Stereotypes of women and men
The origin of the current stereotypes of women dates back to the 19th century. This was the era of Industrial Revolution. As a result of the Revolution, the economy shifted from agriculture to factories (industry). This huge shift forced men to leave the home to work and the women stayed at home to care for the household and the children. This difference in roles was instrumental in creating or enhancing stereotypes. These different activities represent same internal aspects of a person or group of persons. Women are viewed as mothers, providing assistance and support to others. As women are socialized to undertake the role of caretakers, they learn to be polite and nice. As their role is traditionally confined to the domestic chores, women are stereotyped as vulnerable, dependent and weak. Women are also stereotyped as sex objects who pay special attention to their physical appearance. Women, who do not accrue to this stereotype, fall into yet another stereotyped role and that is of a manly woman. Other social categorizations also combine with gender, creating thereby specific
stereotypes of women.
Boys, unlikely girls, are socialized to be in charge and assertive. Men are stereotyped as being rational and strong. They can be stereotyped in a variety of roles such as breadwinners and heroic fighters. As more women are entering the workforce, the stereotypes of men as breadwinner may weaken. However, at present, it is still prevalent and the society at large does not like the men who are unemployed or do not want to work. The heroic-fighter stereotype suggests that men are active, courageous, brave, strong, aggressive and even violent. This stereotypical thinking suggests that men cannot experience fear and doubt. If a man does not work and prefers to stay at home, he would be less masculine.
Stereotypes and socialization
It is interesting to note that children at the age of two years can distinguish men from women and boys from girls. When they reach the age of three years, they establish a gender identity and can hold gender stereotypes. They learn not only about men and women, but also, from their own self-concepts, how to fit in the world. Children understand their own gender roles and stereotypes before learning about the other gender. Before school-going age, these stereotypes are fully developed and most of the children hold rigid stereotypes about both genders. As children go to school and their exposure with other gender increases, this rigidity in stereotypes decreases considerably. In middle school, gender stereotypes can become rigid again. This flexibility increases with the age as young adults gain a critical understanding of the influences of stereotypes.
Gender stereotypical behaviour is reinforced by the parents in the form of selection of the toys for their children. Girls receive the toys that focus of mothering behaviours, attractive appearance and grooming and such domestic tasks as cooking. Boys, on the other hand, receive toys that encourage aggressive play, construction and destruction such as trucks, balls, blocks, guns and swords.
Social groups, institutions and people on the whole play a significant role in passing gender stereotypes. An individual learns what majority of the people in a particular society do and (s)he repeats what is seen and that will reinforce across people and institutions. Albert Bundara’s social learning theory narrates that child learns gender stereotypes from sources in addition to their parents. Children learn gender from their teachers, peers, siblings and the media. Media create and mould stereotypes through portrayal of genders. Advertising relies heavily on gender stereotypes. Children who watch a lot of television tend to hold more rigid gender stereotypes.
Gender roles are obviously cultural specific. Within Pakistani culture, there are different views of gender. These views are influenced by a variety of factors such as geographical region, population density, racial makeup and socioeconomic status. The gender stereotypes seem to be deep-rooted and more aggregated in northern, rural and agriculture-based areas in Pakistan. Gender stereotypes in urban areas of the country are not deep-rooted and aggregated.
What’s wrong with stereotypes?
Undoubtedly, stereotypes have some negative connotations attached with them. These can represent a particular group. But when it comes to non-stereotypical qualities that each individual possesses, stereotypes are often misleading. Irrespective of one’s gender identity; each individual possesses some qualities that are not in tandem with particular gender stereotypes. For example, not all the women show lack of interest for politics and not all men show keen interest in political activities.
Affixing people’s behaviours
Stereotypes are often not accurate but they can affect the individuals in a variety of ways. They, even inaccurate, influence one’s representation of individual qualities, people’s behaviours and perceptions.
It constrains opportunities
There are some exciting opportunities and experiences which men and women both have equal access to, but gender stereotypes often constrain such opportunities. Some activities are women’s domains and men are not supposed to go for them. Cooking is one such activity. If a man wants to attend cooking classes, he will be opposed by his peers and family who deny him the opportunity simply on the ground that cooking is for girls.
Another negativity attached with gender stereotyping is the concept known as stereotype threats. Under this threat, a person feels anxiety that his or her behaviour will confirm negativity attached with his or her group. Stereotype threat is detrimental to a person’s performance. For example, it is one of the stereotypes that women perform poorly in math test. If women are reminded of the stereotype or they themselves are under its influence, it will badly affect their performance if they take the test.
The fast-paced globalization and flow of cultures have, in many ways, resulted into unification, to a great extent, of gender stereotypes and marginalization of culture-specific gender characteristics. Social trends and movements such as women’s emancipation, feminism and human rights movements, etc. have brought about considerable change in the mindset of the people vis-à-vis gender across the globe. Globalization of politics, economy and culture has been instrumental in the creation of similarity of gender stereotypes in most parts of the world.
The writer is a Chevening scholar and studied International Development: Development Management at the University of Manchester