Gender Stereotyping - Tomboys & Sissies...Do we need to get rid of the labels?


Hi everyone,

Just in time for our new email series, I have the pleasure of introducing you to a dear friend and mentor of mine...the very wise and knowledgable, Dr Cate Bearsley-Smith. Dr Cate is a highly regarded family and child psychologist practicing in Gippsland, and is renowned for helping families with the latest research and evidence based approaches in psychology. Cate is generously sharing her expert advice on each of our new email series, beginning today with Gender Stereotyping and how it subliminally affects the way we parent.


Growing up, my passion was playing sports, not just one or two, but any sport I was introduced to. I also climbed trees, kicked the footy with my dad, played with matchbox cars and was extremely messy. Quickly labelled a "Tomboy", I didn't mind, as my brother on the other hand was wearing my dresses, role playing "She-ra, Princess of Power" and many other feminine leads. You can imagine the labels thrown his way. 

This was our nature from birth, nobody taught him to idolise Mary Poppins, or me to feel excited by competition, it was what we were drawn to, what lit us up inside. Unfortunately for my brother, this wasn't acceptable as "normal" boy's behaviour. I was praised for being 'strong', he was ridiculed for not being a 'real boy'.


It's not an issue of the past either, my own son has suffered from this kind of stereotyping too. As a "boy's boy", the incessant taunts from others of "cheer is for girls" led him to quit a sport he excelled in. Rather than stand his ground, he's taken up AFL, a sport he's never enjoyed watching let alone playing. Ironically, at the same time he's joined the football league, girl's footy has surged massively in popularity and finally gained it's much deserved approval from the community. 

The three boys pictured above each had varying experiences with stereotyping. Charlie hasn't noticed anything worth putting him off the sport he loves, Rory has struggled with bullying for years, however has decided to stick at cheer and inspire other boys to do the same. Will has moved on, tackling AFL and the approval of the masses. What's the tipping point? When did girls stop being labelled 'dykes' for playing AFL? Will my son ever return to cheer without being ridiculed or called 'gay'? 

My questions for Dr Cate today are:

  1. What's the big deal with gender stereotyping anyway? Is it a negative thing? Isn't sterotyping inevitable?
  2. Why is it more socially acceptable for girls to behave or participate in activities that are traditionally perceived as more masculine?
  3. What are the fears parents face around getting rid of gender stereotyping?

Here you can read Dr Cate's insightful responses 

Thank you so much Cate! Your wisdom is always invaluable and we are so truly grateful for your time! I'm hopeful we can move towards a culture where the individual child and their interests are put before our fears and prejudices around what "should" be acceptable or possible.

Finally, please sit down with a cuppa and watch this very cool 2 minute clip demonstrating how early on in life our gender stereotypes come into play. I found it shocking to think our little girls may not see as broad a future for themselves as our sons!

Shane Isheev