Gender stereotypes are prejudicial understandings of what the roles and values of the genders are supposed to be. Being inaccurate and often pejorative, these stereotypes lead to negative consequences on a societal and personal level. Like race and sexual orientation, gender is not a factor that properly describes a person’s thoughts and feelings. It is important to understand these common, yet inaccurate, stereotypes regarding gender.
While most people realize that stereotypes are invalid, there are still many who continue to make assumptions and take actions based on gender. Navigating the world of stereotypes, prejudices and bigotry can be difficult at times. Therefore it may be beneficial to understand the ideas and perceptions that people may have about you or people that you care about. Some generalizations may appear to be positive, neutral or negative, but these generalizations are harmful regardless of speculative qualitative aspects.
Prejudices are rooted in historical and societal mindsets. Because of this, stereotypes often begin before birth and can be held by family, friends and strangers. Baby showers are perfect manifestations of this fact. For a girl, pink and other ‘girly’ colors can be chosen while the child is still in utero. Dolls, flowers, ribbons and other stereotypical material goods fill toy boxes before a newborn girl fills her crib.
As a young child, girls are often placed into housekeeping roles where beauty, homemaking and childbearing are impressed into her mind. Makeup, dresses, bows and other such beauty-focused manifestations train young girls to value their looks over education. Doll houses and play ovens train girls to take care of the home before they even enter school. Baby dolls decked out with diapers, bottles and crying sounds establish the demand for these children to put motherhood before anything else. Before a girl starts elementary schools, she is told that she needs to wear pink clothes, be beautiful, take care of the house and have children.
These stereotypes continue into her teenage years, young adulthood and even into her grown life. The list of prejudices is endless, but we have listed a few of the more common and insidious ones here.
– Women should be beautiful and care about beauty, so they should work in fields like cosmetology, fashion, hairdressing and home decorating.
– Women are weak, so they should not work in manufacturing, construction, agriculture or labor.
– Women should be submissive, so they should not become politicians, community leaders, priests or organizers.
– Women should be caretakers, so they should be nurses, maids and babysitters.
– Women don’t need as much money as men, so they do not need an education or skills, but they should care for family members and cook dinner.
– Women are quiet, they should not speak up and argue, but they should do as they are told and listen politely.
– Women should raise children, so they have no need to get a career, develop hobbies or interests of their own.
– Women are clumsy, so they should not use tools, drive cars, renovate homes, or work with their hands.
In short, a woman is something to be cared for, in need of constant support, something to be seen but not heard and many other such prejudicial stereotypes. Each of these have been proven wrong, and there are countless women that young girls and adult women can look to as proof. It is important to people, men and women, understand that a woman is as capable as a man. In fact, many women are much more capable than other men. Examples of historical women are plentiful. Margaret Thatcher led the United Kingdom safely out of the Cold War. Marie Curie and countless other female scientists enhanced our understanding of the world. Amelia Earhart and numberless other female adventurers took risks and conquered, or were conquered by, the great tasks that they took upon their shoulders. Women are found around the world as CEOs, heads of state, philanthropists and people of great renown. Clearly ambition, intelligence and skill is not something that women inherently lack.
Like girls, male gender roles are long established by historical and societal demands. His color is blue, his toys are tough and his role is to be a boy. Boys will be boys, as the adage goes. Blue jeans, blue shirts, blue paint and even blue sharks will fill his room. Lego blocks, trucks, guns, dinosaurs, monsters and video games are his toys. Because he is expected to play outside in the mud and fight with the neighbor boys, he is expected to wear heavy duty clothes and not to cry. He is to work outside, to be a man and to live dangerously. If he shows interested in books, clothing or the softer side of life, then he is reprimanded and called a sissy, a girl, weird or gay.
At the same time, these boys are not trained how to cook or care for themselves. Instead, they are raised to hunt and kill animals. Numberless heart broken child come home after their first hunt. He is trained to hit other children who upset him. Speaking and thinking through problems is not a masculine trait. Boys are trained at a young age to work on their muscles, but certainly not to read or to train themselves to think critically. When they get a little older, they are judged by how many girls they date rather than how many academic awards they receive.
A life of stereotypes will follow a boy as he ages and becomes a man. But like is female counterpart, he is never rid of an endless list of societal standards. A list follows of common stereotpes.
– Men must be in charge,so they must be the boss, the doctor, the principal or the president.
– Men must be strong, so they work outside, with heavy equipment, as a solider or as a mechanic.
– Men can’t care for themselves, so they shouldn’t sew, cook, clean or do housework.
– Men shouldn’t be artistic, so painting, drawing, singing, dancing and pottery is unacceptable.
– Men must never show emotion, so a man shouldn’t cry, weep or smile, but he can be angry or rude.
Like women, men have to overcome such unreasonable demands on their character. Some men are heartfelt and emotional, and that is completely acceptable. It is not wrong for a boy to care for a hurt animal and it is not wrong for an adult man to care for a child. Yet because of people’s perceptions that men are predators, villains and untrustworthy, men around the world are barred from parks and schools. Throughout history, men have been artists, singers, caretakers and stay at home parents. Men and women are not walking lists of gender stereotypes. Rather, they are people unto themselves who should be treated as individuals. The world will only improve as each one of us improves our own actions and thoughts. Be the change that you seek.