likely made in reference to everyday behaviors and relationship problems the victim finds challenging. In response to this, their default strategy is to cut people out of their lives. This highly emotional behavior creates chaotic relationships.

What’s the remedy here? Breathe. Stop the brain chatter for a moment. Take a walk.

The victim needs to recognize their pattern of cutting people off. Cutting people off usually doesn’t lead to the resolution of problems and conflict. They could always take a different, more positive approach, such as letting people know their feelings instead.
In the end, the victim will end up facing painful consequences in their life and relationships if they do not change their behavior.

As with most things in life, alternative options are there, we just have to be willing to look for them and make a start.

 

 

Monday, 21 August 2017

Sexism exists, especially in the workplace


A boss with an attitude problem can hamper your career and poison your whole existence. Here are ten signs your boss might be such.

Bosses are just people, and will all have their own stresses and shortcomings. But it’s not what the boss does once in six months – it’s what they do every day that counts.

A management style is often a reflection of someone’s view of the world, of themselves, and of things such as gender roles. When you have a boss whose attitude is at its core sexist, your life can become a misery.

A happy and fulfilled and well-balanced boss is unlikely to be a sexist tyrant at work. But a bitter one with an axe to grind against women will carry this into the workplace, sometimes so subtly that it is difficult to pinpoint.

These days there is a far greater awareness of the consequences of sexual harassment in the workplace than even a decade ago. That doesn’t mean it never happens, but a sexual predator in the workplace is less likely to get away with it now than in the past. Women are also more aware of their rights.

But there are the bosses (both men and women) with personality disorders, who see the workplace as a terrain to wield terror, and give free expression to their whims. And they think the women (and sometimes also the men who work under them) deserve it.

On paper, men and women doing the same job are supposed to be paid the same, but in practice this does not always happen.

Here are  some 10 things sexist bosses are likely to do.

Make overt reference to gender in the interview.

Comments such as “You know I am not allowed to ask about your plans for the future”, which can usually be interpreted as follows: “Are you going to have a baby anytime soon, and go off on maternity leave?” The more unsubtle ones will comment directly on your appearance, age and usually disguised in the form of a compliment. Believe me; I experienced this once upon a time.

Assume women are looking for stop-gap employment.

Sexist bosses will assume the women are not the main breadwinners, and are unlikely to stay long in the job, let alone make a career of it. The underlying assumption is that there is some man who will be looking after them now and in the future. Really?

Fail to really consider women for promotion.

This is the main one but sadly both female and managers are culprits.They might be on the list, but they seldom seem to get the job. It is easy to spot companies where this happens – just look at their management structures, and how the genders are represented. On paper, men and women doing the same job are supposed to be paid the same, but in practice this does not always happen. Job titles can also disguise the reality of someone’s level of responsibility.

Assume the women will do the catering and the social organising.

Unless it is part of your job description, you do not have to organise catering at staff functions, or clean up afterwards, or make things such as birthday parties or farewell parties happen if you don’t want. A sexist boss won’t even ask – he will just assume the women will do it. And he probably won’t thank them either.

Exclude women from certain workplace conversations.

Like some men, some women won’t be interested in discussing politics, sport or management strategies, but automatically excluding all women from conversations on these topics is very sexist. It is seldom done overtly, but often there is a subtle vibe of “Keep away – men talking” sent out. Sometimes this exclusion extends to other social activities organised after working hours, like going to the bar or the golf course - or, even worse, the strip club.

A sexist boss subtly creates the vibe that the real decision-making is men’s work.

Assume appearance is everything.

Most men have cottoned onto the fact that overt comments on appearance are a no-no, but even ongoing compliments can sometimes be creepy. Underlying all of this is the assumption that women’s appearance is somehow more important than men’s is. If you aren’t sure whether you are overreacting, ask yourself whether the boss would have made a similar comment to George in Sales about his new jacket.

Fail to take input from women seriously in meetings.

