Gender Identity : importance of an education free of stereotypes

Some adults mistakenly believe that girls and boys should be raised differently to ensure that they develop a gender identity that corresponds to their biological sex. In actual fact, gender identity and sexual orientation cannot be influenced by education because they are innate. That being said, the more we educate all children in the same way regardless of sex, the better they will be at expressing how they really feel.

The deep-seated feeling that one is a girl, a boy or neither is not directly related to such things as a person’s interest in certain types of games or clothing. We should therefore not conclude that a boy who takes an interest in a “girl’s activity” perceives himself as a girl or will become gay. In fact, exhibiting behaviours usually attributed to the opposite sex is quite common among children and has nothing to do with the gender they personally identify with. Worrying because a boy behaves in ways said to be “girly,” or vice versa, is proof that we, too, subscribe to these stereotypes!

Gender identity is often formed very early in life. During childhood and adolescence, young people tend to use gender stereotypes in their behaviours, attitudes and dress in order to consolidate their gender identity. These often unconscious behaviours are influenced by society’s expectations.

In short, encouraging children to act as they wish regardless of whether their behaviours are considered “female” or “male” enables them to acquire all the skills they need for their development. If they are allowed to take part only in activities generally associated with their sex, they will not have an opportunity to acquire these skills.

For more information and resources on the subject, consult the Sexual diversity and gender pluralism section.

Tips for supporting young people

Young people who do not match the stereotypes associated with their sex may feel different, sidelined and even excluded. They are often victims of discrimination, harassment and even physical violence, which is why it is critical to raise public awareness of the importance of accepting differences. For example, a young boy who would like to take dance classes could repress this passion, because it does not correspond to what society expects of him. And this in turn could lead to feelings of uncertainty, reduced self-esteem and bullying.

For these reasons, children must have access to role models in whom they can recognize themselves. This will enable them to be happy and to grow.

Providing young people with an upbringing free of stereotypes promotes diversity and thereby the value of equality between women and men.

Here are a few tips to help young people to express themselves freely:

  • Allow children to express their creativity and explore the activities that pique their curiosity. Parental support fosters high self-esteem and bolsters self-confidence.
  • Diversify activities so that children can cultivate all the skills they need to develop their full potential.
  • Encourage children to pick activities that are not typically associated with their sex. For example, at home you could ask your son to take charge of family responsibilities related to the care of his brothers and sisters, and have your daughter move boxes in the courtyard or garden.
  • Remind your children frequently that there are no activities reserved exclusively for girls or boys.
  • Consider your own values and ask yourself whether you subscribe to any stereotypes. Would you think that a boy who puts on nail polish is gay?
  • Always promote the value of equality between women and men to young people.
  • Be open-minded with respect to diversity. If you are aware of young people who have made discriminatory remarks or behaved in a discriminatory way toward people who are sexually or gender diverse, ask these young people to reflect on their conduct. Is it related to misunderstanding, to fear of the unknown? There are many resources available to them, such as:

Guide sur les mesures d’ouverture et de soutien envers les jeunes trans et les jeunes non binaires This hyperlink will open in a new window. (available in French only)

Measures for Openness to and Support for Trans and Non-Binary Students (PDF 1.93 Mb)

Sexes, genres et orientations sexuelles – comprendre la diversité (guide de l’INSPQ) (PDF 10.54 Mb) (available in French only)

Guide des pratiques d’ouverture à la diversité sexuelle et de genre en milieu collégial et universitaire  (PDF 5.62 Mb)(available in French only)

Vers des milieux inclusifs et sécuritaires pour la diversité sexuelle et de genre (PDF 340 Kb) (available in French only)

Last update: April 4, 2022

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