By Adi Chowdhury
“Real men don’t cry.”
“Real women should like cooking and cleaning .”
“Real men don’t show their feelings.”
“Real women always wear nice clothes.”
“Real men don’t like the color pink.”
“Real women should play with dolls, not action figures.”
“Real men play with action figures, not dolls.”
“Real women have ‘caring’ jobs such as teachers, nurses, and secretaries.”
“Real men should be in a position of authority, such as principals, doctors, and bosses.”
“Real women don’t work out physically, it makes them ugly.”
“Real men shouldn’t cry.”
“Real women don’t talk loudly or laugh too much.”
“Real men should be playing video games and enjoy violence, such as in the form of wrestling.”
“Real women don’t watch sports.”
“Real men should be buff and be adept at sports and physical tasks.”
“Real women should get married and have children.”
The perpetual collection of baseless stereotypes enforced in the domain of gender is dangerous. It’s common, it’s ubiquitous, it’s ingrained into our perception of normalcy, and it’s utilized to bring shame and discomfort when one does not conform to these standards. Undeniably, both men and women fall prey to the jaws of social ostracism on the basis of not “maintaining the image” of your gender. Men are expected to be firm and heavy-handed and authoritative. and boys are shamed and labeled “weak and un-manly” when they display emotion or sentiment. Women are anticipated to be sentimental and submissive, and are suppressed when they take interest in sports or science or typically “masculine” areas of life.
This is dangerous, and deterrent to social progress. It is hurtful and toxic to those unwilling to conform to such baseless notions of normalcy. It generates errant and misleading perceptions of social gender roles (which I don’t agree should exist at all), for both men and women. It limits the opportunities available to both genders and stifles their own sense of aspiration in life–by suppressing their areas of interests and the fields of life that society will “allow” them to engage in.
The systematic maintenance of “gender roles” in society is upheld through shaming and pressuring humans into characters and molds that they do not want to fit into.
Men exhibiting interests that are typically feminine (such as cooking, clothes, fashion, romance stories, and more) are branded “effeminate” or “weak”. These men are perceived widely as weak, or dumb, or fragile, or delicate–or a slew of other pejorative adjectives used to brand stereotypical women. Such men are ostracized and left out of mainstream friends circles, avoided and shunned due to their “less-than-masculine” nature.
In the same way, women who engage in traditionally “masculine” interests (such as sports, wrestling, superheroes, action films, action figures, etc.) are slapped with the label of “tomboy” and such, and perceived as unattractive. Some see it as “aberrant” or “unfit” for a woman to adopt qualities that “men should have”. What these people are turning a blind eye to is that these “masculine qualities” are not inherent only in men, and restricted in women. These are simply social norms that we have baselessly constructed and imposed upon our youth. These are social standards of normalcy and gender-based behavior that we wrongfully expect people to naturally adhere to, and shame those who don’t submit to these stereotypes.
As a humanist, one of the fundamental truths I have uncovered about human nature is that stereotypes are never fully true, and are always harmful in one way or another. This is regardless of whether these stereotypes are based on race, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. They only generate and perpetuate false and damaging prejudices.
These stereotypes can limit and suppress the opportunities enjoyed by people in life. The website ThinkProgress ran a thought-provoking article a few months ago titled Masculine Stereotype Of STEM Pushes Women Out Of The Field. (STEM refers to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.) This is a revealing excerpt from the article:
“Women remain persistently underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) positions — a gap that is a big concern among education advocates and is currently the target of a million-dollar diversity push by the National Science Foundation and the White House. Despite increased attention and new diversity initiatives, however, it remains a persistent problem.
New research suggests a reason why: People think women lack the qualities necessary to be a good scientist.
Women, the study shows, are perceived as being primarily “communal” — kinder, warmer, more understanding, and more helpful. Men, on the other hand, were perceived as being more “agentic” — more independent, more ambitious, and more assertive. Agentic traits were also strongly associated with successful scientists.
“It’s a culture where people don’t perceive women as compatible with the traits of scientists,” Dr. Linda Carli, the study’s lead researcher, told ThinkProgress.
This culture may be working to talented female scientists’ detriment. Crucially, although the most common rebuttal to gender diversity initiatives in STEM is that women opt out of the sciences because they lack either ability or confidence, in fact, the women who perform the best in science and math courses are the ones most likely to leave.
A recent global study found that women don’t leave the workforce because they want flexibility or because of family demands — they leave because they’re not paid or promoted. This is true in the sciences too. In engineering, for instance, where women earn only 19 percent of bachelor’s degrees, nearly 40 percent of female degree earners end up leaving the field, citing hostile work cultures, limited advancement opportunities, and unsupportive supervisors.”
The gist of this article is that the field of science and scientific research is perceived as “traditionally masculine”, since men are are stereotypically considered to be more intellectually-inclined and assertive. This prejudice has cost womanhood dearly, depriving them of opportunities and advancements in the diverse domain of science.
This wide practice of holding people against standards of normalcy, based on gender, is costly and damaging–not to mention deterrent to social progress. It measures the value of a human based on whether or not he or she “acts like their gender.” What people need to grasp is that there is no way “to act like your gender”–women and men are diverse and different, and always will be. Not all men have the same interests. Not all women have the same interests.
Don’t expect your sons and daughters to conform to these notions of gender-behavior. Don’t bully, harass, or shame those unwilling to needlessly adapt against their will to fit these baseless standards. Let them explore their interests and decide what kind of person they want to be.
This article has been published on the feminism portal Women’s Chapter.