There is a degree of embedded sexism in the expectations we have, and stories we tell, within our culture. I am not talking about words like “humanity” having man in it, but instead about the idea that a stoic woman would be anything but a woman or that a man needs to be searching for as much sex and fighting as possible to be a man. The beautiful degree of individual complexity packaged in a human is reduced by concrete gender roles, and damaged by social pressures to conform to these standards.
Here, I will try to tackle 10 gender norms that I see as the biggest and most damaging gender-myths around, but feel free to add more to the comments.
1. Having emotions is unmanly
The vast majority of humans have emotions, and we use them alongside our rational analysis to make better decisions and understand our situation. Having emotions doesn’t make you “girly” or any “less of a man,” it makes you human.
2. Men should settle conflicts “like men”
If “like men” means “using violence,” then we are failing as a society to define manhood in a non-toxic way. It is no coincidence that men who “feel unmanly” are far more likely to use violence to substantiate their manhood. If we always settled disputes and debates “like men” then we would have no philosophy or science.
3. Tough women are lesbians
The idea that a heterosexual woman is an emotional wreck who “needs a man” to “keep her under control” is a classic staple of 1950s sexism. The temperment of a woman (or man) is not directly connected to their gender, and has a lot to do with genetics. A stoic woman is no more likely to be a lesbian than an overly feminine woman is guarenteed to be straight.
4. Only men cheat
Actually, marital infidelity appears to be something committed about equally by both sexes. Although social gender roles tollerate irresponsible behavior more readily from men, it doesn’t mean that woman are naturally less likely to be active outside of their relationships. If research looking at “socially monogamous” birds is any indication: the women may just more likely to stay in the same nest after cheating.
5. Men can’t control themselves
This is frequently used to excuse disrespectful sexual or even violent behavior by men. The fact is that self-control, much like empathy, is a skill that all of us can work and which some of us are genetically better at. There is never an excuse for anti-social behavior, and being a man doesn’t allow you to avoid responsibility for your actions and decisions.
6. The job of the man is to convince the woman (or as many women as possible) to have sex
No one’s job is to convince others to have sex. Consent dictates that, to put it really simply, you shouldn’t have sex or sexual relations with anyone you don’t want to or who doesn’t want to have them with you. You can say yes or no to anyone you want, and it doesn’t have any effect on your value as a person. Certainly, convincing or forcing someone into sex isn’t appropriate or alright, regardless of whether you are a man or a woman.
7. You have no value if you can’t, or don’t, make babies
This is a cultural norm we inherited from times when many children, and many of the mothers, died at birth. Population growth and even stability are a lot harder when so many die at birth or in early childhood. Centuries ago, having many children or indeed children at all was the most major guarentee that your genes and legacy would be carried on.
This simply isn’t true anymore, and with our current overconsumption/overpopulation it can be considered more responsible to have fewer children, or to adopt. The idea that you only gain societal value through child birth is highly outdated, and ignores the fact that you might be a “better person” to adopt a truly needy but healthy kid rather than pay hundreds of thousands for artificial insemination.
8. The woman is primarily responsible for preventing her sexual assault
This is commonly called “victim blaming,” and it doesn’t just happen to women. We are responsible for what we do, and not directly for what is done to us. If someone is raped, then the responsibility for that situation lays almost entirely on the shoulders of the rapist. If someone is traumatized then that trauma is not their fault, although how they deal with it belongs to them.
9. How you dress is directly connected to your gender and sexual attraction
How you dress, and how you identify yourself, are two topics totally unconnected to sexual orientation. A man in a dress is not necessarily more likely to be gay than a man in a suit, yet society will treat one of those two men much better. At the same time, who you want to have sex with is not a direct reflection on your feminity/manliness but is instead a reflection of your sexual orientation. Mix and match your style with your personality, and don’t define yourself based on outdated archetypes.
10. Your sex life, your personality, your friends, and your identity are determined by the sex you were born with
The idea that your sex life or any number of other facets of your personality and lifestyle have no direct connection to the sex you were born with. Expecting a guy to be fine with every instance of random sex, or expecting a girl to accept a relationship with someone simply because she had sex with him, are both instances of antiquated gender roles attempting to remove decisions from the individuals they impact. You, and you alone, get to decide what is right for you, and so is how you define your identity or sex.