What Are Gender Stereotypes?

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Gender stereotypes are preconceived, usually generalized views about how members of a certain gender do or should behave, or which traits they do or should have. They are meant to reinforce gender norms, typically in a binary way (masculine vs. feminine).

Gender stereotypes have far-reaching effects on all genders.

Read on to learn about how gender stereotypes develop, the effects of gender stereotypes, and how harmful gender stereotypes can be changed.

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Meaning of Gender Stereotypes

Gender stereotypes are ideas about how members of a certain gender do or should be or behave. They reflect ingrained biases based on the social norms of that society. Typically, they are considered as binary (male/female and feminine/masculine).

By nature, gender stereotypes are oversimplified and generalized. They are not accurate and often persist even when there is demonstrable evidence that contradict them. They also tend to ignore the fluidity of gender and nonbinary gender identities.

Classification of Gender Stereotypes

Gender stereotypes have two components, which are:

  • Descriptive: Beliefs about how people of a certain gender do act, and their attributes
  • Prescriptive: Beliefs about how people of a specific gender should act and attributes they should have

Gender stereotypes can be positive or negative. This doesn’t mean good or bad—even stereotypes that seem “flattering” can have harmful consequences.

  • Positive gender stereotypes: Describe behaviors or attributes that align with accepted stereotypical ideas for that gender, and that people of that gender are encouraged to display (for example, girls should play with dolls and boys should play with trucks)
  • Negative gender stereotypes: Describe behaviors or attributes that are stereotypically undesirable for that gender and that people from that gender are discouraged from displaying (such as women shouldn’t be assertive, or men shouldn’t cry)

The attribute is undesirable for all genders but more accepted in a particular gender than others. For example, arrogance and aggression are unpleasant in all genders but are tolerated more in men and boys than in women, girls, or nonbinary people.

Gender stereotypes tend to be divided into these two generalized themes:

  • Communion: This stereotype orients people to others. It includes traits such as compassionate, nurturing, warm, and expressive, which are stereotypically associated with girls/women/femininity.
  • Agency: This stereotype orients people to the self and is motivated by goal attainment. It includes traits such as competitiveness, ambition, and assertiveness, which are stereotypically associated with boys/men/masculinity.

Basic types of gender stereotypes include:

  • Personality traits: Such as expecting women to be nurturing and men to be ambitious
  • Domestic behaviors: Such as expecting women to be responsible for cooking, cleaning, and childcare, while expecting men to do home repairs, pay bills, and fix the car
  • Occupations: Associates some occupations such as childcare providers and nurses with women and pilots and engineers with men
  • Physical appearance: Associates separate characteristics for women and men, such as women should shave their legs or men shouldn’t wear dresses

Gender stereotypes don’t exist in a vacuum. They can intersect with stereotypes and prejudices surrounding a person’s other identities and be disproportionately harmful to different people. For example, a Black woman experiences sexism and racism, and also experiences unique prejudice from the intersectionality of sexism and racism that a White woman or Black man would not.

Words to Know

  • Gender: Gender is a complex system involving roles, identities, expressions, and qualities that have been given meaning by a society. Gender is a social construct separate from sex assigned at birth.
  • Gender norms: Gender norms are what a society expects from certain genders.
  • Gender roles: These are behaviors, actions, social roles, and responsibilities a society views as appropriate or inappropriate for certain genders.
  • Gender stereotyping: This ascribes the stereotypes of a gender group to an individual from that group.
  • Self-stereotyping vs. group stereotyping: This is how a person views themselves compared to how they view the gender group they belong to (for example, a woman may hold the belief that women are better caregivers than men, but not see herself as adept in a caregiving role).

How Gender Stereotypes Develop

We all have unconscious biases (assumptions our subconscious makes about people based on groups that person belongs to and our ingrained associations with those groups). Often, we aren’t even aware we have them or how they influence our behavior.

Gender stereotyping comes from unconscious biases we have about gender groups.

We aren’t preprogrammed at birth with these biases and stereotypes. Instead, they are learned through repeated and ongoing messages we receive.

Gender roles, norms, and expectations are learned by watching others in our society, including our families, our teachers and classmates, and the media. These roles and the stereotypes attached to them are reinforced through interactions starting from birth. Consciously or not, adults and often other children will reward behavior or attributes that are in line with expectations for a child’s gender, and discourage behavior and attributes that are not.

Some ways gender stereotypes are learned and reinforced in childhood include:

  • How adults dress children
  • Toys and play activities offered to children
  • Children observing genders in different roles (for example, a child may see that all of the teachers at their daycare are female)
  • Praise and criticism children receive for behaviors
  • Encouragement to gravitate toward certain subjects in school (such as math for boys and language arts for girls)
  • Anything that models and rewards accepted gender norms

Children begin to internalize these stereotypes quite early. Research has shown that as early as elementary school, children reflect similar prescriptive gender stereotypes as adults, especially about physical appearance and behavior.

While all genders face expectations to align with the stereotypes of their gender groups, boys and men tend to face harsher criticism for behavior and attributes that are counterstereotypical than do girls and women. For example, a boy who plays with a doll and wears a princess dress is more likely to be met with a negative reaction than a girl who wears overalls and plays with trucks.

