Recently in English we've been working on investigative journalism. I decided to write about gender stereotyping, and since I haven't created any new material to post on this blog, I'm posting it here.
Feedback welcomed in the comments below ^_^
How much does gender stereotyping affect our lives?
In a rowdy hall a pair of fighters - a boy and a girl - exchange blows while people below cheer on their favourites. Suddenly, the fight is over - the girl has won. People swarm around her like little worker bees desperately trying to please their queen. Words of congratulations are thrown towards her, but a few seem to stand out like daggers coated with honey.
“Wow! That was great. Coming from a girl, I mean.”
“That was some great technique up there. How did you manage to beat him? You are a girl, after all.”
She doesn’t think much of these comments, taking them in her stride as she soaks in the glory of the win. What she doesn’t notice is what happened before the match - giggles. Gasps. People shaking their heads, as if to say: “Is it really possible for that girl to beat a boy like him?”
Stereotyping is a problem that affects all our lives - in fact, everybody has grown up surrounded by stereotypes, or media that advocates these stereotypes. From when we’re little, we’re loaded up with ideas on how to think, what to do. We’re taught that pink is for girls and blue is for boys. That girls should play fairy princess, while the boys play football. That girls should wear makeup to cover any “imperfections”, that they should look perfect all the time, that boys should be muscular and should look “manly”. That girls should grow up to become mothers, housewives, nurses, dancers - and that boys should grow up to become doctors, bankers, sports stars, engineers.
The Oxford dictionary defines a stereotype as “a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing”. They can be positive or negative, but are rarely true. Instead of helping us find our way in life, they limit creativity and suppress our abilities to express ourselves freely, instead confining individuals in boxes based on what they “should” or “shouldn’t” be doing.
The biggest problem we face when fighting against gender stereotyping is the fact that it touches almost every aspect of our lives. In movies, women are often portrayed as extremely “sexy”. Their roles often make no difference to the plot, simply serving as eye-candy for viewers, and are stripped of many qualities that would make them interesting characters. Alternatively they are placed into the nursing, caring archetype - taking care of the house, cleaning up, looking after others. Meanwhile, men are taught that in order to fit in, they should be muscular, financially independent, emotionally detached, strong, intelligent and charismatic - all at the same time.
Media producers can find it difficult to come up with a wide range of characters and their individual personality profiles. The easy way out is to come up with a few main archetypes and slot characters into different categories to create a sense of diversity and make it easier for consumers to identify protagonists from antagonists. However, this tactic bends consumers’ views of the world, giving them an ultra-comprehensive but also extra-rigid set of rules to follow.
To find out more about this issue, I interviewed Trisha, aged 13. She shared a story about her tennis class: “We were running laps, and some of the girls were running faster than the boys. The coach shouted at the boys, saying they were too slow and that they should be doing better than us. I felt angry at him, especially since it seemed like he expected us to do worse just because we were girls.” Anvita, also 13, added: “I think the media gives us an unrealistic expectation of what to be. And both men and women have to live up to what the media pushes on us. When we don’t conform to what we’re told to do, people get upset.”
Gender stereotyping is something we still have to deal with for the time being. Women will always be mothers, and men will always go to work. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), women only made 78 cents for every dollar made by a man, leaving a 22% wage gap. And UK Feminista states that only 24% of news subjects in global channels are female, and only 6% of news stories are about gender inequality. It will take a lot of work, from men and from women, to make a difference and even things out.
Change is on its way.
Thanks to new-generation “post-feminists”, people are changing what they think about feminism. Instead of a word once synonymous with bra-burning and man-hating, we now have a word that calls for equality. From the perspective of Mr. Raisdana, feminism means “treating people equally regardless of their gender... Feminism means allowing men to feel vulnerable and sensitive and not perpetuating some outdated notions of toughness and masculinity.”
On the 20th of September, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson launched a new project called He for She. In her speech, Watson said: “We don't often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that they are and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence. If men don't have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won't feel compelled to be submissive. If men don't have to control, women won't have to be controlled. Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong.” The movement aims to unite both genders in the fight for equality instead of dividing them into “boys vs girls”-type groups.
And media producers do take into account what their viewers say. More and more producers are featuring a wider range of characters in their work, instead of just working with a few basic outlines. The line between “male” and “female” gender attributes is blurring with the rise of androgyny - the act of having both male and female characteristics or qualities. Just as we can learn to follow along with the portrayal of both genders in the media, we can also learn to find balance and reach harmony.
Nathaniel Branden once said: “The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.” In order to truly change how the world portrays people in the media, we have to talk about these issues. Have these conversations with our friends, tell them about what’s going wrong. We have to think before we speak, look into the deeper meaning of our words - what are we implying? Why do we phrase things the way we do?
Instead of thinking: “Wow - that was some good fighting for a girl. I wonder how she beat that guy, he looks much tougher than her,” we need to think: “Wow - she’s an excellent fighter. I could learn a thing or two from her.” Without an attitude change, no change is possible. Gender equality can only be reached if we value the strengths of each other.
In the wise words of Gloria Steinem: “We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons... but few have the courage to raise our sons more like daughters.”
Augarde, A. J. "Stereotype." The Oxford Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1981. N. pag. Print.
"Emma Watson: Gender Equality Is Your Issue Too." UN Women. UN Women, 20 Sept. 2014. Web. 02 Nov. 2014.
"Pay Equity & Discrimination." IWPR. Institute for Women's Policy Research, n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2014.
"Facts and Statistics on Gender Inequality." UK Feminista. UK Feminista, n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2014.