Gender roles have always been around. They can vary from place to place and they can evolve over time in different cultures and societies. For each gender, there are certain attitudes, domestic behaviors, traits, occupations and ways of life that are expected (Dr. A. Zell, personal communication, September 28, 2018). The Article “Gender Roles and Identity” (n.d.) on plannedparenthood.org explains that the way one talks, dresses, walks and grooms is different for Females and Males. Females are generally expected to be more polite, humble, good listeners, accommodating and nurturing.
They are expected to pursue occupations such as Teachers, Nurses, Air Hostesses etc. In some cultures and societies, they are still expected to be a stay at home wife, so that they can take care of the children, cook and clean for the home. Whereas, men are expected to be strong, aggressive and bold. They are expected to pursue occupations like Pilots, Doctors, and Engineers. At home, they are expected to take care of the finances, work on the car and do at home repairs. As a girl, I was always told to “Act like a girl”, “Sit like a girl” or sometimes even, “Talk like a girl” by my parents or peers whenever I did something against the gender norms. For them, “Acting like a girl” meant that I should be more emotional, wise and caring at times when I acted more strong, assertive, or controlling. “Sitting like a girl” meant that I should sit with my legs crossed whenever I would sit in a more “manly” way. “Talking like a girl” meant that I should be more polite, respectful and that I should be a good listener whenever I was being tough or unemotional. My female friends and I would have a curfew earlier in the evening whereas my male friends would have a curfew later at night. Not only I, but also many people around me get affected by gender norms as well.
I come from the capital of Pakistan, but if you go to the more rural sides of Pakistan, the gender norms are prominent. Females are expected to be a stay-at-home wife when they get married. They get a frown from other people in their societies for having a career just because they are expected to stay at home and care for their family while the men go off to earn for their families. Growing up in these gender norms has had a great effect on me. I sometimes still hear people say, “Learn how to cook and clean, otherwise, no man will marry you”. Whenever I would start to deviate from these norms, I, myself, would sometimes feel like I am doing something wrong. I felt more constricted and controlled. Sometimes, I would feel as if I do not have the option to voice out my opinion just because I should be more “respectful and polite” and somehow, voicing my opinion, as a girl, is considered disrespectful and impolite. Instead of having the pressure to work hard and become independent, the women in my society are taught to find a husband who can provide for them and make them feel vulnerable and worthwhile and to do this, they need to learn how to cook and clean, due to which they are in constant pressure. I grew up in a more liberal environment when it came to cooking and cleaning.
My mom has always wanted the best for me. She never put the pressure on learning how to cook or clean because she wanted me to pursue a good education so I can be a more strong independent woman. However, when it came to distant relatives, I would still hear things like, “You’re 18 and you still don’t know how to cook.” and “It’s a shame that you can’t cook because no one will marry you like this”. I would get criticized by the society. This had affected me in several ways, on times, I would get angry, or sad or sometimes, I just wouldn’t let it get to me. These statements can be strong enough, in a negative way, for a person to lose hope in what they are doing or enjoy doing. When it came to the “non-stereotypical” people, even they would be surprised and I would get praised on, by them, for choosing to be independent, which is expected and so normal for the male gender but when it comes to a girl, it’s suddenly a huge achievement. The article, “The Negative Effects of Gender Roles” (August 30, 2017) explains that these gender norms can have various effects on us. All these gender norms can set limits to one’s personality and mental health awareness.
They affect the way one wants to build and maintain a family and they affect the economy by creating a wage gap. It can force us to hide our thoughts and desires from the world. They can also force us to shrink ourselves. They can even force someone to turn into somebody they’re not. They end up hiding who they truly are just because they do not want to be criticized by their families and their society. Suppressing our emotions and beliefs due to gender norms can lead to unhappiness, depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. People are forced to act in a way they are not comfortable with. Gender norms can also influence one’s career selection. If one wants to be a doctor, the society may push them to be a nurse because one might say that a female does not have the ability and skills it takes to be a doctor. This forces us to pick a career, out of society’s pressure, that we do not enjoy. Whenever I would carry and handle things which would be “too big for me”, I would immediately have someone offer “help” because it requires personal strength and toughness which “I wouldn’t have” because I’m “too vulnerable”. My life would be different if my gender was different.
