In Catholic grade schools, the girls wear jumpers and skirts. The guys wear collared button-ups and dress pants.
I never cared about what people thought of me as a young girl going to Catholic school. I wore skirts and jumpers, but I also wore pants whenever I felt like it. Around fourth grade, I stopped wearing the pants. I used to sit with the boys at lunch and prefer compliments on my athleticism to compliments on what I wore. There was no prompting incident I can remember, but one day I stopped wearing pants altogether. Eventually, I cared about getting compliments on my outfits. I was beginning to fit myself into the box of female gender stereotypes.
The word stereotype has a negative connotation, and it can be awkward to talk about existing stereotypes without feeling guilty or inappropriate. Stereotypes, specifically gender stereotypes, are touchy subjects. As a society, we don’t want to step on toes or be politically incorrect. If people avoid talking about the negative effects stereotypes have on people, it lets the stereotypes have power over us.
As a society, we like our labels. We like labelling people, and we look to associate characteristics with these labels. In order to comprehend how others can be so different, society strives to generalize people. Men and women each have boxes they must fit into. Men are supposed to enjoy working out and doing other ‘manly’ things and women are supposed to be shopaholics. If people fail to fit into their boxes, they are ridiculed via social media and even in person and are shoved back into their respective boxes.
Men make the first move – that is what happens in almost every movie. Men are tall, strong and emotionally distant. Men are supposed to want sex, and be chivalrous. And if they don’t fit these descriptions, they are often called p*ssies (female genitalia), b*tches (female dog) or f*gs. When men embrace any kind of femininity, they are put down, while men who show masculinity are praised.
Gender stereotypes are legitimately harmful to not only individuals but society as a whole. If men fail to fit into their confinements, society uses putdowns having to do with females, such as female genitalia. And if guys are being derogatorily called females, that says we think women are inferior and that we think being called a woman is an insult. This lack of respect for women ultimately, can perpetuate an acceptance for men to sexually assault women.
When I think about college, I can’t help but worry about the fact that one in five women are sexually assaulted. That statistic rings in many high school girls’ ears.
But what we don’t hear about is the one in 15 men who are sexually assaulted in college. We don’t hear about this statistic because of our beloved boxes. Men are supposed to always want sex. Men are supposed to be stronger than women and other men. Men aren’t supposed to be sexually assaulted, so they often don’t speak out.
Since men are often afraid to vocalize their struggles, we think of it as more normal for men to sexually assault women, thus perpetuating the idea that men don’t respect women.
Women have a set of standards they are to follow as well. Women should be ladylike. They must dress modestly, but not prudish. They are to be polite. Women are emotional. If they fail to fit into their box, they are slutshamed or called d*kes or prudes.A woman who sleeps with too many people is called a whore. And often times, while women are slutshamed for sleeping with people, men are congratulated, as it solidifies his manhood. But there isn’t really a term assigned for men if they sleep with too many women, except for manwhore. This tells us that the default for insults is women.
Instead of pushing people into their respective boxes, we should learn to accept that we are all different and we should let people be whoever they want to be. It all comes down to having respect for other people and realizing that we don’t have to fit into male and female gender roles. I think by practicing this we can hope to end these harmful stigmas.