Teen violence, depression and suicide have a link to strict gender roles — and that ‘hurts everybody’
A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that raising children with rigid gender roles leads to higher instances of violence and depression and raises their risk of suicide.
MarketWatch.com reported Wednesday that around the world, boys are taught to act strong and independent and girls are told that their role is to be vulnerable and nurturing — and it makes them miserable.
“Researchers conducted interviews with 450 children as well as their parents or guardians in Bolivia, Belgium, Burkina Faso, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Scotland, South Africa, the U.S. and Vietnam,” said MarketWatch’s Kari Paul.
The study was led by Robert Blum — director of Johns Hopkins University’s Global Early Adolescent Study — and carried out in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO).
“The myth that girls are weak and boys are strong, that girls are vulnerable and boys are aggressive, was so globally pervasive we saw it play out over and over again in 15 countries and across five continents,” said Blum.
Boys are taught to be aggressors in relationships, said Blum, and these characteristics have largely solidified by the time children reach early adolescence. As a result, larger numbers or girls drop out of school, are wed at young ages or suffer from early pregnancy, sexual violence, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
However, the study — titled “It Begins at Ten: How Gender Expectations Shape Early Adolescence Around the World” — also found that boys suffer as well from the expectations placed on them. Male children are more likely to be the victims of violence and face higher risks if they don’t conform to traditionally masculine roles than girls who step outside their proscribed social role.
“Boys also sustain a lot of negative consequences — they are more likely to drink alcohol, engage in interpersonal violence, and smoke cigarettes,” Blum said. “It hurts everybody.”
“Girls get the message they should not be in leadership roles and boys get message they need to be more assertive and aggressive,” said Wake Forest University’s Deborah Best, who studies the psychology of gender stereotypes.
Best believes that children even as young as five are being taught to conform to outdated social norms and that this limits their expectations and potential in life overall. It has led to the gender pay gap and the prevalence worldwide of domestic violence, she said, and therefore equality education should begin at an early age.
“Adolescent health risks are shaped by behaviors rooted in gender roles that can be well established in kids by the time they are 10 or 11 years old,” she said. “Yet we see billions of dollars around the world invested in adolescent health programs that don’t kick in until they are 15 and by then it’s probably too late to make a big difference.”