A brightly coloured chicken amongst some greenery

Self-limiting Gender Stereotypes : Lessons From Swimming Chickens

‘Why do you think the chickens would like the water?’ the young mother asked 4-year-old miss.

Curiosity Got the Better of Me

My head turned as my husband and I stepped onto our local family friendly beach. I had to know the answer to this one. So, I tuned in … okay I eavesdropped.

Apparently Little Miss Molly had wanted to bring the chickens to the beach because it was hot, and she thought they’d like to cool off in the water.

Now there’s a thoughtful and entirely logical proposition. Except, we all know chickens can’t swim. A fact this mum was trying to explain without success.

‘Why wouldn’t chickens like the water?’ LMM demanded with her hands on her hips.

Mum’s response, ‘It’ just not something chickens can do. They don’t have webbed feet like ducks.’

‘I can swim, and I don’t have webbed feet!’ LMM shot back, her feathers clearly ruffled.



As we spread our beach towels out on the fine sable sand I found myself wondering, ‘Chickens can’t swim, can they?’ Later, when we were out in the water, I found myself examining my hands. Our fingers are slightly webbed, does that help us swim? But then I thought of David Attenborough, I’m pretty sure those wildebeest on their migration through the Serengeti swim – cloven hooves and all.

Is it True or is it a Stereotype?

When we got back to the car my curiosity was in overdrive. I wrote LMM’s quote in the tiny burgundy notebook I keep in my burgundy handbag and promised myself I’d find out whether chickens can or can’t swim.

That was seven months ago. Today, I decided to consult the best authority I know on such matters – Dr Google. Because in Google I trust.

The answer? Well the evidence is contradictory. A little like a political speech. Written opinion is divided between ‘the chicken will get waterlogged, sink, and drown’ and ‘they don’t like it but can do it.’ Video evidence shows chickens apparently swimming – some more convincingly than others. But seeing isn’t necessarily believing, videos can be edited.

What did I learn? My long-held belief chickens can’t swim may be untrue. It is at least questionable. I’ve been applying a stereotype to chickens.

As a woman who’s encouraging other women to rise above gender stereotypes it’s been a bit of a wake-up call.

Stereotypes Are Pervasive

We apply them to others and to ourselves without realising.

Goodness know what other doubtful beliefs I hold? How may people have I categorised people as non-swimming chickens when they may be able to and like to swim? Have I held myself back because I believe I can’t do something or I won’t like it if I try?

I’m glad I let my curiosity get the better of me because now my mind is open to new evidence whereas before it was closed. I’ve also been reminded to question more and assume less.

I’ve pledged to stay curious. To challenge my assumptions with this question, ‘Is that true?’

I hope you’ll join me.

PS If anyone has solid evidence to settle the chicken question for me I’d love to hear.

Love Jacqui

Be Successful, Be Yourself

My purpose is to help create female role models who demonstrate it’s possible to be both successful and to be yourself

A kind looking Jacqui Alder is sitting a timber bench in a cafe with her journal open. She is wearing a burgundy shirt with a cream jacket. The potplant next to her is reflected in the glass walls which have taken a pink hue from the brickwork of the building outsideThese articles are one aspect of that purpose. I have also written a self-coaching journal which has successfully guided many women to define success in their own terms whilst being true to their values. If you would like to take the next step you can find out more about the journal, download my guided values exercise, or contact me.

About the Author

Jacqui Alder is an internationally experienced human resources executive, consultant, and coach, with over 30 years’ experience in global businesses. She has worked in Australia, Europe, and Asia across multiple industry sectors.

She is founder at Clarity Simplicity Success for Women, and author of a self-coaching journal for women of the same name. The purpose of this business is to empower women to define their own meaning of success with their values at its heart.

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