Gender is a social construct: it is the way in which we perform our personal or societal ideas of what it means to be male or female.
Gender roles are the particular roles assigned to men or woman such as “Dad” and “Mum”. Often our ideas about gender and what roles should or shouldn’t be for men or women creates a gender stereotype.
Different kinds of gender stereotypes can include assumptions and expectations made on how people are meant to behave, what their personality is like, what caring roles they might take, what job they have, or how they look physically.
This could be things like:
- Women are better at looking after people than men
- Women have long hair and wear dresses, men have short hair and wear shirts
- Men are strong and don’t cry
What kind of gender stereotypes can you think of
Gender stereotypes often require people to fit into boxes they don’t fit into. It is also a very simplistic way to look at something as complex as people. We are taught these gender stereotypes from a very young age and this creates something called 'unconscious bias'. What this means is that we automatically judge someone (what they should look like, what their personality will be like, what their job is, etc.) based on their gender – and when people don't fit the stereotype, they are often pressured to do so.
Illustration credit: https://www.instagram.com/liberaljane/
The act of pressuring people into fitting gender stereotypes is called 'gender policing'.
Some examples of gender policing are:
- Slut shaming, which means being mean to a woman because of the sex that she has had. This is judging a woman based only on her sexual experiences.
- Calling people 'gay' – not only is using gay as an insult very homophobic, but it also often used to put down and pressure people into looking/acting more masculine for boys, or looking and acting less masculine for girls
It can be really hard to challenge gender stereotypes, as often they only affect us subconsciously. But it is important, as gender stereotypes are a major impacting factor on sexism and gender-based violence, as well as homophobia and transphobia.
Everyone deserves to be unique – to be able to express themselves and be themselves and not feel the need to fit into a reductive mould.
What are things you do to challenge gender stereotypes in your life (maybe through the way we dress or the activities we do)?
What are some ways we could challenge gender policing when we see it?