Gender Roles

October 8, 2011

Political Theory


A week or so ago we discussed the idea of gender roles in relation to Appiah’s writing “But Would That Still Be Me?”. If you’re having a hard time remembering which lecture just think back to when Professor showed us the pictures of him in a pink kayak and in a dress. Surely, that jogged your memories and we’re all on the same page now. This lecture got me thinking about how much society forces us to conform to gender roles or else risk persecution or judgement.

The problems I have with defined gender roles stuck with me so much that when I went to see one of my best friend’s at Eastern last Friday we started talking about gender roles. She is in a gender and sexuality class and had recently discussed gender roles in class, as well. Both of us have been avidly involved in performing arts throughout or lives and have seen how any problems gender roles can cause. Kayleigh couldn’t recall many guys being in her competitive dance classes throughout the years and both of us could remember the struggle of trying to get guys to audition for theater productions throughout high school.

One boy and seven girls make this a fairly typical dance class.

Why is this? We both knew plenty of talented guys, some of them were even triple threats (sing, dance, and act for all you non-theater people). So why didn’t they save us the trouble of forcing girls into male roles (which could actually be pretty fun) or literally begging guys to audition? The simple answer is because they didn’t want to be judged by their friends. You had a 90% chance of being told “You mean the gay?” when telling a guy at my high school that he should audition for a show. Gay and play rhyme, super clever, thanks guys. The number of guys they’ve had “come out” on Glee in its very short history certainly hasn’t helped our counterarguments, either.

A man trying to avoid being seen as “gay” by acting feminine, wearing pink, being in theater, etc. is ridiculous and annoying. But it’s not entirely a man’s fault either. The media constantly indicates that men need to be strong and masculine in order to help women. A woman is nothing without a man. Just look at the movies we watch as kids. Sleeping Beauty certainly didn’t wake herself up, and neither did Snow White. Good thing those handsome, tough princes were there to save them. Oh, and even better yet, good thing they were pretty so those helpful guys had a reason to save them. Pretty and helpless is definitely the only winning combination in a woman. Right? Of course not, but that is certainly the image that some media seems to prortray. A woman’s main source of power is her beauty and she would be lost without. This idea is as ridiculous as the idea that every guy in the performing arts is gay. So why in this day and age do we still stick to these barbaric ideas about gender roles?

Wow, these ladies teach little girls some great values!

I think it’s because we’re so afraid of being judged by others. It’s so hard for us to go against our traditional gender roles because we think that we won’t be accepted by others. Appiah even admits this is his writing. He thinks that his gender plays an integral part in who he is and that he would not be himself without it. Humans are terrified of being lost and alone, so if confining to a gender role that doesn’t suit your personality is what you have to do to fit in, of course you’re going to want to do so. We need to step away from these roles, though. It’s not fair to either sex. Everyone should be able to do whatever makes them happy, even if it means as a guy you like to go shopping or as a girl you like to watch football. Sticking to gender roles will only hurt both sexes in the end.

Not everyone is the "typical" man or woman.

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6 Comments on “Gender Roles”

  1. tchung22 Says:

    I agree that gender roles have a great impact on society – it causes males to act so differently than females. Our peers reinforce these roles and look down upon people who do not follow them. For instance, in my high school, male members of the glee club or the cheerleading team would be laughed at and referred to as gay. I also agree that the media reinforces these roles through movies portraying males as masculine and females as helpless, including Snow White. However, I believe that parents reinforce and create these gender roles more than any other group of people. From a young age, fathers teach their sons how to catch a baseball or throw the perfect spiral, just as their parents taught them. Mothers focus on teaching daughters how to cook or apply makeup. This cycle continues generation after generation, causing gender roles to remain ingrained in society.
    Once these children enter school and meet their peers, the genders roles they have learned from parents and the media are continually reinforced. Guys are expected to be good at sports while girls are expected to love shopping. Males and females that restrain from following these roles are continually laughed at until they conform.
    One thought that came to my mind is what steps should be taken to eliminate gender roles, and should they actually be completely eliminated? When a couple has a child, the woman is expected to take work off and raise the baby, while the male is generally expected to be the breadwinner. Should these roles be completely eliminated? If they were, would they just lead to more disagreements on who should raise the child and who should work? In the 20th century, many gender roles have been eliminated from society. For instance, it was previously unheard of for women to have careers of their own, instead they were only expected to be caretakers of the household. Now, it is just as common for women to have careers as it is for men. Clearly, gender roles seem to be less important as in the past, but there is still progress to be made.
    I am not surprised that Appiah claims that he would likely have a different identity if he were born the other gender. Society places such an emphasis on gender roles from a very young age, so I too agree that I would be a different person. If born a different gender, I would either conform to the roles of that gender or risk being judged and castigated by my peers.
    How far do you think people should go in eliminating or reducing gender roles? I previously read an article this past summer of a school in Sweden trying to break these gender stereotypes by eliminating the use of “him” or “her” pronouns and creating a mutual word to refer to both males and females. Will this make a difference in preventing gender roles, and is it even a good idea?

  2. sgbraid Says:

    An excellent post. You make a strong argument for the necessity to break the barriers between masculinity and femininity. I would also suggest that these gender roles are pushed upon us way earlier than in high school or college and while a lot of these stereotypes are created by the media, its also the duty of many parents to allow and encourage their children to pursue their interests, even if these interests are considered to be only for the opposite sex.