The Hegemonic Myth

The hegemonic myth is the false perception that men are the dominant gender (strong and independent) while women are weaker and need to be protected.

Gender stereotypes propagate this myth.

Effects of Gender Stereotypes

Gender stereotypes negatively impact all genders in a number of ways.

Nonbinary Genders

For people who are transgender/gender nonconforming (TGNC), gender stereotypes can lead to:

  • Feelings of confusion and discomfort
  • A low view of self-worth and self-respect
  • Transphobia (negative feelings, actions, and attitudes toward transgender people or the idea of being transgender, which can be internalized)
  • Negative impacts on mental health
  • Struggles at school

In School

Unconscious bias plays a part in reinforcing gender stereotypes in the classroom. For example:

  • Educators may be more likely to praise girls for being well-behaved, while praising boys for their ideas and comprehension.
  • Boys are more likely to be viewed as being highly intelligent, which influences choices. One study found girls as young as 6 avoiding activities that were labeled as being for children who are “really, really smart.”
  • Intentional or unintentional steering of children toward certain subjects influences education and future employment.

In the Workforce

While women are in the workforce in large numbers, gender stereotypes are still at play, such as:

  • Certain occupations are stereotypically gendered (such as nursing and teaching for women and construction and engineering for men).
  • Occupations with more female workers are often lower paid and have fewer opportunities for promotion than ones oriented towards men.
  • More women are entering male-dominated occupations, but gender segregation often persists within these spaces with the creation of female-dominated subsets (for example, pediatrics and gynecology in medicine, or human resources and public relations in management).
  • Because men face harsher criticism for displaying stereotypically feminine characteristics than women do for displaying stereotypically male characteristics, they may be discouraged from entering female-dominated professions such as early childhood education.

At Home

Despite both men and women being in the workforce, women continue to be expected to (and do) perform a disproportionate amount of housework and taking care of children than do men.

Gender-Based Violence

Gender stereotypes can contribute to gender-based violence.

  • Men who hold more traditional gender role beliefs are more likely to commit violent acts.
  • Men who feel stressed about their ability to meet male gender norms are more likely to commit inter-partner violence.
  • Trans people are more likely than their cisgender counterparts to experience discrimination and harassment, and they are twice as likely to engage in suicidal thoughts and actions than cisgender members of the Queer community.


Stereotypes and different ways of socializing genders can affect health in the following ways:


Globally, over 575 million girls live in countries where inequitable gender norms contribute to a violation of their rights in areas such as:

How to Combat Gender Stereotypes

Some ways to combat gender stereotypes include:

  • Examine and confront your own gender biases and how they influence your behavior, including the decisions you make for your children.
  • Foster more involvement from men in childcare, both professionally and personally.
  • Promote and support counterstereotypical hirings (such as science and technology job fairs aimed at women and campaigns to gain interest in becoming elementary educators for men).
  • Confront and address bias in the classroom, including education for teachers on how to minimize gender stereotypes.
  • Learn about each child individually, including their preferences.
  • Allow children to use their chosen name and pronouns.
  • Avoid using gender as a way to group children.
  • Be mindful of language (for example, when addressing a group, use “children” instead of “boys and girls” and “families” instead of “moms and dads,”).
  • Include books, toys, and other media in the classroom and at home that represent diversity in gender and gender roles.
  • View toys as gender neutral, and avoid ones that promote stereotypes (for example, a toy that has a pink version aimed at girls).
  • Ensure all children play with toys and games that develop a full set of social and cognitive skills.
  • Promote gender neutrality in sports.
  • Be mindful of advertising and the messaging marketing sends to children.
  • Talk to children about gender, including countering binary thinking and gender stereotypes you come across.
  • Take a look at the media your child engages with. Provide media that show all genders in a diversity of roles, different family structures, etc. Discuss any gender stereotyping you see.
  • Tell children that it is OK to be themselves, whether that aligns with traditional gender norms or not (for example, it’s OK if a woman wants to be a stay-at-home parent, but it’s not OK to expect her to).
  • Give children equal household chores regardless of gender.
  • Teach all children how to productively handle their frustration and anger.
  • Encourage children to step out of their comfort zone to meet new people and try activities they aren’t automatically drawn to.
  • Put gender-neutral bathrooms in schools, workplaces, and businesses.
  • Avoid assumptions about a person’s gender, including children.
  • Take children to meet people who occupy counterstereotypical roles, such as a female firefighter.
  • Speak up and challenge someone who is making sexist jokes or comments.

Movies That Challenge Gender Stereotypes

Not sure where to start? Common Sense Media has compiled a list of movies that defy gender stereotypes.


Gender stereotypes are generalized, preconceived, and usually binary ideas about behaviors and traits specific genders should or should not display. They are based on gender norms and gender roles, and stem from unconscious bias.

Gender stereotypes begin to develop very early in life through socialization. They are formed and strengthened through observations, experiences, and interactions with others.

Gender stereotypes can be harmful to all genders and should be challenged. The best way to start combating gender stereotypes is to examine and confront your own biases and how they affect your behavior.

A Word From Verywell

We all have gender biases, whether we realize it or not. That doesn’t mean we should let gender stereotypes go unchecked. If you see harmful gender stereotyping, point it out.

15 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Heather Jones
Heather M. Jones is a freelance writer with a strong focus on health, parenting, disability, and feminism.