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Gender Roles as a Societal Construct

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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CWU chapter.

Expectations placed on gender begin at the moment of birth. Norms and unwritten rules are perpetuated by society and are unknowingly accepted by the majority. Gender is a social construct that is formed by socialization, language, and institutions. As a result, gender roles are placed into hierarchies and major inequalities exist from the outcome. Gender being a social construct impacts the way society functions and creates restraint to advance the world. It is very common to have a biased opinion between females and males for their so-called natural “roles”. Some people do not even realize their implicit bias, like me. I believe all genders should be equal, but I also acknowledge that my implicit bias exists despite my best intentions. It is challenging not to stereotype and place genders into certain categories when much of it is learned behavior. 

Language and institutions are unknowingly the main reasons why gender is a social construct and creates gender biases. As a society, we tend to categorize women and men into certain roles, especially in work fields and home chores/jobs. People even coin certain words for men and women, specifically to insult each other. A hypothetical example is a man asking for a raise and the male boss thinks, “What a go-getter”. On the other hand, a woman asks for a raise from the male boss, and he thinks, “What a b*tch”. These derogatory terms imply weakness and harsh words to describe a female in a negative way. They are often used to insult men by suggesting that they act like a girl and should man up. Adding on to the language aspect of gender, words that have the same meaning are used to differentiate between females and males. Women and men have similar words to describe them; examples consist of, “Exact and frustrated” for a male and “Fussy and upset” for a woman. It pictures men as level-headed and strong, while it demeans women as overreactive and emotional. Removing gender from words eliminates the opportunity to insult someone intentionally because of their gender. By eradicating these terms from common vocabulary, it will remove barriers and help create an equal playing field.

In the previous paragraph, I discussed how language and institutions fuel gender stereotyping and bias among the genders. Going even further into gender stereotyping and prejudices against genders, there is socialization which creates hierarchies and inequalities. The exact definition of Socialization is, “2. the process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society,” (Oxford Languages). We start learning how to mold into society at a young age. Women are taught to be polite, put together, etc. and men are taught to be tough, bold, etc. Multiple studies state gender stereotypes start between the ages of 5 to 7. Children’s minds pick up on everything; they want to know how to grow up and adjust to the world. Children are taught at a young age boys wear blue, and girls wear pink. Or, boys have trucks and dinosaurs while girls have dolls and art supplies. As a society, we socially construct children to grow up as the sex they were born into. Also, when children are taught young, the stereotype is taught of women being submissive and men being strong. This stereotype is then reinforced throughout their lifetime if they are taught nothing else. For example, there is socialization of women being the household caretaker while the man owns the house and is in charge. This is also referred to as the man of the household. Domestic Duties by far are placed on women. For example, food preparation, laundry, and caretaking tasks. Unfortunately, the woman is not seen as a hard worker but instead agreeable and faithful to her husband, often valued as less by society, devaluing her work at times. These types of situations create a hierarchy by ranking different genders above one another. 

I took an implicit bias test and my were very surprising to me, there is a link below as well to take it yourself. When I took the Gender-Science test, my highest result was a 29% moderate automatic association of male with science and female with liberal arts. My lowest result was a 1% strong automatic association of males with liberal arts and females with science. The Gender-Career results produced similar results with a 32% moderate automatic association of males with career and females with family. Then a 1% strong automatic association of males with family and females with career. I was molded to fit society, and when I was young the stereotyping of gender stuck with me. Now I understand the stereotyping of gender and do not agree with them or my test scores. I believe gender stereotyping is an underlying thought process that society has created. Many people arrive at conclusions about gender but never even question how they arrived at that conclusion. The video The Surprising Neuroscience of Gender Inequality says, “But actually conscious decision making represents a tiny tiny fraction of what goes on in your brain.” It takes conscious effort to decide if personal beliefs align with societal norms. “Creating these stereotypes at a young age affects how you grow up in society. Gender socialization is a life-long process; teaching children in a simple manner at a young age that there should be no gender boundaries in society, would slowly eradicate implicit bias. 

Do I believe my test results to be accurate? I do not, and was surprised to see them. I believe all genders to be equal and not socially construct how we should live based on our gender. In the work fields, women should not be at a lower pay grade because of their gender when they could be more qualified than a man. My test results unfortunately did show I have implicit bias but it was not severe. Gender stereotyping in the English language by Laurel Richardson states, “One consequence is the exclusion of women in visualization, imagination, and thought of males and females. Most likely this linguistic practice perpetuates in men their feelings of dominance over and responsibility for women, feelings that interfere with the development of equality in relationships”. I grew up in a family of four including my mom, dad, brother, and me. We share chores and duties equally with no assigned gender to a project. However, my dad does a lot of the heavy-duty chores because he is stronger than my mom. This does not make me or my mom feel bad in any way. If we did try to do a hefty chore it would be very difficult. My dad and my mom are equal, no one is higher than the other; they equally share everything. They both have full-time careers and share all indoor and outdoor tasks as a team. I think my implicit bias did not come from my parents but from societal rules and stereotypes. Gender norms can be changed because as a society we created them in the first place; gender norms have been placed for hundreds of years, and changing them would benefit all genders to become equal. 

The systemic issues with gender are just that, perpetuated by systems. Systems of language, systems of hierarchies, systems of institutions.  The roles of gender were very strict in earlier time periods in America, yet remnants of these stereotypes still exist. To work against the status quo, it is important that our society embraces change for the better. Through education, dialogue, and intentional work to eliminate barriers, gender inequality can be deconstructed. Is it impossible? No. Will the work be difficult? Yes. Anything that requires a system to substantially change in its ideals and actions takes time (usually too much time) and a lot of work individually and as a community. 

Implicit Bias Test: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/user/agg/blindspot/indexgc.htm

Hello! My name is Zoey Ryan and I am obtaining my BFA in Graphic Design and minor in Art History at Central Washington University. I am very passionate about people, and telling human stories. I love going to concerts, collecting records/ vinyl, listening to music, drinking matcha, thrifting, and making all kinds of art.