We have worked with thousands of parents and educators over the years, and while people come to our programs with the specific intention of learning how to talk about and address gender and racial inequity, these conversations can still feel daunting. We get it. There are years and years of biased conversations, norms, and patterns to be dismantled.
It’s crucial, though, that we continue to lean into the uncomfortable and explore how we perpetuate the socialization of kids every day. Years of research, including our latest She Knows Her Power qualitative study with Kindergarten to 5th-grade girls, shows that girls across the U.S. see gender bias happening, and they are feeling angry and sad about what they experience. A recent quantitative study from Lego backs up these perceptions. This means it is on us, the influential adults in girls’ lives — parents, caregivers, educators, coaches, program staff — to learn how to center girls, create brave spaces for girls to thrive, and preserve the self-trust girls are born with.
The good news is that the beginning conversational steps around gender inequity are actually really simple. If you have been wondering how to start a conversation about gender equity, here is a question to open the conversation and two follow-up questions to help you gain a deeper understanding into a young person’s experience.
How To Start A Conversation About Gender Inequity
1. Ask about their experience
One of the simplest ways to center a young person is to focus on their experience: provide a space where you listen and truly make space for them to be heard. For example, ask, “Do you ever see people treated differently because of their gender?” Resist the urge to jump in and fill any silence, but if they respond with, “I don’t know,” you could gently encourage them to think beyond the immediate experiences of school or activities to what they are seeing with extended family or through media.
2. Talk about context
Once you have an experience as the anchor for conversation, gain context by asking, “When did this treatment happen?” Whether it’s an experience that happened directly in the young person’s world (e.g., at school or home) or something they saw in a news story or TV show, this question creates an opportunity to talk about how gender inequity can happen in many, many forms. For example, if you watch our She Knows Her Power video, you will hear girls share about experiences of gender inequity at school, such as teachers calling on boys first in the classroom or gym teachers only giving high fives to boys.
3. Discuss how they feel about it
At Girls Leadership our programming is grounded in social and emotional learning (SEL) — the process of developing personal and relational awareness, communication, and decision-making skills. The seemingly simple question, “How did it make you feel?” is an important one to help young people practice connecting to their feelings around these events. Listen to their responses and validate their feelings with a response such as, “You sound really angry” or “I’m so sorry that happened; that is disappointing.” Avoid undermining language like “Don’t be so upset” or “It sounds like you are making a big deal of this.” This is a great opportunity to connect our young people with the importance of anger or sadness, especially for girls who are often pressured to avoid challenging feelings. If we don’t allow ourselves to get upset, we will never have the fuel to take action and change things.
Sometimes the seemingly hardest things involve simple actions. We hope these ideas will help spark a conversation today.