I am a member of the Barbie Global Advisory Council. I am compensated for my time and travel for consulting with the brand, but all opinions expressed are my own.
Over the past year, research done at NYU, the University of Illinois, and Princeton identified that starting at age five and by age six, young girls are less likely than boys to view their own gender as smart, and begin to lose confidence in their own competence. They begin to develop limiting self-beliefs and they stop believing their gender can do or be anything. The self-limiting beliefs these stereotypes create can snowball to affect a girl’s trajectory and future career choices. They may even discourage women to pursue prestigious careers, especially in fields that value brilliance. This is called the “Dream Gap.”
I first heard about the Dream Gap back in May at Barbie headquarters, and it hit me hard. My daughter just turned four, and right now, she is such a bright, shining light in our family. She loves imagining who she can become and her dream is to become a worker (a construction worker) and a veterinarian (we’re lucky Barbie makes a vet doll and a builder doll!). One day she wants to build her own veterinary clinic. To her, anything is possible, and I want her to always believe that she can be or do anything she wants. When I heard about the Dream Gap and what research has shown, I was terrified for her. I have friends with daughters between 5 and 7 and they’ve casually said things to me that have shown me that this gap is real in their daughter’s lives. I don’t want my daughter, or any other girl, to doubt her potential or to think that just because she’s a girl she can’t become who she wants to. Even if you don’t have a daughter, I’m sure you can relate to this feeling.
As a champion of girls and their limitless potential, Barbie just launched the Dream Gap Project, an ongoing global initiative that aims to give girls the resources and support they need to continue to believe that they can be anything. The goal is to level the playing field for girls globally and the project includes funding research, highlighting positive role models, and producing inspiring content and products.
If you don’t think this affects you, I promise it does. Even if you’re doing an awesome job raising your daughter (you very well could be!), you don’t have a daughter, or you’re not a parent, these cultural stereotypes are often perpetuated by the media and grown-ups who subtly reinforce them. You might be contributing to this gap without even knowing it.
So how can you help? The Dream Gap Project website lists seven fabulous ideas that are easy and that everyone can do:
1. Exposure to positive role models. Show girls positive female role models of all ages. By introducing them to stories and journeys of women from all walks of life, they begin to see more opportunities themselves. (The Inspiring Women and Shero dolls are a great way to implement this idea!)
2. Challenge gender stereotypes. Limit exposure to media that reinforces negative stereotypes. Instead, expose girls to content that challenges gender stereotypes. (Barbie’s YouTube channel always has great videos, and reading books about women challenging stereotypes to follow their dreams is a great way, too!)
3. Nurture social and emotional learning. Nurture their social and emotional learning through themes like overcoming challenges, collaborating with others, dealing with negative emotions, believing in yourself, etc. (One way you can do this at home is by role playing with Barbie dolls!)
4. Emphasize the importance of hard work. Studies suggest that everyone does better when hard work is believed to be the key to success. When kids believe they can get smarter through dedication and hard work, they put in extra time and effort, and that leads to higher achievement. (Tell stories of how people got where they are and point out to your child when they practice something and get better and how good that feels!)
5. Do confidence-building activities. Success, it turns out, correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence. (Find something your child is good at and do it with them!)
6. Stimulate their imaginations. Encourage discovery through open-ended, unstructured play that fosters divergent thinking and innovation. (Playing with Barbies is a great way to help stimulate a girl’s imagination!)
7. Support their dreams. Actively encourage the girls in your life to pursue their dreams. Show and tell girls they can do anything. (Even if it’s something unique or extra challenging, never tell her she can’t follow her dream!)
It’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of time, but together, we can work to #CloseTheDreamGap. I don’t ever want anyone to tell my daughter that she can’t do something because she’s a girl. More importantly, I don’t ever want her to tell herself that she can’t do something because she’s a girl. Girls are incredible, filled with light and beauty and creativity, and I hope that one day, there won’t even be a Dream Gap to worry about.
Together, we can help the next generation of girls transcend the Dream Gap. We can help them hold onto the belief that they have limitless potential, they can do and be anything, and that they can pursue any dream they want.