A sexist boss would pretend to listen, but would seldom take any of these suggestions seriously, let alone implement them. Until one of the men makes the suggestion, that is. A sexist boss subtly creates the vibe that the real decision-making is men’s work. ‘’Well done George for saying that’’, Really, when Mary had made the point initially!

Assume a lack of knowledge on technical matters.

Whether it is on issues relating to IT, or mechanics, knowledge or ignorance cannot be assumed based on gender. But a sexist boss will do just that without establishing people’s prior knowledge on certain things.
Complain when women take family responsibility leave.

This usually comes from a boss who would not in a million years dream of taking a day off work to take a sick child to the doctor, but expects his wife to miss a day from her job in similar circumstances. Life happens – when working with people, sick children and dying relatives will be part of the equation. One cannot blame women for being in the position of carrying the brunt of the responsibility for these family issues.

Imply that a grievance is somehow hormone related.

If a woman finally snaps at work, a sexist boss will assume she is premenstrual or menopausal – her grievance cannot surely be real. Granted, sometimes hormones can affect both men and women, but even so, justifiable grievances can never be dismissed just for that reason.

I know what you are thinking right now, sometimes both men and women bosses do undermine the well- being of their employees but these things happen on daily basis in organisations.

 

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

White privilege is real, especially in the workplace


It creeps up in many forms - from the way people are spoken to, right to the lack of people of colour in leadership roles.

The other day a friend said something that left me gobsmacked. She said: "I don't believe white privilege exists." Really?
She is a socially aware, vocal person of colour, so for her to say this was totally unbelievable.
Her reasons were the usual: "I know so many black people who have more than me."
"White people also work hard."

"My white boyfriend had to go work for his dad because he couldn't get a job."
I let her continue. I realised that her perception of white privilege, like so many others, is warped by her own circumstances.
When you are not struggling to find a job it is easy to think white privilege is not real. Similarly, when you blame every little hurdle on white privilege the real issues get overshadowed.

 Not all black people are taking your job, and not all white people get things handed to them, but don't think for one second that this means white privilege is not real. I have experienced it in the little things.

Here are some of the things I have heard people saying over the years:


· There is often a tone of condescension and impatience when addressing people of colour in some office.

· I even once encountered an intern who spoke down to me, his manager, because I was Indian. When he spoke to the white people in the office his voice was all sugar and honey. 

· I spent months appealing to my boss to make changes to a project, bringing forth research and plans on how this would improve it. Nothing happened. A new, white employee (who didn't even work in my department) made the same suggestion, and it was implemented within in a week.

· I worked with two equally incompetent employees. For some strange reason the black employee was fired and the white employee was allowed to finish his contract. That made no sense to me.

And this is just surface level stuff.

We haven't even gotten to the issues of limited people of colours in Managerial roles, the degree of disrespect for BAME or how this all intensifies if you are a woman.

These little things are the tip of a very big, complicated iceberg, I do think that it's time we acknowledge them - it can be a catalyst to affect change on bigger issues. We have to recognise white privilege in every form so people can stop thinking it no longer exists.



Sunday, 13 August 2017

Disney's leading female characters are still slaves to some stereotypes

By the age of two, most children use gender pronouns in their speech and proactively identify people as men and women. And by the time they turn seven; little boys and little girls have already learnt a lot about what is expected of them within our – binary – gender system.


A few years ago, researchers from Granada University analysed 621 characters of both sexes from 163 cartoon series, including Monster High and Shin Chan. They found that women are largely relegated to secondary roles: girlfriends, mothers or companions to the animated heroes and villains. American linguists found that men speak 68% of the time in The Little Mermaid, 71% in Beauty and the Beast, 90% in Aladdin and 76% in Pocahontas.

Not only are cartoon women rarely leading characters, they’re also awash in stereotypes. The Spanish researchers reported that most animated women are materialistic, jealous and superficial, obsessed with their bodies and keen to please other people.

How do princesses lead?

Even when women do play the lead, they often reify tired adages about women.

