The results of the study found that gender norms and ideas about differences between men and women percolate among children at a very young age. 10-year-olds often had strongly defined ideas about boys, girls and non-conforming gender behavior, and what they had to say wasn't often charming hearing. Interestingly (and depressingly), the researchers often found a marked similarity between beliefs about gender, even across vastly different cultures and countries. They were most commonly reinforced, the researchers found, by parents and by other teens. When the children tried to challenge them, they experienced a lot of trouble.
"We were very surprised to see such universality of the myth that boys are strong, confident and leaders, while girls are weak and incompetent, who should be quiet and follow," lead author Robert Blum of Johns Hopkins University, told the press in a statement. The research itself notes, "Across all study sites, boys are encouraged to be tough, strong, and brave and to demonstrate heterosexual prowess. Girls are taught to be nice, polite, and submissive, and to accentuate their physical beauty while maintaining their modesty. Norms dictating appropriate dress codes for girls are common across all settings, reflecting beliefs about modesty for girls." From Kenya to Belgium, young women are being taught to be quiet and pretty, which has lasting consequences into adulthood.
The researchers identified several notable gender beliefs that cropped up across the world in young kids and their parents. One was the "hegemonic myth" about female vulnerability versus male strength, which disadvantages both men and women by limiting one gender and refusing to support the other. Another was the idea that girls in the early ages of puberty are 'victims' of male sexuality, while boys are predators, an idea that often leads to binary segregation throughout the teenage years, and to huge restrictions on girls' mobility and interactions with boys. Though they'd played together as children, the emergence of sexuality shifts the boundaries between girls and boys around the world, and this change benefits neither boys, nor girls, nor people of other genders.
There are big costs to challenging these ideas — particularly for boys. "Boys face more punitive social consequences [than girls] when they do challenge unequal gender norms," the researchers write. "For example, boys in Baltimore, Shanghai, and Ghent reported being teased by peers as [gay] when they challenged masculine expectations." While girls in some areas are more allowed to do "masculine" things like play sports, boys' masculine roles are seen as very inflexible and those who challenge them face violence and ostracization.