Blue is for boys, and pink is for girls. Cars are for boys, and dolls are for girls. Men are aggressive, dominant, and ambitious. Women are emotional, submissive, and home-oriented. Men should go to work, and women should stay home and care for the children. In our heteronormative society, these statements regarding gender roles are commonplace.
Heteronormativity is the belief that gender corresponds to biological sex (Hernandez 2018). We live in a heteronormative society, meaning, our society tends to have the idea that there are only two genders, male and female. To break down this definition, we must understand how gender is defined. Gender refers to the personality traits and social roles that society attaches to males and females. Our gender is formed by our socializations; this occurs through our interactions with our family, education, friends, and media. We have roles that correspond to our assigned gender. Roles are bundles of expectations that organize our behavior (Hernandez 2018). These gender roles dictate how we are expected to live, how we act, dress, and converse with others. Gender roles, also called gender stereotypes, are over-generalizations based on preconceived ideas.
Gender roles are so ingrained in our day to day lives. Even before birth, parents specifically pick out clothes that correspond to their baby’s assigned gender. Rooms are painted accordingly and even before being out of the womb, the child is restricted to adhering to the norms. Gender roles are also noticeably forced upon us when we play with toys as young children (Hernandez, Sex, Gender, Sexuality Lecture). There are very clear distinctions between boy and girl toys. Boys are given toys that are related to violence, building, and aggression. These toys include toy guns and weapons, building blocks or Lego sets, and action figures. Girls are given toys that are related to domestic skills, physical appearances, and associated with their nurturing side (Blakemore and Centers 2005). Since these stereotypes continually follow us from childhood to adolescence, they feel natural.
As a cisgender young woman, I take a lot of pride in my appearance. Since a very early age, I watched as my mother applied her makeup daily, while appearing flawless and making it seem so effortless. When I reached adolescence, it was somewhat expected of me that I applied small amounts of makeup to cover blemishes and mascara to give off the doe eyed look. Presently, I wear makeup at least 5 times a week. I only ever skip this step in my routine if I am not leaving my dorm room all day, or I ran out of time in the morning. I will admit that I can get my feelings easily hurt. I have moments where I feel tears well up in my eyes if I feel that someone corrects me in a harsh tone. I am not ashamed to admit that shopping is my favorite form of pastime, and I am a sucker for romantic comedies. So yes, I am emotional, my physical appearance is important to me, and I am sensitive. These are stereotypes that I specifically adhere to.
When we see how these stereotypes intertwine with our race, class, and gender, we are then talking about our intersectionality. As discussed in lecture, intersectionality is the overlapping of our social identities (Crenshaw 2016). It is where our race, class, and gender inequalities interconnect. (Hernandez, Intersectionality Lecture). As a Mexican-American young woman, I have had my female gender placed upon me since I was born. At just two months old, I had my ears pierced. This is normal throughout Hispanic culture. I believe a reasoning for this is because it is a patriarchal culture, families want their daughters to appear feminine as early as possible (Blanc 2017). My Hispanic culture has very clear and distinct gender roles. Men are the heads of the households and breadwinners. Women are responsible for cleaning, cooking, and taking care of the children.
I, by no means, follow these gender stereotypes. I consider myself ambitious, independent, and tough. While I can be emotional and sensitive, I can hold my ground and defend myself when necessary. I use negative life experiences to motivate me rather than play the helpless girl in need of a hero. The thought of being a housewife is mortifying to me, that is why I pursued a higher education, so I can financially support myself. While I love keeping up my appearance, I am athletic. I enjoy the outdoors and going to the gym. I do not expect my boyfriend to always pay for a me, I thoroughly enjoy treating him to a nice dinner. I find myself being the more demanding partner in our relationship. In fact, most of our friends would say that I wear the pants. These gender stereotypes I do not adhere to give people the wrong impression of me.
The problem with gender stereotypes is: they are harmful to an individual but, more significantly, are they harmful to society. They reinforce patriarchy which creates an unconscious bias of men over women (Hernandez, Sex, Gender, Sexuality Lecture). This in turn leads to sexism and systemic oppression towards females. Placing people into specific boxes of male or female is harmful for the expression of people’s gender identities. A gender identity is a person’s internal, deeply held sense of their gender (Hernandez 2018). When people, including myself, break the gender stereotypes we are attached to, we face a level of scrutiny. In childhood and adolescence, those who do not follow the norms can be picked on or teased. In an interview about stereotype threats with Dr. Claude Steele, Dean for the School of Education at Stanford University, he explains the consequences of being stereotyped. He states that, when a person is trying to perform in an area where their particular group is negatively stereotyped, they will feel a distracting type of pressure (Steele 2013). This will result in underperformance. Combating gender stereotypes should be a priority, because they are harmful.
In order to combat gender stereotypes, we must first acknowledge the problem. Recognize gender stereotypes when individuals find them hard to see. Acknowledge that privilege is invisible to those that have it (Kimmel 2015). By speaking up you are challenging the norms.
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