With Pocahontas (1995), for example, Disney showed that not even cartoon women can “have it all”. The Indian princess must choose between success in the public sphere and a happy romantic life.

Indeed, studies have found that in all of the princess films produced by Disney between 1989 and 1999, male characters have three times as much dialogue as female characters. American linguists found that men speak 68% of the time in The Little Mermaid, 71% in Beauty and the Beast, 90% in Aladdin and 76% in Pocahontas. Ariel, the little mermaid herself, actually prefers to be struck dumb forever in exchange for a man.

These lessons are not lost on children, who are well aware that superheroes are mostly boys and princesses are girls. That makes it more difficult to model leadership for young women.

Unlike superheroes, who use their extraordinary gifts to do good for society, cartoon princesses tend to focus on private issues, not public service. Disney has shown some improvement since the days of passive Snow White (1937) and submissive Cinderella (1950). In recent years, female leaders have appeared among the studio’s characters, most notably in Mulan (1998) and the 2013 megahit, Frozen.

But the messages conveyed are not so far removed from the most conventional Disney stereotypes.

Mulan is a bold Chinese warrior, respected and followed by her people…all of whom think she is a man, because she has deceived them by cutting her hair. The point here appears to be that to become a good leader, a woman should look and act like a man.

Frozen was hailed as “not your typical princess movie”, because it portrays two sisters who don’t need to be rescued by a handsome prince. Instead, at the film’s end, Elsa and Anna save each other with their sororal love.

...say some cultural observers, aren’t we’re going too far, here? Watching Disney movies and play-acting the characters – that’s just kids’ stuff, fun and games!

But, the protagonist Elsa has dubious leadership skills. As the elder sister, she is responsible for governing, but when she gets nervous she lets her emotions get the better of her. Despite her good intentions, she cannot effectively wield power.

As a result, she freezes her realm and withdraws into a solitary world. In other words, she lacks emotional intelligence.

Lessons in female leadership

What have we learned? Now, children, repeat after me:

1. Leadership is male.

2. Women are better leaders when they look and act like men.

3. A successful public life interferes in a woman’s private life.

4. When women get emotionally involved, they lose rational thought, and their leadership capacity fails them.

It’s hardly surprising that the lessons we’ve internalised since childhood are reproduced every day by (adult) media coverage of, say, female politicians, who face stereotypes and obstacles utterly unknown to their male colleagues.

But wait, say some cultural observers, aren’t we’re going too far, here? Watching Disney movies and play-acting the characters – that’s just kids’ stuff, fun and games!

Not exactly. Last year, academics from Brigham Young University in Utah looked into this subject, interviewing and observing 198 boys and girls in preschool and kindergarten.

They found that the more the girls identified with “princess culture”, the more they exhibited patterns of behaviour that corresponded to female stereotypes suggesting that beauty, sweetness and obedience are women’s most valuable assets. The study empirically validates concerns that sociologists and feminists have been discussing for some time.

...families must talk with children about the meaning of what they see, ensuring that girls understand that princesses are just one kind of role model...
Recognising that female leadership is not well represented in most societies doesn’t mean kids shouldn’t be exposed to these cultural products. It’s fine for a girl to play at being a princess, as long as she can also kick around a soccer ball, build things with nuts and tools, play the drums and fancy becoming a scientist, engineer, astronaut or firefighter.

Likewise, there’s no reason why a boy dressed as his favourite superhero shouldn’t pretend to take care of babies, cook dinner or vacuum the house.

Still, families must talk with children about the meaning of what they see, ensuring that girls understand that princesses are just one kind of role model – there’s also the powerful Wonder Woman, smart Velma from Scooby-Doo and Peppa Pig (dubbed a “weird feminist” by one conservative blogger).

And, last but not least, adults must ensure that we do not reinforce negative gender messaging in our daily lives by making girls feel that they are most valuable when they look like pretty princesses.

 This article was originally published on The Conversation.