Have you ever been told that you can’t do something because it is only supposed to be appreciated by the other gender? Perhaps you’re a woman, who has a strong ability to speak in the public arena, but you’ve been told that only men are supposed to be leaders? Or, conversely, maybe you’re a man with a passion for caring for others in their times of need? Surely that isn’t a role a man can succeed in, right?
These are assumptions that we make every day, because so many things in society are associated with being masculine or feminine. Nearly every aspect in our lives is gendered including: colors, games, activities, hobbies, and even sports. As a society, we love to group things into one of two categories, “for boys” or “for girls” but there is an inherent flaw with this system. This idea of only the masculine and feminine leaves no room for an individual to express themselves in a way that is unique and tailored for their own personal identity.
Following are a few examples of how detrimental it can be to force people to conform to our perceived gender roles. These are from my own personal experience as a man who presents as extremely feminine in nature. Both in mannerisms and in things I enjoy, I find myself aligning more with what is traditionally thought of as being “for women,’ and believe me, it gets brought up often. Whether it be the fact that I talk with my hands, or the idea that I love romantic comedies and sappy “chick flick” movies, or that I love shopping and spending time around my friends that are girls (more often than my friends that are guys). I am reminded daily, both by people’s actions and their words, that I don’t fit the bill as a quintessential man.
One of the examples that stands out the most of how hurtful assumptions can be comes from my time living in Searcy. Several years ago, I had a friend who asked if they could paint my fingernails (an entirely harmless activity) to which I said yes, because I absolutely didn’t care. She chose a polish, and proceeded to paint away, leaving me with shiny orange nails when she was done. Over the following days, I ended up being rather busy, so I didn’t get around to taking it off. After my classes one evening, I had a short break before work, so I decided to run by a local fast food restaurant to pick up dinner. As I pulled up to pay, the cashier was friendly, warm even, until I handed over my debit card, and he saw my painted fingernails. He immediately stopped speaking, not even finishing his sentence, tossed my card into my car, followed by my food, thrown into my lap, then waved me along without so much as another word. In terms of damage, it was harmless, but mentally, to witness someone turn so cold for a simple coat of nail polish was extremely eye opening.
Another example that often comes to mind involves life within the church, where jobs and activities are often divided by gender. I have always loved working in the children’s classes at church. Yet several times over, after getting to know the congregation, and really believing I had found a “church home,” I would express an interest in helping with classes, only to be informed that I wasn’t allowed to. Because that was a job that women were supposed to do, but if I was interested in speaking to the congregation for a devotional, that was always an open option.
These are a few simple instances that have occured. There is a whole other world of miniscule actions and comments that happen every day, both to me and countless others because they don’t fit the mold as a man. Another consideration is that for women, it is oftentimes even worse, because they are judged and attacked just for fitting the roles that they are prescribed, let alone for the women who speak out, or seek to occupy roles that are deemed as being masculinity aligned.
Here is the question that I leave you with, are gender roles that important? As a man, I am told that I am not allowed to be nurturing or that the color purple isn’t a color that I am supposed to like. Many women are told not to be outspoken, or that they can’t work in any form of science, or labor. Are these archetypes that we still need to stick to in modern society, or perhaps, these are holding people back from reaching out and becoming who they want to be, and in turn, holding back society as a whole, because the people who may be most passionate, or most driven are not supposed to be involved because they weren’t born with the proper genitals.