Gender Roles: Stop Stereotyping, Start Accepting | Emily Bashforth

Gender Roles: Stop Stereotyping, Start Accepting


I don't know if it's just me who thinks this, but I believe gender stereotypes have got worse as time has passed. I know previous generations had to grow up in an extremely gendered society, with girls being directly told to aspire to be housewives and mothers and boys having no option but to be physically strong, intellectual and willing to defend their country. However, typical gender roles are now being fed to society's children much more subtly and it's worrying to see the impact they're having.
Gender stereotypes in institutions such as the media and school are well hidden these days, meaning youngsters aren't always aware that they're being conditioned to conform to expected ideals. To young adults, though, gender stereotypes are clear - I know they are to me - so it's important that we use our voices to express how wrong they are and it's vital we remind those around us that they don't have to remain within the restrictions set out by a generation which are no longer alive.

Let's start with advertising. Advertisers in the past made no secret of the fact that they believed boys should perform one role within society and girls should perform another. Take toy adverts, for example, toys within the domestic sphere such as kitchens, vacuum cleaners and washing machines were aimed towards girls and action figures, weapons and toy aeroplanes were advertised towards boys. Pictures of girls in adverts showed them smartly dressed, not a hair out of place, often wearing white to symbolise purity and, basically, just looking pretty, whereas images of boys showed them playing rough, really getting involved, questioning their surroundings and wearing stereo typically male clothing. Girls were shown playing with dolls to encourage them to dream of fulfilling the mother role and to imply they are naturally nurturing and boys were shown engaging with science related toys to imply they are the only gender capable of getting respectable occupations. Girls were straight up told to enjoy cooking and taking care of others whilst boys were painted as the breadwinner and encouraged not to be emotionally expressive. It's crazy to think these depictions of boys and girls were still happening just over twenty years ago. You may think that advertisements have improved since then and that companies no longer want to force gender roles onto children whereas, the truth is, advertisers have just become better at hiding stereotypes. Plus, society have become so desensitised to them that they're now almost injected into us with a metaphorical needle and we're too passive to notice.
You only need to open an Argos catalogue to see that gender stereotyping is still a prevalent issue. Pages for girls are pink and littered with images of them playing with dolls and boys' pages are blue and show images of them fighting and learning. You walk into a toy store and boys' and girls' toys are still clearly divided into sections with signs. You switch on TV and girls are being sold Lelli Kelly shoes with free make-up inside whilst boys are being sold telescopes, interactive globes and I don't know what else. Young girls in the media are still dressed in a stereotypically feminine way and God forbid a boy to be shown wearing a pink t-shirt. Young children are being socialised into gender norms without even realising it and so grow up believing there's a set of rules they need to follow. Even children's play is being interrupted because their parents teach girls not to play with "boys' toys" and tell boys they "can't play with that because it's for girls." If children are not safe from gender roles within their own imaginary world of play, where can they be truly themselves without judgement? I'm not here to encourage parents to raise their children gender neutral, because, at the end of the day, you can do what you like with your own children. However, I do wish that parents would have more consideration for the fact that gender roles do actually damage their children's mindset. If a boy is told from the age of five that he can't play with dolls because it's "gay" then what hope is there for him in the future? You may as well just buy him a time machine next Christmas and send him back to the fifties. Parents may think that there's no harm in buying their daughters Barbies and their sons Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and, honestly, there isn't. What does cause harm is that children are taught that these are the only toys they should be playing with. Children need to be encouraged to broaden their minds and encouraged to express themselves however they choose as, honestly, gender is a social construct and should not be forced upon children from birth. Putting your boy in a blue shirt is fine but ensure he knows that, if he wishes to, he can wear a pink shirt. Encourage your daughters to be caring and compassionate but ensure they are aware that boys have emotions too and they needn't feel they should only perform roles which allow them to be emotionally expressive. Encourage your daughters to aspire to be bank managers, scientists and doctors and allow your boys to attend dance classes, aspire to be make-up artists and fashion designers. Gender stereotypes means we're spewing out generation after generation who believe there are certain things they shouldn't be doing because they're either a boy or a girl. It's frustrating to see children being so restricted when it's easy to free them from stereotypes. Children are extremely impressionable so if you tell your son he can wear a dress, chances are, he'll believe you. Parents ought to educate themselves and open their eyes to the fact it's 2017 and there is no wrong way to be a boy or girl.

