When the word “stereotype” comes to your mind, you ultimately have a brainwashed mental image that the word carries a negative meaning. That there is already a form of stereotype taking place. This is because individuals have fixated in their minds certain beliefs about something or someone or a situation and these ideas are shared amongst individuals who later spread them. So what is a stereotype? It is a fixed general image or set of characteristics of a particular type of person or thing. Stereotyping can take different forms. These include national, racial, social, gender and religious stereotypes. However, today’s blog will not be focusing on all forms of stereotypes, but on gender stereotypes.
Gender stereotypes is the simplistic generalization of the male and female attributes, characteristics, differences and roles of these individuals and groups in the society. Gender stereotyping can limit the development of natural talent, abilities and professional experiences.
Did you know that there are four basic kinds of gender stereotypes? If you did not know, here are the four you should be aware of:
1. Domestic Behaviours: This mainly relates to household affairs. Here, women are expected to clean the house, cook, take care of the children, make house decorations in terms of how the interior of the house is supposed to look; whereas, men are expected to be the financial providers or do home maintenance.
2. Personality Traits: these are the attributes that make you who you are as a person. Here, women are usually expected to be submissive, gentle or kind while men are supposed to be decisive and tough.
3. Physical appearance: These are the physical qualities of an individual. According to society, men are expected to be tall and muscular whereas women are expected to be slender and short. These two genders are also expected to dress in certain ways that are stereotypical to their gender (men wear trousers, while women wear skirts/dresses and make-up).
4. Occupation: This is ones profession. Most individuals tend to associate women with jobs like teaching or nursing and men are associated with being mechanics, politicians, engineers etc.
Where did all this classifications of how a woman or man should act or be or behave come from? Who said that a man should not cook or take care of his children or be a nurse or a gentle person? Who came up with the conclusion that women cannot be engineers or the financial providers of their family? Who really came up with all these sick ideas? The simple answer to that question is “us”. Yes you and me. We are all victims of gender stereotyping and, in one way or another, we have contributed to these old-fashioned ideologies.
The issues that arise from gender stereotyping
These ideologies bring the issue of hyper-femininity and hyper-masculinity.
This is the overemphasis of stereotyped behaviours that are believed to be feminine. Hyper-feminine women believe that their success is determined by maintaining a romantic relationship with a man and that their sexuality can be used to maintain this relationship. These women also believe that there are qualities that are meant to be feminine. For example, being sensitive, naïve, sexually inexperienced, flirtatious and passive. Most hyper-feminine women have an ideology that is based on traditional gender roles such as the submission of the female to the male.
This is the exaggeration of stereotyped behaviours that are believed to be masculine. Society believes that for one to be a man, you must not in any way resemble a woman in terms of qualities they have. For example, being compassionate, tender, gentle etc. they (society) believe that men are supposed to be sexually experienced, aggressive, insensitive, blunt, domineering and not succumb to tears.
These can make relationships between people difficult. Hyper-feminine women are more likely to experience physical and emotional abuse whereas hyper-masculine men are more likely to be physically abusive.
The impacts of gender stereotyping on individuals
Gender stereotypes are harmful because they do not allow people to fully express themselves or their emotions. Gender stereotyping does not only affect adults, but also the youth and sadly, young children. Did you know that children already believe gender stereotyping by the age of ten years? Why? You may ask. This is because parents are guilty as charged. They instil in them the beliefs of what is considered girly or boyish. For example, if the child is a girl, they are bought for pink clothes and dolls whereas boys are bought for blue attires and toy cars. At such a tender age, the children already begin self-segregation based on gender (boys play with boys while girls play with girls). Because of these beliefs instilled in them, they enter teenage-hood with damaging gender stereotypes firmly set.
The impacts they experience in teenage-hood include:
· Feeling self – conscious about physical changes and feel pressure to conform to cultural gender norms.
· Feel concerned about dating potential.
· Want to learn gender based expectations for how to behave in romantic and sexual situations. (Hyper-femininity).
These impacts lead to depression, anxiety, eating disorders and the risk of suicide amongst teens and even young adults which will also be later carried into adulthood.
Even though gender stereotyping can be damaging, it can be solved.
Ways of solving gender stereotyping.
– If you have children, emphasize to them that self-worth and happiness does not come from the way they look or act.
– Speak up! If you ever see a person making a gender stereotypical joke on social media or in a real life scenario, approach them and talk to them to stop and be respectful to other people’s feelings.
– Social media has a lot of negativity on gender stereotyping and it may be hard for some people to be courageous and point it out. Dear reader, BE THAT PERSON. Talk to family and friends about gender stereotyping and help others understand how it can be harmful.
– Respect people regardless of their gender.
– Be a living example. Do an activity that is not normally associated with your gender. E.g. if you are a man, cook, and if you are a lady, fix broken things in the house.
– For parents, teach boys how to do chores. By doing this, you are raising them to break gender stereotyping.
Gender stereotyping begins at home, let us end it!