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.

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.

If you’re a curious woman and would like an antidote for the effect of gender stereotypes, I invite you take a few minutes to watch.


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.

I write these articles for you and value your feedback. If you’d like to hear about a topic, have tried one the exercises, or used any of the resources please let me know your thoughts. You can contact me by posting a comment below, send me a message via the Facebook page, or e-mail me at

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