How do we behave? How do we present ourselves? How do we interact in different environments?
Society has long tried to answer these questions by sets of rules and expectations. To do so, it has focused on our genders in particular. Thus differing rules and expectations for men and women developed. From behaviour and physical presentation to occupations and familial roles. This discrepancy has been maintained for generations as a result of gender stereotyping.
What is “gendered stereotyping”?
A gender stereotype is an oversimplified preconception about men and women. Stereotypes generalize the characteristics, behaviours or roles of women and men. Gendered stereotyping refers to the act of assigning individual-specific attributes based solely on their presenting gender. These stereotypes are widely held across cultures, social classes, and age groups.
Stereotypes often depict women and girls as diffident and sentimental. Females are expected to be friendly and loving. Male stereotypes, on the other hand, are strength and aggression. They often portray males as powerful leaders.
These assumptions and expectations can either be negatively framed or seemingly benign. However, all forms of gender-based stereotyping can be limiting and harbour unequal and unfair treatment – referred to as sexism.
Forms of gendered stereotyping
There are four main categories gendered stereotypes fall into
Personality characteristics – Typical stereotypes for women are to be kind and nurturing. They portray women as timid, emotional beings. Contrarily, typical stereotypes for men are to be aggressive and powerful. They portray men as loud and boisterous.
Physical appearance – Typical stereotypes for women are to be petite and graceful, while stereotypes for men are to be tall and strong.
Behaviours and domestic roles – Typical stereotype for women is the role of housemaker and child-bearer. The stereotypical role for men, on the other hand, is the one of breadwinner and head of the family.
Occupations –Typical stereotypes for women’s jobs are nurturant roles like nursing or teaching. Typical stereotypes for men’s jobs are roles in leadership and prestige occupations such as doctors or engineers.
As the examples show, there are significant discrepancies in gendered expectations and stereotypes. These assumptions often depict women in a subordinate role to that of men.
Gender stereotypes in children’s development
Research highlights the role of social learning and modelling in children’s development – predominantly done by mimicry of parental behaviours and mannerisms. This is especially true when considering gender roles and gendered stereotypes.
How does gendered stereotyping affect development?
Research shows that children are incredibly receptive to parental opinions. This is also true for their evaluation of gender, and the social models of gendered behaviours within their environments. Children observe these ideas and expectations and then apply them to similar situations in their daily interactions.
A little boy observes his father working on the family car, regularly. This boy is more likely to assume that this kind of activity is for boys when playing. Similarly, a little girl observes her mother doing domestic chores regularly. She is more likely to assume this activity is for girls when playing.
Consequences of gender-stereotypic parenting
The learned stereotypes can have a significant impact on a child’s psychological, emotional, and social development. It links to their self-perception, self-esteem, social attitudes, and academic performance.
Gender-stereotypic parenting in early childhood has demonstrated a significant influence in adulthood. Individuals from families who embody traditional gender roles are more likely to hold implicit gender-stereotypic beliefs. They stick to their expectations of themselves and others – thus continuing the cycle for generations. This can have a significant impact on adult relationships as gender expectations foster strain between men and women. These ‘norms’ only encourage inequality between individuals, professionally, platonically, and romantically.
While traditional gender roles and stereotypes may have once served a purpose in society, today they are mostly causing inequitable treatment. The rigidity of gendered stereotypes sees individuals valued only on their gender. It does not regard a person’s skills and abilities. Thus, stereotypes drive people into lifestyles and careers that deny personal identities and freedoms.
by Kristen Buck