In some ways, I suppose gender stereotypes surrounding children are improving. A recent TV advert for Smyths toy store depicted a boy wearing a dress and it wasn't an issue and young girls in the media are being shown as strong instead of passive and are encouraged to fight their own battles. However, it's important we recognise that stereotypes are still a problem and dispel them instead of allowing them to shape children's futures. I look forward to a day when my generation are the ones picking their kids up from the school gates as I believe we have much wider view on gender and are more open to the fact that things aren't so black and white anymore.

What with the trans community now being more accepted and having the confidence to express themselves freely, the line between 'male' and 'female' are becoming more blurred as the days pass and it's refreshing to see that gender isn't as big of a deal anymore. People seem to have bigger things on their minds rather than worrying about a man wearing high heels and it's actually encouraged to defy gender norms and to stick two fingers up in the face of those who try to tell you to conform to society's expectations. Take a group of boys from a school in Devon who turned up wearing skirts after being told they couldn't wear shorts in the hot weather. They won their battle and proved that there are bigger things in life than clothes. Besides, clothing has no gender. Literally, it's just fabric draped around your body to protect your dignity - not a big deal! I believe social media has played a huge role in the acceptance of self expression and in educating people on the fact that there are not just two genders. We have TV shows like Ru Paul's Drag Race, TV documentaries which showcase what life is like as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, male YouTubers such as MannyMUA and JefreeStar creating make-up tutorials and sites like Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram where people can share their opinions, talk to others and get them clued up on how out of date gender norms are.

As someone who identifies as a young female, I know that gender stereotypes have an impact. Whilst I rebuke gender stereotypes, I know that others older than me don't and, for the time being, I have to live in world shaped by them until I am old and stable enough to run it myself. Even small things like being forced to play netball at school whilst the boys played football, being told I shouldn't purchase a t-shirt because it's a "boys' top," being labelled as "girly" because I have my eyebrows waxed and take pride in my appearance and always feeling as though I wasn't being fully encouraged at school to perform certain roles. Although, I am thankful to be surrounded by people who actively disobey gender norms from the boys in my classes at school who wore make-up to the females in the music industry speaking out about the gender pay gap. From Harry Styles painting his nails to Kristen Stewart wearing a suit on the red carpet. From boys marching in the streets to campaign for a woman's right to have control over her own body to females occupying some of the highest positions in government, (Theresa May may not be running the country in the way which I like but she's working to shatter that glass ceiling in the same way that Hilary Clinton did when she came so close to becoming the US President she could practically smell a congratulations cake being baked for her in the oven at the White House). Despite the fact that many still want to restrict me from expressing my identity in my own way and despite the fact that gender stereotypes are still all around me, I feel inspired to continue campaigning, hand in hand with the rest of my generation, to defeat the idea that boys should be this and girls should be that. Gender roles will not disappear overnight, however, I encourage you to continue rebelling against them in your own way, whether that's by buying your little brother a doll, wearing a dress if you identify as male, studying to become technician if you identify as female or whether it's simply supporting those who choose to boldly defy gender norms by verbally defending them against prejudice, do what you can. Teach your parents that gender roles are a thing of the past and make them feel old by telling them girls no longer need to aspire to have babies and look after their husbands and boy no longer need to go off to war and hold in their tears when watching a sad movie. I'm tired of gender stereotypes and I want to live in a world where we can all be exactly who we want to be and where our children are loved and accepted no matter what.

Support feminine boys, support masculine girls, support those who identify as non-binary. 

Besides, I'd rather have bread roll than a gender role, any day of the week.

What are your thoughts on gender stereotypes? Have they improved or worsened? 

Love, Emily :) xx

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