“Men shouldn’t cry. That makes them seem weak, and they’re supposed to be strong!”
Those are just some of the demeaning messages imposed onto genders by society today. Why are specific traits associated with specific genders? “Gender” is an abstract concept—there is not a correct definition for it and the devaluation of people deemed “not fit” for societal norms is unacceptable.
People should be free to express themselves however they feel fit. Telling a person that they do not align with the standards associated with their gender identity is disrespectful to them, as everyone is naturally given the right to portray themselves as whoever they want to be. Belittling somebody only due to them being too “unmasculine” or “unfeminine” is atrocious.
This harmful aspect in the thinking of today’s society also negatively influences the children growing up in this generation. The idea of gender roles is especially prevalent in the entertainment industry, with the majority of characters’ personality traits revolving around their gender, further contributing to the stereotypes society has constructed. Kids watching these films can feel pressured to conform to these ideals, which may hurt their image of themselves or their developmental thinking process.
For example, a team of researchers conducted an experiment that tested the behavioral effects of children around 5 years old after experiencing different levels of engagement with Disney Princesses (Coyne, Lindner, Rasmussen, Nelson, & Birkbeck, 2016). The results yielded that for both boys and girls, a stronger exposure to Disney Princesses led them to exhibit more female-associated traits a year later, revealing that media can influence the thoughts of children even at a young age. This reinforces the idea that something can appeal to multiple groups of people, but social standards coerce individuals to adhere to the traditional definitions of their gender identity.
Additionally, another study concluded that subjection to various forms of media can contribute to the awareness of a “gender hierarchy.” In 2006, a group of teenagers was asked to take a survey relating to the different stereotypes correlated to males and females (Ward & Freedman 2006). Once again, referencing the results from the last study, the teens that viewed considerably more amounts of TV clips objectifying women were more likely to endorse conventional beliefs correlated to gender. The beliefs may include ideas like swearing is worse for a boy than a girl, looks matter more for females, and so forth. All of these standardized ideals are detrimental to the mindsets of many, and even more so with the rise of the #MeToo movement.
Sure, some may say that gender roles can complement each other to form a whole, but I beg to differ. The idea of individual traits characterized by different genders creates a barrier that separates people from each other. If men are constantly expected to be the breadwinner of the family and women are constantly expected to be stay-at-home wives, then what is to be made of the people that do not adhere to that criterion?
What about the dedicated females that strive to work in order to put food on the table for dinner? What about the single dads that have to stay home in order to provide for their kids when their mom is not around? There are so many exceptions to this so-called “traditional” way of thinking that it should not be accepted as being traditional anymore. Asserting these beliefs will only take away from people’s happiness and not change their roots, so it is completely unnecessary.
All things considered, the world needs to learn how to embrace individuals as who they are. Gender stereotypes should not refrain people from being confident, and anyone that tries to undermine someone due to their unique way of living life is insensitive. After all, with stereotypes and notions removed, we are all the same: human.