Resources for families

If you’re new to Lifting Limits, we are a charity working to promote gender equality in education. We are passionate about gender equality – about girls and boys not being limited in their lives by what society expects of them according to their sex – and we wanted to do something about the ways in which gender stereotypes can limit children’s choices, aspirations, behaviour and even achievement, in education and society.

We normally work in UK primary schools, but because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent school closures, we’re offering free resources for any family to use. We’re a very small charity, and we’d appreciate a donation to help us keep challenging gender stereotypes in education and childhood. We’d also love to hear what parents think of our resources – please contact us with any feedback.

On this page you can find:

We recommend you read our Guide for Families before getting started on these activities, and have it to hand to come back to whenever you need to.

Stereotypes are assumptions about a group of people based on a shared characteristic – e.g. sex, gender, age, race, religion.

Gender stereotypes are often seen in assumptions about:

  • Personality traits (e.g. women are often expected to be emotional and men rational)
  • Behaviours (e.g. that girls will be helpful and boys boisterous)
  • Preferences (e.g. that girls will prefer creative activities or netball and boys Lego or football)
  • Occupations and jobs (e.g. that men are more suited to be builders, and women are more suited to be nurses)
  • Physical appearance (e.g. that girls have long hair, women wear make-up, men have short hair)

Gender stereotypes matter because they can limit children’s choices, behaviour, aspirations and achievements. They steer girls and boys in different directions – feeding different subject choices, different job options and even different health outcomes. This then has an effect on individuals and society. Gender stereotypes affect boys as much as girls.

We recommend you read our Guide for families before getting started on these activities, and have it to hand to come back to whenever you need to. It’s a two page pdf you can download and print out.

Books, TV, film, videos and video games

Stories offer vital opportunities for children to make sense of the world around them, and children will come across stories and storytelling all the time, in books, TV programmes, films, online videos and video games. 

Books

In books, there are often stereotypes of ‘good girls’ and ‘brave boys’, including male characters speaking twice as much as female characters; or most of the animal characters being male. 

A review of the top 100 picture books of 2018 by the Observer newspaper found that:

  • The lead character was twice as likely to be male
  • Only 2 books showed Black and Minority Ethnic girls in central roles
  • Male characters spoke nearly twice as much as female characters: when characters spoke in the story, 35% were female and 65% were male.
  • 73% of non-human creatures given a gender were male

In one school we worked with, they did an exercise of pulling out all the books in the class that had girls in them and then they took away the books where the girls didn’t have any lines and they were left with 3 books. 

“we pulled out all the books that had girls in the book and then we took out books that had girls without any lines, and then we ended up being left with three books.”

Teaching Assistant

This video shows a similar exercise with a home bookshelf, and was made by the creators of the book, “Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls”. It says it’s for girls and daughters, we think it’s for everyone!

When reading picture books

  • Ask children to consider what the pictures say about gender roles – for example where gender is not clearly specified in the story or text, do the pictures allocate or imply a sex and gender role?
  • What do pictures suggest about how female and male characters should look or behave? For example, are female animals marked out with a pink hair bow or exaggerated lips or eyelashes? 
  • Books that do show obvious gender stereotypes can be used as points for discussion to help children to learn about stereotyping, we are not suggesting that books with a gender bias should not be read!

TV and films

When watching TV, children learn a lot about society, values, who matters and what they can aspire to. In pre-school TV shows, often the males are the main character, with females in supporting roles. Popular TV shows ‘merchandise’ their characters, so you can buy your child pyjamas, T-shirts or toys based around their favourite character. However, female characters are often not included in the clothes and toys that are created, or are marketed separately only in pink. Paw Patrol, Octonauts, PJ Masks, and Blaze and the Monster Machines are all recent popular shows where this has happened. 

