Believe it or not, gender roles are an extremely important part of society. Even though most of us don’t or won’t abide by it, it is very prevalent in society to this day. It’s quite common for us to project these roles on most people we come across, and it often is a subconscious effort. However, that doesn’t make it right, does it? But, before I further discuss this, let’s understand what gender roles are!
What Do You Mean?
Gender roles or gender norms are a social role based on a range of behaviour and other things that are considered acceptable or appropriate based on a person’s gender. For the longest time, masculine and feminine were the only existing gender roles. However, there are exceptions with how times have changed.
But what helps categorize gender roles, you ask? It widely depends on a range of things we do as human beings. But the most popular categories include clothing, profession, and the topic for today, relationships. According to Freud’s assertion, biology is the key determinant of gender equality. And this was in 1924! And even though gender roles have been a very common unspoken phenomenon, the term was first used in 1954 by John Money and his colleagues. It was used in his study of intersex individuals to describe how these individuals expressed their genders due to no clear biological assignment.
So does that mean that gender roles and gender identity are the same things? It may seem like it, but no, they’re not. Gender identity is the internalized doubts of an individual regarding whether or not they fit the assigned categories of gender. But when these doubts externalize into expectations, that’s when it is about gender role.
We now know what gender roles are, but how do we come across this?
Born This Way
Genders roles have been so traditionally ingrained in our society, that we learn all about this as children. When a woman is expecting, she gets blue things for a baby boy and pink things for a baby girl. But think about it, who decided these colours are appropriate? The babies won’t know which one they like. They’re just going to stare at either of those because they’re bright.
And even then, it’s not only about the colours, but there’s more. Children are very impressionable and grasp things extremely quickly. So quick, that some of them learn to categorize their gender by the age of 3. Don’t quote me on that though! However, kids tend to pick up on clues about gender roles from their parents, the society, media, and the environment around them.
Traditionally, boys shouldn’t cry, tend to be more aggressive, and have other ‘masculine traits. While girls are soft-spoken, tend to be slightly mature, and have other ‘feminine traits. But if a boy tends to pick up some non-traditional traits, he either gets disciplined by his parents. If that doesn’t sound as bad, he would further get bullied and mocked by his peers. Another downside of these gender roles is the name-calling or terms that come with it: tomboy, effeminate, manly, feminine, flamboyant, butch, and more.
You’re probably thinking “these aren’t even that bad”, but they are. Some of these terms may not sound as bad, but many use these derogatory terms to bully or shame someone. I’ve often used tomboy as a term to describe myself on multiple occasions. And I’ve also come across so many people who tell me that I was probably born in the wrong body because I wasn’t the stereotypical girly-girl.
Land of Confusion
I know, I said that gender roles and gender identity aren’t the same, they’re related. And I experienced some of that when I was a teen all those years ago.
I never really questioned any of their comments, but after a certain point, I believed it. Nothing ever came out of this doubt, but I very clearly remember joking about it at some point because I wasn’t too sure how to feel about it. Not only did this become a running joke, but my sexuality was also often misjudged because of this. And I was also termed as a slut by few, solely because I would hang out with more boys than girls.
Tags weren’t really new to me, they were, however, confusing. But this wasn’t the end of it. There’s an incident from college that still baffles me to this day. I always wore loose fit t-shirts, jerseys or shirts on my jeans. It was almost like my uniform back then, and it only strengthened the tomboy tag. However, the only thing that gave it away was my voice and my long curly hair. Why is this important? Well, I happened to be strolling around my campus, when two girls walked up to me thinking I was a boy. This was despite the voice and the hair. Do you know what confused them? The clothes and the way I walked. According to them, neither of those things were feminine, so they ignored the obvious signs.
I love dressing the way I do because it is comfortable. But to this day, I still get comments regarding my outfits. I’ve often hear how I dress like a guy, only because I wear baggy clothes or jerseys. However, if I end up wearing something traditionally feminine, like a dress, or a sari, the immediate reaction would be “OMG, you look like a woman”.
