“A gender role is a set of societal norms dictating what types of behaviours are generally considered acceptable, appropriate, or desirable for a person based on their actual or perceived sex.”
Even if we don’t realize it, we constantly see gender roles at play every day.
The man who is expected to pay for a meal, the girl dubbed the ‘tomboy’ because she plays soccer at recess, the boy reprimanded for crying, the female doctor assumed to be the nurse… you get where I am going here. The examples are endless.
This whole ‘gender role’ phenomenon begins at birth. People buy their children onesies that says “Future Man of Steel” for their son and “I only date heroes” for their daughter. Or “smart like dad” and “pretty like mom”. Thinly veiled, yet so engrained in society that people hardly notice the expectations we are setting up for these infantile humans. We tell men they are in charge, and expect them never to waiver or become weary. We tell women they are here to support men, and deviations from this are frowned upon.
While yes, this is ‘just one incident’ and you ‘don’t see the world that way’, the impact of these attitudes have consequences that run deep. For the woman on the subway, gender roles dictate that she must cross her legs and squish against the window while the dude beside her can rock a ‘manspread’ pose, which is very annoying. But all gender roles, regardless of how little or how much they affect our daily lives, are harmful. ‘Manspreading’ may just be annoying in and of itself when in a public area, but the notion that men deserve to take up more physical space in society is very harmful.
That seems to be the forgotten point when discussing gender roles. They aren’t just annoying; they are detrimental and debilitating.
Role #1 - Women should not challenge male authority.
This gender role seems to be more prevalent in low-income communities or in developing countries, but it is more pervasive that many believe, and a societal norm that did not disappear at the hand second wave feminism. This gender role has many negative ramifications. The suggestion that women shouldn’t challenge male authority leads to female perspectives going unheard on issues that affect them. This can range from family discussions on managing finances, to town hall meetings debating community by-laws. When women are told their opinions are inferior or irrelevant, half the community is silenced.
Role #2 - Men are invincible and should be fearless
Growing up, boys are taught that the mark of a real man is to be strong, confident and fearless. To prove just how tough they are, men must demonstrate this fearlessness in their daily activities. From climbing trees and doing backflips as children to driving recklessly and binge drinking as adults, this gender role compels men to push the boundaries. This daredevil attitude can result in men hurting themselves or others.
Role #3 - Women should not dress, speak or behave in a way that attracts sexual attention from men.
This one may seem counter intuitive, as half naked women dominate pop culture. The difference here is that women are in charge of their bodies when they dress or speak in their daily lives, but not when they are hired to sell a product. Women’s bodies are sexualized by society everyday, but when a women chooses to dress or act in a way that makes her feel sexy, she is condemned for it. This is why social media criticizes ‘selfies’ but not product placements. This gender role results in women being blamed when they are assaulted, be it because of their choice of clothes or their flirting behaviour.
Role #4 - Gender identity and sex must match
Having a societal norm that compels people to have a gender identity that matches their sex at birth has arguably the most detrimental consequences. This leads to a dramatically heightened risk of violence for people whose gender identity differs from their biological sex. Transgender people are being murdered at an historic rate, with over 21 people killed in 2015. (Guardian, Nov 2015) Nearly 80% of transgender people reported experiencing harassment at school when they were young. As adults, many report being physically assaulted at retail stores, bus stops and restaurants. (Time, Aug 2015)