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The Toxic Culture Behind Gender Stereotypes

The holidays are a time for family reunions and forced social situations with relatives that we pretend to like. During the many gatherings that occur between Thanksgiving and New Years, there is a trend that is difficult to miss: the lopsided expectations of what boys and girls are supposed to be doing. At these functions, the women are supposed to cook, clean, entertain guests and serve men and children while the men sit down to drink and watch sports, grill or do something “manly”.

As a child, I watched during our Christmas parties as my mother and other women ran around frantically trying to make sure everything was going smoothly as my dad and his friends relaxed, got drunk and waited to be served. While my brothers played outside, I was told to stay in the kitchen and work. After everyone finished eating, they would leave their dishes on the table or call a woman to clean up and she was expected to drop whatever she was doing and answer to them. When I asked an aunt why this was, she replied, “That’s just the way things are supposed to be.”

In many cultures around the world, it is looked down upon for a woman to eat or rest before she has tended to the needs of others. From a young age, girls are conditioned to be servants who are seen, not heard, as boys are brought up to be “leaders” who are assertive. Young girls are expected to stick with their mothers to learn how to cook, clean, nurture and essentially “become women” but boys are encouraged to be independent and left to their own devices. The Social Learning Theory suggests that children are rewarded for conforming to their parents’/society’s expectations of gender. If a child tries to stray from these standards, they are met with negativity from adults who, more often than not, are reacting subconsciously based on the way that they have been brought up.

Gender stereotypes, or culturally defined patterns of attitudes and behavior considered appropriate for each gender, are one of the top reasons many teenagers and even adults struggle with identity.

Because they are told who they’re meant to be, they feel less than when they don’t meet certain criteria. It’s also fueled by parents and other adults who condemn young children for not being good at something within their gender stereotype. This could eventually lead to self-esteem issues and mental illness. These stereotypes are also harmful in that they often produce the opposite result than desired (men being perceived as superior and women inferior). According to them, men are independent and dominant while women are passive and dependent. In actuality, men and women are codependent in most cultures but society shapes the contents of gender stereotypes, such that men are perceived as possessing more of whatever traits are culturally valued so they always seem to be on top. This then affects how people see and interact with themselves and others.

In a society where patriarchy reigns supreme, it is important to try and dismantle the heavy load of expectations placed on gender. Let girls play outside. Let boys learn how to cook and clean. Teach girls how to service a car. Allow boys to cry. Establish an even distribution of power and responsibility. Superiority is not directly correlated to gender.

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Sandra Jeremiah
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A pseudo well-rounded jack of all trades who plans to fight racism, smash gender roles, piss off conservatives, take over the world and write about it.

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