We’ve learned gender stereotypes from a young age—how females and males are supposed to behave and look; what societal roles and jobs they take; even how they think and feel. When we view someone not as an individual but as a member of their particular gender, and judge them on their ability to live up to those standards, it’s a form of prejudice and discrimination.
Although modern society has become more cognizant and open regarding diversity and individuality, there may be subtle things we do, say, and accept as fact that seem harmless, but are actually damaging to self-esteem and worth. It happens when someone assumes a woman has children or plans to. When it’s assumed a father is the one who works instead of choosing to stay home with the kids. It happens when a woman is expected to be a good consultant for matters of the heart or a man for practical issues. When a woman is expected to help in the kitchen or clean up while a man is expected to be on point with his sports knowledge. It’s most damaging when we stop ourselves from doing something because it goes against our perception of gender expectations.
We might be contributing to gender bias without even realizing it. So what can we do to support gender equality? Awareness is the first step. In your interactions with others, be on the lookout for:
- Jumping to conclusions about someone based on gender
- Expecting someone to behave or perform certain tasks because of their gender
- Shaming or criticizing someone because they didn’t live up to a gender stereotype
- Rewarding someone because they exemplify their gender stereotype
When someone does or says these things to you, keep in mind that the person may not be aware of their message, or that it is offensive or demeaning. Resist letting their ignorance become a part of you. Know your worth and value as a unique individual. You don’t have to ignore it, laugh it off, or keep it inside. You can say something if you choose. What you say and how you say it is a personal choice. Perhaps you can think of a way ahead of time to respond in such circumstances.
“Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong. It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum, instead of two sets of opposing ideals. If we stop defining each other by what we are not, and start defining ourselves by who we are, we can all be freer.”
~ Emma Watson in a 2014 speech at the United Nations Headquarters
Keep in mind that the macroclimate of our society trickles down into our personal relationships. If your view of gender roles is rigid, it will restrict your ability to be fluid and grow in your relationships.
Let’s be aware of our words and actions. Let’s be kind and respectful to ourselves and others. We are all human beings, and we all matter…equally.