Unpacking Gender: Fairfax County Explores Gender Roles and Stereotypes

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The County Conversation - Unpacking Gender


Fairfax County’s “Unpacking Gender: How to Talk to Kids and Teens” initiative aims to explore gender roles, norms and stereotypes, and how they connect to issues like sexual violence.

Heather Potter, counselor with the county’s Domestic and Sexual Violence Services Anger and Domestic Abuse Prevention and Treatment program, was a recent guest on the “County Conversation” podcast to talk about unpacking gender.

According to Potter, the goal is “to do prevention work to prevent domestic and sexual violence and teen dating violence.”


Potter explains that the unpacking gender program wants to help the LGBTQ+ community understand the connection between strict gender roles and identity issues. 

“Because many of the people that experience these types of violence at a higher rate are part of the LGBTQ+ community, we decided we would start unpacking gender with the community so they could understand the connection between the two,” she says.

The program makes a distinction between biological sex assigned at birth and gender, which Potter describes as “a social construct, so it’s something that we create, and it changes.” She gives examples of how gender expression norms have evolved over time.
Workshops bring together parents, grandparents and other community members to explore the messages we are taught about gender and how they can affect our relationships with ourselves, loved ones, and community. Issues covered include:

  • Definitions related to gender identity.
  • Gender roles and stereotypes taught to boys vs girls.
  • Gender-specific toys and activities.
  • Pressures and expectations put on boys to conform to stereotypical male gender norms.

Unpacking gender also looks at the impact gender roles and stereotypes have on everyone and how this knowledge can help us prevent violence. 


"What does it mean to be a 'real boy' or a 'real girl'? What are we taught in our culture? I think it's actually more accurate instead of saying male or female to talk about masculinity or femininity, which, of course, are defined by culture again." - Heather Potter


Potter advises parents to avoid putting kids in a box and give them space to explore interests regardless of gender. “Support children's interests regardless of if they fit their gender identity,” she suggests.

The workshops tie into the county’s efforts to prevent teen dating violence and educate youth. Potter shares alarming statistics, including that LGBTQ+ youth “are twice as likely as heterosexual peers to experience violence from a dating partner.”

The final “Unpacking Gender” workshop of 2023 will be held Tuesday, Dec. 5, from 7-8:30 p.m. at the Herndon Fortnightly Library, 768 Center Street, Herndon. The event is free. Learn more and register.

If you’d like more information on the unpacking gender initiative, connect with DSVS at 703-324-5730, or visit Domestic and Sexual Violence Services online to access resources and stay informed about upcoming workshops and events.



The “County Conversation” is a podcast featuring employees and subject matter experts from the Fairfax County Government discussing programs, services and items of interest to residents of Fairfax County. Click here to listen to past episodes of "County Conversation.” To find other county podcasts, visit www.fairfaxcounty.gov/podcasts

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