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During class lectures and discussions, current event articles, journal questions, and our class readings, we have focused on an array of different topics such as feminism and masculinity, and sex and gender. One major theme I believe is so important to discuss is gender roles and norms. Gender roles are behaviors that are learned by a person as presumed appropriate to their gender, assigned at birth, which is determined by the prevailing cultural norms. Gender norms are standards and expectations women and men are generally supposed to follow within a range that defines a certain community or culture at this time. We seem to conform to gender roles and norms because of our fear of not being accepted. As learned in class, conformity to these gender roles has existed in civilization throughout the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first century, and this needs to change.
One reading from the 19th century that really illustrated the idea of gender roles and norms is the speech from Sojourner Truth called “Ain’t I a Women”. Sojourner Truth was born into slavery and was involved in the Women’s Rights Movement. She delivered this speech at the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. Her speech emphasized the message that women can do anything that men can do. A quote from the speech was “That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman?”. She felt that men thought that women needed to be protected because of their gender even though she never really was because of her race. This speech directly relates to gender roles and norms but also oppression, because men felt that women should be inferior to men and that men should always have the upper hand. A stereotype that exists still today is that men should be the strong independent alpha male and that women should almost be the weaker link or always dependent on the male population. In reality, Truth was actually doing the work of the males. It is interesting that her quote can be construed in two ways. The one particular sentence, “Ain’t I a Woman” could be interpreted as look at me, I am capable of doing a “man’s” work, or as her frustration over being oppressed as a slave. Either way, I am glad that even in the 19th century, Sojourner Truth realized that women should not be subjected to these gender roles which in this specific case had a link to oppression as well.
One example supporting my claim about gender roles and norms is a reading from the 20th century called “The Politics of Housework” by Pat Mainardi. A summary of this article is that most men within this time period see housework, such as washing the dishes and pots, buying and putting away groceries, doing laundry, and cleaning the floors, as a job for women. Mainardi used translations throughout her work to show what the men really mean when they say certain things about sharing the housework. One example I thought was really interesting was when she included “Housework is garbage work. It’s the worst crap I’ve ever done. It’s degrading and humiliating for someone of my intelligence to do it. But for someone of your intelligence…. ”. This comment is again enforcing the idea that men are seen to be superior to women and that women should conform to societies’ notions of pursuing the “women’s jobs”, instead of engaging in professions that are seen as more suitable for men.
A video from the 21st century that involves gender roles and norms is from Emma Watson at the HeForShe Campaign in 2014. Emma Watson was appointed UN women goodwill Ambassador in July of 2014. HeForShe is a campaign for the advancement of gender equality which was initiated by the UN. She emphasizes the point that this campaign is active to end gender inequality and everyone needs to be involved for this to happen. Watson had several great points throughout her speech. She spoke about how women deserve the same respect as males and that we should be able to make our own decisions about our bodies. I completely agree with Emma. I like that she said if men do not have to be aggressive to prove themselves, then women will not feel the need to be submissive in society. She also made it clear that today, gender should be seen as a spectrum, not as two sets of opposing ideals, a strong point, which directly relates to our class discussions. She even discussed how not only women have these strict gender roles, but men do also. Watson states that young men hold in their feelings in fear that expressing them will make them less of a man. Therefore, we need to stop defining each other as what we are not, and start defining ourselves by who we are, so we can all eventually strive for more equality.
A Ted Talk that I watched relating to gender roles and norms was from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “We Should all be Feminists”. This Ted Talk was so intriguing and engaging to watch. Chimamanda made a point to say that as a society we teach girls to try to be successful but not too successful because in a way that is threatening to the man. It is unfortunate that still in the 21st century, girls are being taught to compare themselves to others and should not stand up for what they believe in because of the notion to conform to gender roles and norms. It is unfair that women are almost living with a glass ceiling which is a concept defined as unofficially acknowledging a barrier to advancement in a profession, especially affecting women and members of minorities. Chimamanda makes us aware that this is not how we should be living and that theses gender roles and norms need to be abolished.
Lastly, a current events article that directly relates to gender roles and norms is titled “This is what happens when gender roles are forced on kids”. This article discusses how more than biology, social aspects of your life such as friends and family have a great impact on what it means to be a boy or a girl. They place strict expectations on children and this has a negative impact that eventually carries into adulthood. It is sometimes learned in early childhood that males are the dominant sex, are strong and independent and that women need to be secured and protected. Even adolescents realize the pressures to conform stating that boys who act like girls are for the most part not socially accepted because of the lower power associated with feminine characteristics and behaviors.
Overall, we need to realize and put an end to the standards and expectations to which women and men usually conform. Throughout history, we have realized that the roles of men and women are already decided before a person is even born. Unfortunately, we still seem to adhere to these roles and norms even though one may not be comfortable. With the involvement of everyone in our communities, we can change this and all achieve the freedom from gender roles that is so needed and desired.
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