You’ve heard about gender stereotype? That’s what I’ll be discussing today. I wrote this piece long before Odeh Morris penned his work on gender sensitivity and before I watched/listened to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s talk on reasons why we all should be feminists.
Gender stereotypes are simplistic generalizations about the gender attributes, differences, and roles of individuals and/or groups. Stereotypes can be positive or negative, but they rarely communicate accurate information about others.
When people automatically apply gender assumptions to others regardless of evidence to the contrary, they are perpetuating gender stereotyping. Many people recognize the dangers of gender stereotyping, yet continue to make these types of generalizations.
Traditionally, the female stereotypic role is to marry and have children. She is also to put her family’s welfare before her own; be loving, compassionate, caring, nurturing, and sympathetic; and find time to be sexy and feel beautiful.
The male stereotypic role is to be the financial provider. He is also to be assertive, competitive, independent, courageous, and career‐focused; hold his emotions in check; and always initiate sex. These sorts of stereotypes can prove harmful; they can stifle individual expression and creativity, as well as hinder personal and professional growth.
The weight of scientific evidence, I learnt, demonstrates that children learn gender stereotypes from adults. As with gender roles, socializing agents—parents, teachers, peers, religious leaders, and the media—pass along gender stereotypes from one generation to the next.
One approach to reexamining conventional gender roles and stereotypes is androgyny, which is the blending of feminine and masculine attributes in the same individual. The perfect person in this category is my friend Otuagomah, but not in the real sense of the word. The androgyne, or androgynous person, does not neatly fit into a female or male gender role; she or he can comfortably express the qualities of both genders. Parents and other socializing agents can teach their children to be androgynous, just as they can teach them to be gender‐biased.
So let me go into the real deal. It’s quite long, but I felt posting it here would be read and felt much more than on Facebook. 😂
‘Men are insensitive’
‘Women are bad drivers’
‘All men love sports and sex ’
‘All women love shopping and gossiping’
How often have we heard these comments in our culture? Some people may feel angry when gender based comments are made, while others may agree to these comments as genuine differences between the sexes, or some others may just crackle up seeing the lighter side of this battle between the sexes.
Let’s examine what acting like a man and being lady-like means in our society and what might be some gender stereotypes in the Nigerian culture:
‘It’s a boy!’ says the nurse and from then on, subtle stereotyping begins. Conscious and unconscious motives of having the family race continue through him bring joy. Guns and cars are bought for him, preferably blue and never pink.
While growing up, if he cries he will be told ‘don’t cry like a girl!’ He perhaps learns to suppress his emotions as he thinks it is ‘girlish’ to express them. It’s likely that he’d be encouraged to act strong, to act brave, to be tough etc.
Developing the ‘right male interests’ like sports, taking care of the outside work, managing money, learning to ride/drive, fixing the bulb etc. will most likely be encouraged in him. He would perhaps be discouraged from cooking and serving. He is likely to have fewer restrictions while going out.
While choosing a career, he would be encouraged to be ambitious. He is likely to be discouraged from choosing careers like teaching, counselling etc. as they are seen to be ‘softer’ career options meant for girls. The question of balancing home & family may not arise for him as it is assumed that his gender defines his primary role as bread winner.
On the other hand, if the nurse says ‘It’s a girl!’ the equations tend to change from that minute. Her room is, perhaps, decorated with the supposed feminine colour – pink – and dolls are bought for her.
In many communities in Nigeria, she could be considered inferior to a boy child. Conscious and unconscious motives of some day ‘giving her away’ and ‘saving for her dowry/marriage expenses’ may bring despair. While growing up, she will be allowed to cry and express herself emotionally. ‘Good manners’ like talking & laughing gently and not loudly, being delicate, being submissive to elders, not ‘fighting like boys’, being sacrificial, caring etc. is most likely to be taught to her.
Developing the ‘right interests’ like cooking, dancing, singing, tidying up the house, serving etc. will most likely be encouraged in her. She may not be encouraged to go out as often as her brother and is likely to have many more restrictions. While choosing a career, she is likely to be discouraged from choosing careers such as civil service or defence services as she will not be able to ‘balance’ family & home later on. It is most often assumed that her gender would define her role & function at home as primarily home maker and mother.
In our culture, the ideal male is perhaps seen as competent, stable, tough, confident, strong, accomplished, non-conforming, aggressive and is the leader. The ideal female is perhaps seen as warm, emotional, kind, polite, sensitive, friendly, fashionable, gentle, soft and is the follower. In urban contexts, these gender expectations and stereotypes could be more subtle and indirect.
These stereotypes create dangerous consequences that limit a person’s full potential and well being. Men and women, because of these stereotypes, are forced to ignore their personality traits, temperament and unique characteristics that make them who they are. Instead there is always a tendency to conform to the cultural notions of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’.
There may be several men who are soft & gentle in their temperament, who love to cook and are often bombarded by our society for not being charismatic and extroverted. On the other hand, there may be several women who are naturally extroverted, brave and tough and they are bombarded by our society for not being gentle & submissive.
Somehow, in all this chaos, our real self is often lost. Many of us realize this but wonder how to get out of these boxes that seem to be so deeply ingrained in us. We know we have the power to decide what makes sense for us, even if it requires us to look beyond our gender.
Perhaps the best way we can bring about change in our society is by becoming aware of our own biases and stereotypes in the way we see ourselves and others. My late uncle, (he was a Psychology graduate) suggested that every human being has both masculine and feminine parts to themselves and the integration of both these parts lead to psychological well-being and balance.
What do you say?