    Recently, I got a haircut and struck up a conversation with my barber/hair cutter. A mother of two young boys, she mentioned to me that her son of five years old was interested in painting and dancing. Although she was supportive of her son’s desire to dance — the boy was most interested in ballet — and was willing to sign him up for a dance class, her husband was not as enthusiastic about his newfound hobby. She mentioned that his father believed ballet was too feminine of a hobby for his son to pursue. She expressed disappointment in her husband’s lack of support and wished that gender stereotypes in the media and in his social life played a big part of his decision to not let their son take dance classes.

    While the media certainly does have an impact on people and their beliefs, the first step of breaking out of these gender chains needs to be taken at home. Parents need to be more encouraging and not let their perception of their children be affected by what other people believe.

  3. mfriedlander92 Says:

    Society forces gender roles among communities without people even noticing. Did you ever realize that usually the wait-staff at restaurants are women, the clerks at retail stores are women (unless it is a sports equipment or shoe store like Foot Locker), or most hair-dressers are women? I think this is because gender roles of society are so strong that most people end up conforming to them. If a 16-year old boy applies for a job at Bath and Body Works, most people would assume that he was gay, but what if he just likes good smelling lotion?

    I think that society forces these roles at such a young age, that parents don’t even notice that they are going along with them too. When families find out that they are having a baby they start preparing the room for their child in colors they think suitable for the new baby: pink for a girl and blue for a boy. However, why can’t a girl have a green room and boy have a purple room?

    I think that many times people are afraid of letting their children be involved in activities that are generally associated with the other gender. Many people might think that if they let their son participate in ballet it will “turn him gay”. Or if girls are playing football with the boys, she will end up to be a lesbian. This is not true at all. Allowing your child to be in activities that are not the norm for their gender all them to develop many skills that kids their age don’t have. The girl who plays football with all the boys will know how to hold her own. She can acquire better self-dense for a girl and maybe be a little tougher. Also the boy who participates in ballet will learn great self-control and obedience. This will also allow him to develop better skills with women.

    Society has such an influence on people, which is ironic because although many times people think of boys who are theater in high school are “gay”, but think about all the celebrities who were in theater. Is Leonardo Dicaprio, Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, or Matt Damon gay? People need to less concerned on what society is going to think of them and let them do what they want. If you have confidence you can do whatever you want. For example, Danica Patrick is beautiful and what does she do? She is a race car driver. If you ignore these gender roles, do what you want, and have confidence – that is all that matters – and you will be successful.

  4. ngamin1614 Says:

    It all starts from the beginning. As another person said above, parents immediately put their kid in blue or pink clothes depending on their gender. Parents have the largest impact on gender roles. And, parents have the largest impact on gender roles because our parents’ parents had a large impact on gender roles. These perceptions about gender have been going on forever.

    My uncle and aunt have a 5 year old boy named Isaac. One day, when my uncle and aunt came to visit with Isaac, they decided to take him shopping for new shoes. I went along and when Isaac walked into the shoe store, he had his eyes set on a pair of pink rainboots. When my mom put them on him, Isaac loved it. But, my uncle obviously didn’t like them. “They’re PINK!!!!! TAKE THEM OFF!!!” I don’t blame my uncle for his reaction. I know that I would not like to be seen in pink rain boots. But, why? I know that if I walk out of a store with pink rain boots on, I’m gonna be judged by other people. People will laugh, or call me gay or something, and nobody wants to hear those things.

    I know I personally don’t lift weights. This often receives some remarks. I admit, my arms are twigs, but I choose not to lift weights because I just simply don’t want to lift weights. But, this is a problem apparently because males are supposed to be all macho and strong and stuff. Why should I have to do something that I don’t want to do just to conform with the rest of my gender? Screw that, I’m gonna do what I want to do. And, I don’t know why that whole “I’m gonna do what I want to do” viewpoint is accepted more. I mean, if Isaac wants to wear pink rain boots, fine, let him have a blast. If I don’t want to lift weights, that’s cool. If a girl doesn’t want to shop and instead wants to play football, awesome. In the end, I don’t think that gender roles can ever be removed from society. They’ve been going on for FAR too long, and by now they are truly a part of our society. It’s a problem, and I wish we could fix it, but it would take some major effort.

  5. bmjasper Says:

    Many of us tend to think of “traditional” gender roles as being similar to an early T.V. sitcom. Dad puts on a suit and tie and heads to the office, while mom, in a dress and pearls, stays at home to take care of the children and the house. While this may have been the case during the 1950’s, America has come a long way since then. Times have changed. Now, in order to pay the bills and keep the family afloat, both men and women need to have jobs. The percentage of women that make up the workforce has risen dramatically due to a rise in jobs that women traditionally work in. In fact, some experts predict that, in the short term, the number of women in the workforce will exceed the number of men due to a decline in traditionally male dominated occupations.

    It is also important to note that many traditional male expected behaviors are become less prevalent in our society. It used to be that men were expected to me emotionless, fearless people who never expressed their feelings. Recently, due to economically induced stress, many male-organized support groups have been established to help unemployed men cope with their situations.

  6. leannaprairie Says:

    What an excellent post!

    I definitely agree that gender roles in our society are much too constricting. While it is true that some traditional gender roles have diminished slightly, I think a lot of how the next generation perceives gender roles is dependent on us.

    As much as it terrifies me to say it, we are the next generation of parents. It will be up to us to teach the next generation of children what is socially acceptable and what is not. Before that can happen, however, we need to decide how we feel, personally, what we want our children to believe, and what kind of life we want for them. Will you teach your son that wearing pink or playing with Barbies is too girly for him? Or will you buy him those pink rain boots, and let him wear them proudly?

    It is up to us to determine what kind of world we want the next generation to live in. So tell me, will you be open with your children and let them identify however they want? Or will you reinforce standard gender roles? Why?

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