Gender Roles in Society

Grace Carney- Staff Writer

In the United States, the moment a baby is born, it is not uncommon for the infant to be wrapped in a baby blue or pastel pink onesie or blanket. Unconsciously, people condition their young children to behave and fulfill specific gender roles; stringent, one-sided standards that society expects us to meet. Failure to meet such standards not only strips people from positive recognition and approval, but also generates shaming and scrutiny for those who do not fulfill them, nor attempt to.
In American society, the stereotypical male is depicted as handsome, independent, tough, athletic, prideful, ambitious, unemotional and possesses an instinctual, masculine aggressive energy that drives all of what he does.
On the contrary, the stereotypical female is portrayed as thin, domestic, submissive, wholesome, overly-emotional, needy, desires to be chased and needs to depend on a man to take care of her both physically and financially.
In reality, while many of us do possess some of these characteristics, it is unreasonable to state that all men and all women are simply born on one side of the masculine/feminine spectrum. Most of us lie in the grey area, displaying a mix of typically male and female qualities. Sadly, for those who find themselves feeling more at home associating with components of the opposite gender, many people refuse to react compassionately, and instead try to change the individual or judge them at first glance.
Ideas projected by the American media demonstrate how boys must behave in a self-reliant, rational, macho way that scorns acting in an emotional, sensitive or “sissy” manner, such as performing household tasks. Men who step out of the societal expectation of wanting to marry a woman are criticized. Men who act in a “feminine” manner are called “gay” as an insult and treated in an unrighteous and inhumane manner. Men are also encouraged to fight for social dominance, never reveal weakness and to always be in control of their emotions. Boys are constantly told to “be a man” or “grow a pair,” making them feel more and more insecure and incapable of knowing how to cope with conflict on their own.
In reality, suppressed disappointment and sadness often gets translated into delinquent or violent behavior because men are taught that anger is the only negative emotion that is acceptable to express. Less than half of depressed men seek help, and as a result often exhibit violent behavior. As boys, they may drop out of school or be suspended. If left untreated, this behavior may escalate into acts of suicide or homicide.
On the other hand, the media ingrains the idea into girls’ minds that they must be thin, docile and mainly focused on their looks. American women are annually bombarded with thousands of ads, many of which send the message that their first priority should always be to appear thin and sexy in order to attract sexual male attention. Women are also stereotyped as being dishonest, over emotional, non-athletic and should be kept from obtaining any sense of political power. If a woman behaves in an aggressive, independent way, they are automatically labeled as “bitchy.” Women who possess political power are frequently criticized for their appearance or how emotional they react under the public eye, rather than for the stances they support and the messages they deliver regarding their beliefs. Women are also often accused of using their looks to climb up the socioeconomic ladder. Because of this, they are objectified, rather than being viewed as equal human beings.
This also goes a long with the idea that sex should solely be based on what men want. If women deny projecting sex appeal, they are labeled ugly or too conservative, a “prude.” Yet at the same time, while women are constantly encouraged to appear sexually alluring, if they have multiple partners they are labeled a “whore.”
Perhaps this is the ultimate double standard, because if men have multiple partners they achieve power and respect, and are labeled a “playboy,” while women lose power and respect and are frowned upon for exhibiting the same behavior. It is unjust to presume that women do not have valuable ideas to share, innate talents or equal abilities to men and that they should be viewed as decorative, only used for sex or as domesticated housewives.
Westernized gender roles stem from a period when men were valued for their earning potential and women for their physical beauty and abilities to perform as a conventional housewife. In this day and age, perhaps people should be more concerned with developing their own talents, abilities and furthering their education, as opposed to fulfilling societal gender roles and meeting rigid expectations that deter the possibility of being one’s true self. People should also be taught to avoid projecting animosity toward others who do not fulfill these roles, and instead learn to accept those who feel nontraditional.
Is the price of internalized guilt or social disapproval fair for not meeting the ideals of socially constructed gender roles? Wouldn’t this effect all of us to some extent, considering no woman ever has not had at least one aggressive outburst, and no man has never cried in privacy of his own company? At the end of the day, we can only hope we will be able to look past the dresses and loafers and acknowledge the value of the talents and work abilities each individual brings to the table.

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