You are your looks: that’s what society tells girls. No wonder they’re depressed

Children as young as seven believe that they are valued more for their appearance than for their character. It’s time to break down these stereotypes

A study published by Girlguiding this week has revealed that half of girls feel stifled by gender stereotyping, with children as young as seven believing they are valued more for their appearance than for their achievements or character. It is not, I believe, a coincidence that in the same week a government-funded study has shown a quarter of girls exhibit symptoms of depression by the age of 14.

Neurobiologists now know there is no discernible difference between male and female brains at the point of birth. By the time humans reach adolescence, there will usually be significant divergence. Traditionally, psychologists have tended to assume this is because men and women are naturally and inherently different. This has led to a widespread and largely unquestioned cultural belief that, left to their own devices, girls would instinctively gravitate towards dollies, pink things, sparkles and baking, eschewing “masculine” activities such as sport and science.

What this assumption fails to take into account is the phenomenon of “neuroplasticity”, combined with gender bias. Brain development is determined by what we do, and therefore if, unconsciously, adults steer children towards certain activities based on their gender, they influence how their minds grow on a physiological level. Thus gender bias becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy....more