A 2019 study from the US, from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, found that:

  • Female characters in TV shows are seven times more likely than male characters to be shown in revealing clothing (8.9% compared to 1.2%).  
  • Even in children’s TV, female characters are shown in revealing clothing three times more often than male characters. 
  • Male characters are also considerably more likely than female characters to be shown as violent (34.3% compared to 18.6%), and twice as likely to be shown as criminal (20.3% compared to 13.7%) in children’s films.
  • In children’s films in 2018, male characters made up 67.2% of leads, compared to 32.8% female leads. 
  • But there has been a dramatic rise in the number of female leads/co-leads in children’s television shows – from 42% (in 2008) to 52% (in 2018). 

Gender Detective Activities

These activities encourage children to challenge gender stereotyping in their home environment: in books they read, TV they watch and language they hear. They will also help your child’s critical thinking skills, when they start to think about the stereotypical roles in which men and women, and girls and boys, are often shown.

The activities are aimed at 7-12 year olds but you’ll know your own child – younger children may enjoy them too, especially if they have older brothers and sisters to do them with. We suggest all the activities can be done as part of Literacy, English or PSHE.

We recommend you read our Guide for Families before getting started on these activities, and have it to hand to come back to whenever you need to. If you don’t have enough books at home for activities 1, 2 and 3, you can do them with children’s TV shows, films or well-known fairy stories instead. 

Please do send in photos of your children’s Gender Detective activities to Lifting Limits Facebook page.

Gender Detective image linking to activity 1, book detective, villains. © Lifting Limits 2020

Book detective – villains
Aim: To investigate gender stereotyping in fiction (If you don’t have enough books at home you can do this activity with children’s TV shows, films or well-known fairy stories instead)

Suggested time: about 45 minutes

Download Activity 1

Gender Detective image linking to activity 2, book detective, lead characters. © Lifting Limits 2020

Book detective – lead characters
Aim: To investigate gender stereotyping in fiction (If you don’t have enough books at home you can do this activity with children’s TV shows, films or well-known fairy stories instead)

Suggested time: about 45 minutes

Download Activity 2

Book detective – lead charactersfollow on activity from Activity 2
Aim: To investigate gender stereotyping in fiction (If you don’t have enough books at home you can do this activity with children’s TV shows, films or well-known fairy stories instead)

Suggested time: about 20 minutes

Download Activity 3

Book detective – non-fiction
Aim: To investigate gender stereotyping in non-fiction books – if you have a range available at home

Suggested time: 30-45 minutes (dependent on number of books you have available)

Download Activity 4

Language detective (this could be combined with activity 6, Environment detective)
Aim: To investigate the use of sexist or gendered language (language that makes assumptions about men or women, or boys and girls)

Suggested time: 10 minutes at the start to introduce the activity and talk about gendered language. The activity itself can then be done over the course of a week.

Download Activity 5

Environment detective (this could be combined with activity 5, Language detective)
Aim: To investigate the extent to which gender stereotypes appear in children’s immediate environment

Suggested time: 10 minutes at the start to introduce the activity. The activity itself can then be done over the course of a week.

Download Activity 6

TV detective (this could be combined with activity 8, TV adverts detective)
Aim: To investigate the use of sexist or gendered language in TV programmes and how characters might be shown using gender stereotypes 

Suggested time: 10 minutes at the start to introduce the activity and talk about gendered language and gender stereotypes. The activity itself can then be done over a week.

Additional notes for parents: this activity is for TV shows that are specifically made for children aged 2-12, whether on channels like CBBC, Disney, Cartoon Network, Nick Jr, CBeebies, or on streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hopster, but it can also work for TV shows and YouTube videos that older children might be watching. You’ll know your child and what they like or are allowed to watch! 

Download Activity 7

TV detective – adverts (this could be combined with activity 7, TV detective)
Aim: To investigate the use of sexist or gendered language in adverts and the extent to which gender stereotypes appear in TV adverts

Suggested time: 10 minutes at the start to introduce the activity and talk about gendered language and gender stereotypes. The activity itself can then be done over a week.

