Opinion, Uncategorized

Our Misguided and Problematic Concepts of Gender

2 Comments 23 September 2014

Gender stereotypes surround us from the minute we’re born. From the most basic ‘pink for girls and blue for boys’, to the (extremely dated) assumption that the husband will most likely be the main money-earner of the family. There are so many of these stereotypes woven into the fabric of our society that we hardly notice them anymore, until someone points them out. And when we do notice them, we may start to wonder at the senselessness of some of these concepts. Of course, it’s great to have a sense of who you are in relation to your femininity or masculinity, but when these ideas of gender start making us feel like we should be somebody we’re not; we have a problem.

The dictionary tells us that the word “gender” does not mean male or female; it’s a word that’s traditionally associated with cultural and social ideas of being masculine or feminine. Here we have the root of gender ideals. The word “gender” itself tells us that there are supposedly more differences between males and females than just their bodily functions. This alone is not the issue, the problems lie in the stereotypes and stigmas we have created surrounding the concept of gender. For example we seem to have certain qualities and interests associated with each gender, when in reality it’s often not practical to expect people to enjoy or feel a particular way based on whether they are a boy or a girl. Sometimes it appears as if we as a society have fabricated a lot of the supposed connections between traits/hobbies and gender just so that we can try to catalogue each other.

If nobody told you if you were a boy or a girl, how would you know? If you couldn’t see the differences between your body and anyone else’s, how would you know which gender to identify with? There would have to be some way of figuring it out, otherwise there really would be no separation between the sexes besides body functions and what the people around us say. Consider this in the terms of the popular novel “Divergent”. In this book, teenagers must choose which section of society they belong to based on personality traits; they are expected to know themselves enough to be able to make the choice. Imagine if instead of selecting personality traits, you had to choose between genders. What if there were two sections, male and female; and you had to select one, armed only your own knowledge of yourself? Of course it’s easy for you to answer this now, because you know what gender you identify with, but the question of how we know this without our eyes and society’s ideas and stereotypical perceptions of gender isn’t so simple.

We can start to see how gender stereotypes affect people with even greater complexity when we link them to assumptions about sexuality. Even now, as we advance toward greater acceptance of the LGBT community, there are many stereotypes surrounding the idea of being same sex orientated that relate to stereotypes about gender. It’s extremely common in our society for us to make assumptions about someone’s sexual orientation based on their behaviour and how it fits in with our gender ideals. Many people, if they meet somebody who they think acts or speaks too much like the opposite gender, will mark them as being gay. This is a grossly unfair and largely fictitious generalisation, which can have a considerable impact on people’s self esteem; and it all links back to gender stereotypes. We have an idea of what a girl or boy should be like, and when people stray from this we start assimilating them with our misguided ideas about what a homosexual person should be like; and this a pretty big problem.

But why is all this such a problem? Well firstly, it’s hard enough for a lot of people to become comfortable with who they are, without also being aware of this supposed protocol about how they should be in relation to their gender. By supporting gender stereotypes, we inadvertently give people more reason to feel insecure about themselves. We’re already aware of the issues of depression, anxiety, suicide etc.; and for many people, feeling alienated or abnormal can be a big part of what causes them to be uncomfortable and unhappy with themselves. Gender ideals are potentially putting yet more pressure on the already fragile self-image of many, and we don’t even realise it.

Boys and girls are different; there’s no arguing against that. But what we need to look at reforming are our concepts of how they are different. We need to learn that we are so much more than our gender, and we shouldn’t be stigmatised for behaving differently to what others assume to be correct. Telling somebody that they aren’t behaving femininely or masculinely enough is never going to have a positive outcome, and neither is making assumptions about them based on this. Our society needs to stop trying to categorize people and make them feel ashamed for not fitting its extremely restricted brief of what a girl or boy should be. Your relationship with your gender should not be restrictive; it should really be just the opposite.

Your Comments

2 Comments so far

  1. Adeline says:

    I recently read an article on the Washington Post website (‘When no gender fits’) about an agender person who is fed up with the binary and it got me thinking ‘why *should* you have to choose? Why can’t we all be just people not people with a gender?’

    So many gender issues come from the pressure exerted by those two questions even before we get to gender ideals. Unfortunately we have yet to solve the riddle. Thanks for your piece, it got me thinking again.

  2. Jackson says:

    I couldn’t agree more.


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This post was written by who has written 10 posts on The Signal Express.

Hi, i'm Olivia. I enjoy reading excessively, listening to music, free-style dancing at music festivals, watching slightly cheesy american TV programs and online "window shopping". I dislike P.E, leaving my bedroom and being patronised. I like to talk a lot about my point of view, but can't give any kind of speech with out shaking embarrassingly; so I guess that's where writing comes in. Get ready for way too many opinion pieces. Contact: livandfelix@gmail.com

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