Apple Tree farm books were a firm favourite with our kids. Most of them I could recite by heart. “This is Apple Tree farm. This is Mrs Boot, the farmer. She has two children called Poppy and Sam and a dog called Rusty.” That’s the first page of all of them. Our kids don’t think of farmers as only men partly because of these books.
However, this is not overly common.
My daughter came home with a book with images and word phrases to connect. ‘Going on holiday’ was connected to an image of a family in beach wear boarding a plane.
My son took out a ‘how things work’ type of library book. One of the sections is about leadership and all of the images are male. Another section is about scientists which is mostly male too. However, the kitchen section has mostly women except for the person fixing the lights who is male.
Stereotypes are all around us. Bias is all around us. And while when we count the number of people who are CEOs, scientists the results will likely be over 50% men. When we ask people what image comes to mind when we say holiday, many will think of the beach and planes. However, only using the stereotypes reinforces them, but also makes us believe they are the truth.
If holidays involve going on a plane, then what does that communicate to families who can’t afford a plane trip? Or if it is always the beach, what if you don’t like the beach? If leaders are men, what does mean for my daughter? If leaders are white men, what does that mean for our mixed race and non-white friends?
Data is a reflection of the world we live in. It gives us the facts. However, when the world is biased and unequal, the data reflects that. It doesn’t tell us who was left out, it just tells us the numbers who were counted. Data doesn’t come with the why. It’s our job to ask the questions and determine the story to tell.
Mrs. Boot is a farmer. Seth does the baking and cooking. Alison is a CEO. Ryan and Tim are married. Faith is a scientist. Tom and Jerry are parents of 3 children. Holidays can involve snow or hiking and you don’t need to get on a plane for them. Dancers can be male.
Challenging our stereotypes do not threaten the majority, it simply creates possibility for those who didn’t think it was ok. The words and images we use, shape how we think. This is true in our lives and in the work we do.