Updated: Oct 21, 2021
A custom made brownie box by my all time favourite "Sugar Sifter"
Recently I came across multiple occasions where I felt gender roles are not an option but an enforcement, especially when it comes to associating strength & power to one’s gender. I can carry my partner and he can vice versa not because I have a masculine body, but because we both are physically strong and that is what matters!
From birth, we are assigned a gender type and are socialized to conform to certain gender roles based on our biological sex. Gender is a social construct, which means, it doesn’t exist naturally instead is created as a concept by societal norms.
As we get started with life, we learn to behave from what we see around because humans by default have the ability to acquire, fine tune and transfer knowledge and skills. In this process, we often link a lot to our biological sex. That is where “gender role” comes into action; our society expecting us to behave and act a certain way.
Masculine roles are always associated with strength, power, control while feminine roles are tagged to being passive, emotional, nurturing and confined.
Today, I see a large part of our society choosing blue for male infants and pink for girls, is quick to outfit male infants in blue and girls in pink, this is where gender role socialisation begins. And this is a recent day trend, one that didn’t really exist before.
We are exposed to gender socialisation through multiple channels, via our family, relatives, school environment, friends and even social media not to forget and to add to this we have religion and work culture adding icing to the cake.
Frequent exposure to such factors over due course of time give us a sense that we are meant to be so rather than developing a socially empowering persona for ourselves.
This phenomenon from birth continues when parents buy trucks and superhero toys for their male children and barbie dolls and dressing up games for their female children, adding to this they appreciate their children based on gender-appropriate behavior as well.
This was so hard for me to crack as I don’t remember any instance from my childhood playing with dolls, not even a single barbie doll, nor was I exposed to fairy tales, I used to love car based cartoons and Tom & Jerry for all good reasons. My mother was particular that she got the best set of colour pens, activities boxes, puzzles, lego and so on, everything that involved active participation of the child, and this was much expensive back then and not easily accessible as well, but I totally get her perspective of spending more on quality playtime goodies.
This whole gender role runs along with you in life, when you go to school, then a professional course, later when you join a workforce and even when you get married. Boys do all the WWF, Cars, Challenge kind of conversations and girls are stuck to soap operas, fancy reality shows and so on. Men tend to rise up the ladder faster outnumbering women in almost all professions and these days certain work lines are even tagged to genders, how are we evolving? Look around you and see for yourself.
Sexism starts when a girl who likes anything outside the societal construct of gender roles is called a Tom Boy and boys vice versa tagged girlish.
The most common form of sexism we encounter today amongst the millennials are ones where gender roles expectations are forced on each individual, women to be the caretakers, and men to be the overseer and the bread earners. Also this starts reflecting on how people are judged, if a women is ambitious, confident and assertive then she is perceived as aggressive and selfish and often disliked as she is now not abiding by what is expected, the passive & nurturing types.
This is very common that every time one sees a motorcycle pass by, it is assumed without even looking closely that it would be a man, this is the very moment one is engaging in gender stereotyping. You are indirectly now assuming that women are too timid or do not possess the strength to ride a motorcycle.
Our societies operate on a very binary gender system, the two essentially ones (men and women), and that everyone must fit in one or the other. This is what even I thought for the longest time until the very first time I happened to be friends with someone who identified himself as gay. The gender spectrum was the next thing on my curiosity bubble then, the extension of not limiting gender to a binary system rather looking at it as a linear model, ranging from 100% woman to 100% man. Later I read about gender continuum, which is a much extended version of this, multidimensional, where additional identities and even fluidity was included.
In most ways, it was all definitions to freedom of choice to me. We are usually influenced by the people around us, as kids we try to imitate and follow what we see. We mostly develop gender identity through observing and enacting gender linked behaviors and are often appreciated for the same.
Something else that amused me was the fact that even languages had separate masculine and feminine characteristics and in most cases, we notice how a language unconsciously flows different for two gender roles. Isn’t it worth a thought?
In most cross-cultural analysis of strengths I have read about usually conducted by psychologists, women tend to score higher in aspects such as love and kindness, while men score higher when it comes to bravery and creativity strengths. This is clearly because across the globe both the genders are not exposed to the whole spectrum of emotions, strength, perspective and dimensions of life.
Expose yourself beyond your comfort zones, find your way further than what is laid for you, look beyond what is within your sight( it is very important that each one of us discover our choices, our profile of strength, and these are unique to each one of us and shapes who we are at a physical as well as mental level.
Disclaimer: Knowing to cook, drive, swim, clean, do laundry, know lesson 1.0 of housekeeping, etc has nothing to do with gender roles, these are basics of one's skillset for life just like brushing your teeth, taking bath, eating, drinking and even pooping. In case your upbringing or societal exposure didn't have a necessity dimension to this, it's high time you realise the same and get started. Today you have enough resource and plenty of guidance to get going. This applies to the whole of the gender continuum.
Let gender differences not be your excuses, nor it be a pre-cursors to a protest, let it be a reason for you to push your limits, take risks, embrace change and be a kick starter to dive deep into understanding the origin of all your thoughts, your behaviour and study their connections with your resilience, patience, stability, empathy, physical and psychosocial well-being.