Additional notes for parents: this activity can be done at the same time as the TV detectives activity, but it’s also worth doing just with adverts. We know that children see fewer TV ads than they used to, with most children watching video on demand and streaming catch up TV. But children will see adverts on YouTube, there are adverts for toys and healthy food on the commercial children’s TV channels in the UK, and there are adverts on other channels around family entertainment (e.g. if watching TV as a family on Saturday nights)

Did you know that since June 2019, harmful gender stereotypes in adverts have been bannedAdvertisements “must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence.”

Did you also know, that since 2017, advertising of food and drink that is high in fat, salt and sugar has been banned in children’s media? 

Download Activity 8

Book lists

3 book covers, linking to a book list

Books for children aged 2-5

3 book covers, linking to a book list

Books for children aged 5-7

3 book covers, linking to a book list

Books for children aged 7-11

3 book covers

Books for parents and carers

We also suggest you look at these websites for other suggestions of books that challenge gender stereotypes:

Letterbox Library, This is Book Love and Little Box of Books specialise in children’s books that champion diversity and inclusion: when buying books, it’s often worth seeking out great independent bookshops to support, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Videos to watch with your child

Body image

Dove Campaign for Real Beauty: a 1 minute clip from Dove that illustrates how even after her make-up and hair are done, a model’s image is Photoshopped before being used in an ad… 

Body Evolution – Model Before and After Photoshop: a clip that shows how even after her make-up and hair are done, a model’s whole body is Photoshopped before being used in an ad… 

Always #LikeAGirl: reclaim ‘like a girl’ to be empowering, not an insult

Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake trailer: men can do ballet too

How girls and boys are treated differently

Gender pay gap explained in sweets: ‘She was just as good as me so we should get the same reward’ – 2 minute clip explaining the gender pay gap using sweets… The Norwegian trade union Finansforbundet’s campaign shows children being asked to fill two vases with blue and pink balls.

Do adults stereotype girl and boy babies?
Girl and boy babies swapped clothes and names – what toys did adults then give them?
The clip is from the BBC 2 documentary ‘No More Boys and Girls: Can Our Kids Go Gender Free?’ and you can watch the full episode online. If you go to 37 mins 34 secs and watch till 41 mins 28 secs the presenter explains the boy / girl clothes swapping clip really well in voice over, with less editing and more explanation from the participants.

Boys and girls: clothes and expectations
Also from the BBC programme ‘No More Boys and Girls’, this clip shows how different the slogans are on t-shirts for girls and boys. What does this tell children about what it means to be a boy or a girl?

Aspirations

Redraw the Balance
This video captures how, early on in their education, children already define career opportunities as male and female…

No More Female Professionals
This video asks whether the language we all use when talking about jobs, contributes to the problem of unconscious gender bias which then limits children’s aspirations and opportunities

Videos for parents and carers

Men and emotion: in this powerful video, Tony Porter makes a call to men everywhere: don’t ‘act like a man’ (11 mins)

We Should All be Feminists: author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie asks that we plan for a fairer world (29 mins)

Other organisations

As well as some of the organisations above that recommend books that challenge gender stereotypes, these organisations also offer good resources for parents:


Let Toys Be Toys
A social media campaign founded in 2012, challenging gender stereotypes in childhood, especially in toy marketing, education and the media. Their Toymark list of recommended retailers in the UK is a good resource for books and toys.


Let Clothes Be Clothes
A campaign founded in 2014, calling for an end to the harmful gender stereotypes used in the design and marketing of children’s clothes in the UK.


Sonshine Magazine
An online magazine from a British mum, published quarterly, about raising boys for a more equal world.


Think or Blue
A blog from an American mom about parenting without stereotypes, and raising kids to be confident, kind, and proud to be themselves.


Outspoken Sex Ed
Outspoken Sex Ed supports parents in talking about sex and relationships with their children – their resources include tips for challenging gender stereotypes with children.