Being a male, I would have the freedom to voice my own opinion, I would be looked upon as a strong, independent leader. I wouldn’t be expected to cook for people. It would be normal for me to pick careers like engineering or becoming a doctor. I would not be expected to stay at home and look after the family; However, being a boy, there would still be some gender norms that would be expected from me. No matter which gender you are, gender norms will always be there, or at least for the next many years to come. I would be expected to earn for the family and I would be expected to manage all the finances. If, as a boy, I liked more “feminine” things and colors, or If I wanted to dress differently from the normal “Male dressing”, I would be looked down upon and judged by the society. This would again lead to suppressing my feelings and opinions the same way. I would get bullied on for not following the “gender norms”. Dr. A. Zell explained in her lecture on September 28, 2018, that the females can sometimes get away with choosing an occupation they like (although there are still limits to this, as the society may find it hard to accept if you were working somewhere which requires physical strength), liking the color “blue” or dressing like a boy, i.e, a tomboy, but if a guy likes the color pink, chooses a more feminine occupation or wears dresses or skirts, this wouldn’t be acceptable by majority of the societies in today’s world.
Even if the people would not show their feelings and judgments, they would still find it weird and it would be hard for them to accept it. Hence, as I boy, if I were deviating from the gender norms, I would get more bullied on in comparison to a female deviating from the norms. In a country like Pakistan, women are expected to be dressed “decently”. They are expected to wear their traditional clothes, I as a girl, always went against these gender norms to try to show my society that we should have the freedom to do and wear what we like. By taking Computer Science and Natural Sciences in high school, I have tried to show the people, in my circle, that women can pursue whatever dream career they like. I have interned at Toyota Motors and have learned the mechanics of a car. I have been working with an NGO called “Bondh-e-shams” which requires physical strength and toughness; however, even with all of this, I sometimes feel like no matter how non-stereotypical I think of myself, as the video “The Gender-stereotyped toys: the experiment” by BBC Family & Education News suggested, if I see a newborn wrapped in pink clothes, I would consider it a girl. If the baby is wrapped in blue clothes I would consider it a boy. I got my baby cousin Barbie dolls for her birthday.
If the same baby were a boy, I would’ve, possibly, given, the baby, toy cars or remote controlled toys. No matter how open-minded I consider myself to be, I still found it usual, even if I accept it, to see a girl, named Harnaam Kaur, an Instagram model who grew a beard to go against the gender norms. Every time I would see my dad help around with the household or the kitchen, I would applaud him as if it were an achievement. While writing this essay in a cafe, “Coffee and Bagel”, I got up to use the restrooms. One of the doors had a poster with a flower sunhat and a pearl necklace (No faces, just the 2 things printed together) and the other had a mustache and a bowler hat. Without thinking for a second, I immediately went to the one with the poster that had the pearl necklace and a flower hat. This can also be considered as stereotyping. No matter how non-stereotypical a person may think of themselves, they still believe in some gender norms (Intentionally or unintentionally).
I think a strong woman would be thriving on their own independence, she will be intense, but at the same time, polite and respectful when needed. She would be emotionally stable and would value her relationships. She would know the value of herself and would have self-esteem. Strong men would also have the same characteristics. In my ideal world, strong women and strong men would have the same characteristics, because if not then that is a way of implying gender norms again. In my ideal world, both would be equal, strong, capable of being independent and would have the ability to support themselves, would no wage gaps and would have the freedom to choose the occupation they enjoy, whether or not it requires physical strength. If I have a child, I would make sure they knows that it is okay to go against gender norms. I would make sure they don’t suppress themselves in order to hide their true personality and their interests even if it goes against the society’s gender norms. I would tell them that gender norms will exist no matter what, and would tell them that they may get criticized at first for being different, if they are, but sooner or later, the society will start accepting them. I would tell them that people will expect them to act a certain way and dress a certain way but they don’t always have to come up to people’s expectations. I would also teach them about gender equality because one person’s thinking can contribute to diminishing gender roles.
When they are young, I would expose them to toys made for both genders. I would get them involved in skills and activities that are associated with each gender. I would point out sexist stuff on media which may have an effect on their thinking and would explain why it is wrong. If they are being sexist at some point, I would intervene and correct them so they have respectful views on each gender. I would teach them that women do not have to be the way gender norms want them to be and the same goes for men. I will also teach them to speak up if they hear something sexist. Overall, I would be a good role model for my child so they learn to be as open-minded as they can be.
Gender Roles in Different Cultures. (2021, May 19).
Retrieved September 23, 2022 , from
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