And I wouldn’t say that affects me, it just confuses me. I wouldn’t want to go into all the details about how clothes also have gender roles. But we have seen this. The Kilt is the traditional attire of Scotland. However, I’ve seen so many jokes and gags surrounding it solely because it is men wearing skirts. And we’ve always wondered that if women can wear traditionally masculine outfits and get away with it, then why isn’t it socially acceptable for men to wear traditional feminine outfits?
But enough about me, let’s talk about romance!
We Found Love In A Hopeless Place
Gender roles are very prevalent in our society, and it’s almost impossible to miss. But what if I tell you that these rolls aren’t as beneficial for our relationships?
If you think about the stereotypical gender roles in a typical relationship, women expect men to make the first move and woo them. Even if a girl likes him, she should only do something about it once the man has asked her out. Not only do these roles apply before the relationship, but it also stays prevalent after as well. Take, for instance, a dinner date. Most expect the man to pay for dinner, regardless of the circumstances. Compare it to dinner with a friend instead, and there’s an option of going dutch.
Even though we’ve come far in respect to gender roles, there are many instances where it still can be a deciding factor in a relationship. There are so many stereotypes/ derogatory examples of a relationship in meme culture or just as a response to an argument about feminism. Oftentimes we’ve come across something like “Go make me a sandwich”, or you’ll see all these videos and images of men playing a video game while completely ignoring their girlfriend.
But what happens when you’re in a homosexual relationship? What if it’s two men? Who would society expect to pay for the meal? Who would be concentrating on their game? Who asks who out? And what if they’re both women? Is there no relationship whatsoever because you’re expecting the other person to ask you out?
Talking about homosexual relationships, I remember watching Queer Eye and coming across something similar. In season 1, Episode 1 titled ‘You Can’t Fix Ugly’, the hero Tom asks if either Bobby or Jonathan are married. When Bobby confirms that he is married to his husband for 13 years, Tom asks who is the husband and who is the wife. His question comes off as sexist, but Jonathan talks about even in a heterosexual relationship the line is blurred. While he doesn’t seem to clear any of Tom’s confusion, Bobby states that they both wear the pants in the family.
That brings me to a heterosexual relationship because the stereotypical gender roles include the husband’s and wife’s roles. The husband is the breadwinner in the family, while also being a strict disciplinary figure. The wife is the homemaker and a baby-making machine. And while times have changed where women are still going to work, they come back home to fulfilling the other responsibilities the society expects them to have. In “Feminists Vs Feminazis“, I briefly mention what women back then were like, but a stereotypical wife should want nothing more than to keep her husband happy.
A very good example of gender roles would be from the Bollywood movie ‘Thappad’. The lead has a happy, fairytale esque relationship. She gave up her career once she got married, looked after the house, and helped look after his mother too. Except for not having the good cook trait, she helped him with everything. However, things go haywire when her husband learns something unfortunate at their house party and slaps her in a fit of rage.
What followed is a trainwreck showing how everyone, including her mother, downplayed the slap. While her brother’s fiance and her father weren’t okay with this, everyone else expected her to forget it. Why? Because as a woman, ‘small’ things like this aren’t important. She needs to let go of it and focus on ensuring that her family is happy and looked after.
Another ridiculous instance I’ve heard of is where men don’t like affection. I’m sure if you affectionately run your finger through their hair, kiss their forehead, or even give them a little cuddle, they would appreciate it. Apart from calling men sissies for having something called feelings, I don’t understand how this doesn’t make them any less of a man. Affection is a huge aspect of a relationship and denying someone that just because of their gender seems like an utter waste. I’ve personally never had a man ask me to be in a relationship. I’ve always done the asking. And I didn’t mind it, along with making him feel special, I got what I wanted without having to wait.
I’ve always believed in splitting the bill, sharing equal responsibilities in a relationship, and respecting each other enough to have open communication about what my thoughts are in regards to the relationship. Gender roles may seem so natural for quite a few people, but letting that define my career, my relationships, or my life just doesn’t seem like the right choice, for me.
Do I personally think gender roles define my relationships? No, because we didn’t stick to either of those roles. And if you don’t feel the same way, that’s fine too! But to me, it just seemed to hold me down or mould me into the ideal girly-girl waiting for her prince charming. And I’m not okay with that.
Do you think gender roles have affected you or your relationships? Have you done anything about it? And if this was an enjoyable read, you can find more of my work here!