By Mary Grlic
Image via TED.
Pink or blue? Dolls or trucks? Princesses or superheroes? Since we are born, we tend to be assigned to color that will guide us for the rest of our lives. As speaker and parent Michele Yulo stated in a TedEX Talk, “When we find out that someone is having a baby, what is the very first question we ask? ‘Boy or girl?’” This seemingly harmless and common question defines children from the moment they are born, forcing girls to wear pink clothes and play with Barbie dolls while boys wear blue and play with action figures. If kids stray away from these norms, children and their parents immediately face judgement. These stereotypes often last far into adulthood, defining the choices we make about our actions, personalities, interests, clothing, hobbies, jobs, and future ambitions.
According to the Gender Equality Law Center, gender stereotyping is defined as an “overgeneralization of characteristics, differences and attributes of a certain group based on their gender.” Often based on ancient gender roles, these biases cause people to make choices based on how they are expected to act, feeling that straying away from the norm will alienate them.
Throughout history, women were expected to do work like taking care of children, cleaning the house, and cooking. As women were more accepted in the workforce, they were commonly placed into jobs like teaching, nursing, or clerical work. For these reasons, many women are afraid to advance in higher-level jobs and portray their opinions in the workforce. So while many women are perfectly capable of certain “masculine” jobs or tasks, women, according to Harvard Business School, “lack confidence in their ability to compete in fields that men are stereotypically believed to perform more strongly in.” Although we are seeing the rise of women in science, engineering, technology, and mathematics, or STEM, today, we still recognize the overwhelming majority of men in the field. Even as more women pursue STEM careers, they are often called “bossy” as they achieve high leadership positions. As this bias continues, it can deter young women from educating themselves in STEM, as they feel inferior to “smarter” and “more capable” men.
Gender stereotypes also impact our everyday choices: what we wear, how we behave, among many other daily habits. Dresses are typically seen as feminine while suits and ties tend to convey a masculine choice. Women are expected to be “ladylike,” polite and maturing”, while men are told to be “masculine, brooding and powerful.” A muscular physique is seen as the beauty standard for men while women are told to have a tiny waist. These expectations are extremely harmful to gender expression, as they place people into a box of what they ought to be. It limits the decisions that people can make as well as how they can express or be themselves, dictating their careers, hobbies, actions, and appearance.
While we often focus on the impact the stereotyping has on women, it is important to recognize that all genders are susceptible to this bias. For example, men who exemplify traditionally “feminine” traits are categorized as wimps or assumed to be gay, which is extremely offensive in the LGBTQIA+ community. Employers may choose a woman over a man in the workforce for being “more sensitive” or “sexually appealing”, playing into stereotypes of men and women. Men who are victims of sexual assault face challenges because of social attitudes towards sexual assault, oftentimes feeling that they “that they should have been ‘strong enough’ to fight off the perpetrator.” Additionally, many men are invalidated for their experiences with rape and sexual assault.
Gender is no longer a binary. Stereotyping can be extremely harmful to every party involved.
Written by Writer Mary Grlic