By Danielle Freeman, WPUNJ student writer
If you have ever felt unhappy with yourself, or as if you just don’t measure up to the idea of a perfect man or woman, you are not alone. The good news is that it is most likely not your fault. One universal interference to happiness is an obstacle commonly known as gender stereotyping, or gender roles. Gender roles have become so normalized in everyday life that we usually don’t think twice when encountering one. The fact is, so many are unaware of the stereotypes that we’re also unaware of all the harm they wreak. Developing an awareness of gender roles in your life can help you attain a much healthier relationship with yourself.
Gender roles versus gender stereotyping
Gender roles may not be negative in themselves, but they can limit a person’s self-expression, causing deep damage. Trying to live up to a standard prescribed by others will cause many to feel disappointed, and even self-loathing. This belief is considered gender stereotyping.
Holly Brewer, a psychologist writing for Health Guidance, a website devoted to providing information in all areas of health and wellness, explained that “gender stereotypes are generalizations about the roles of each gender. Gender roles are generally neither positive nor negative; they are simply inaccurate generalizations of the male and female attributes.”
Thankfully, it’s relatively easy to avoid the toxicity of gender stereotyping. You need to focus on becoming more aware of the gender roles at play in your everyday life.
The male stereotype
Gavin, a NJ student, had spent his life acting like stereotypes didn’t hurt, just to keep a tough look. Therefore, he experienced an overwhelming anxiety attack. The built-up of emotions led him to realize that it wasn’t healthy. This led him to start showing how he was really feeling. Although it was a struggle at first, Gavin explained that he worked hard everyday to remind himself that just because he felt emotions, it didn’t make him any less of a man. Gavin felt some mornings were harder than others when it came to accepting himself. He knew that if he had never become aware of gender roles in the first place, then he never would have been comfortable with himself at all.
Prior to his revelation, Gavin was constantly feeling the overwhelming pressures of these gender roles, as many men do. For men that have fallen into the trap of believing in these gender roles, keeping in touch with their emotions is not an easy task. Many studies have been conducted on men’s physical health and the impact that their mental health has on their life span.
In a study conducted on gender roles by Dr. Maria do Mar Pereira, a sociologist at the University of Warwick, relayed that “The belief that men have to be dominant over women makes boys feel constantly anxious and under pressure to prove their power—namely by fighting, drinking, sexually harassing, refusing to ask for help, and repressing their emotions.”
According to Dr. Pereira, “Trying to live up to these unreal ideas of masculinity and femininity leads to a range of problems; low self-esteem, bullying, physical and verbal violence, health problems and a tragic loss of potential in our young people.”
Also, studies conducted at the University of Rochester and Harvard School of Public Health found that men who repress their emotions are more likely to have a shorter lifespan, and are more susceptible to conditions such as heart disease and certain forms of cancer. If we were to teach young boys to be emotionally receptive like we teach young girls to be, then it may help to prevent this problem later on in life.
The Female perspective
Sadly, women’s health can be negatively affected by existing stereotypes, too. I’m sure that we have all heard people say that women are more sensitive and overreact more often than men do. Studies show that many doctors incorrectly follow along with this belief and are less likely to diagnose the actual problem, instead prescribing anti-anxiety medicine saying that they are just overreacting. This is a problem that many women face and causes larger health issues later in life.
Dr. Pereira found that “Girls feel they must downplay their own abilities, pretending to be less intelligent than they actually are, not speaking out against harassment, and withdrawing from hobbies, sports and activities that might seem ‘unfeminine’.”
Erin, a New Jersey college student who had recently focused on cleansing herself of gender roles and expectations (and claims to be much happier now that she is working to be constantly aware of them), admitted that she had spent most of her life attempting to ensure that she came off as “feminine.” She said it was hard for her at first not to fall back into the feminine mindset.
Erin gave essential advice that helped her process. She wants you to remind yourself of the ways that you were “trained to act” and try do the opposite.
Battling the stereotype
Dr. Pereira deduced that the solution to the harmful results of gender roles is that we need to spread ideas about gender that are more open and inclusive. It is important to ensure that people feel like they are accepted and not as if they are being judged. When we become aware of these gender roles, we can work towards a solution. Finally open ourselves up to the acceptance of one another.
After learning about the negative impacts that stereotypes cause, we can consciously work towards getting rid of them. It’s essential to feel fully satisfied with yourself and to love every part of yourself. When a stereotype or gender role gets in the way of your self-love, get rid of it immediately. Pay attention to the little moments and actions. When someone accuses you of overreacting, it’s important to show how strong and reliable you can be. Reminding yourself daily may be what it takes, but in the end it is worth the happiness you will achieve.
The first step is to become aware. The second step is to try and do the opposite when you notice yourself acting in the expected gender role. And lastly, attempt to change the expectations that you have on others. Allow yourself to be free of these roles while accepting others that have stepped away from their gender role expectations.