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The Real Problem with Gender Stereotypes

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Oneonta chapter.

“Boys will be boys.”

“Stop crying like a girl.”

“Be a man.”

“You throw like a girl.”

These are all common phrases said by both men and women without a second thought. Many think that they’re just sentences-how could they harm anyone? The genuine effect that words have on those who are impressionable, like children, is immense. We are told these phrases as young children, which ultimately shaped our mindset as adults. Growing up with the notion that crying is somehow equated with femininity, which is associated with only women, is not only wrong, but harmful.

Let’s discuss the phrase “boys will be boys”.

Now, I remember the first time I heard that being said to me: I was in the 4th grade, and it was known that there was a specific boy who liked me. As a nine-year-old child, I didn’t want nor care that a boy liked me. He went on to make sure to sit next to me and chase me around the playground, and while that can be a little problematic, it wasn’t the issue. It became a problem when after about a month of him trying to get closer to me and I still wasn’t responding to his advances, he pushed me. I remember walking side by side with him and when we were alone, he lightly shoved me into the wall next to me. At first, I was shocked. I didn’t do anything wrong, if anything I was overly nice to him. He liked me, so why would he push me? When I went to a teacher about the incident, she said “it’s just boys being boys, it means he has a crush on you Sarah.” Do you remember that backwards notion that if a little boy is teasing or intentionally causing you harm it meant he liked you? Little girls are taught to rationalize that if a boy is putting his hands on you, like pulling your hair or pushing you, it means he has a crush on you. This is teaching little girls to associate violence with love. This could lead to little girls accepting violence in larger aspects as they get older because their significant other is “only doing it because I love you.” While this toxic mindset affects little girls, it also has a huge effect on boys and how they grow up. Excuses are always made for little boys doing wrong things, whether their gender is used as an excuse, or their feelings. These boys never have to take responsibility for their actions, and they grow up thinking that teasing, and possibly being physical with a woman, means that they’re just showing the girl that they like her. They’re excused from consequences when making sexual or crude comments because its “locker room talk.” I’m sorry, but making statements that are sexually violent or explicit without the knowledge of the other party knowing that you’re saying it only normalizes the sexist culture we already live in. Joking about rape or sexual assault is NEVER funny, whether you’re in a locker room or not. The stereotype that boys are animals and are unable to be conscious of what they’re saying is why men don’t take responsibility and make up excuses rather than own up to their actions. They assume they can say and do what they want with no setback, and they’re right. We live in a society that doesn’t hold men accountable, and they take advantage of that. How can you blame them? These men started out as little boys who didn’t have to sit in time out for pushing a young girl, and grew into men that thinks it is normal to sexually harasses women with zero consequences. We created that.

The next phrase, “Stop crying like a girl”.

This phrase is generally said to men in order emasculate them. It’s usually said between men in order to make them feel like less than a man. According to this phrase, being a woman means that you are weak and fragile, and a man cannot act like that. Crying is considered feminine, and only acceptable when it’s a female shedding the tears. Why are men the default for strength? Why is being compared to a female considered negative? These are stereotypes that are not only immensely insulting to women, but are harmful to men as well. Men grow up with the idea that showing emotions is “girly”, and as men they can’t show emotion. Men feel as though they must bottle up their emotions and feelings, and as a result it manifests into aggression and anger. The embarrassment and shame that goes along with this phrase is a direct insult to women, whether you realize it or not. This phrase is saying that being a girl is bad, and crying is bad. You lose your manhood if you cry. You lose all the traits that make you a man if you show emotion or vulnerability. Men are taught at a young age to toughen up and “be a man.”  They have a fear of expressing themselves because that could cause them to lose their manhood. They have this fear of losing their masculinity, and with that fear they lash out; this is called toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity is defined as “ a social science term that describes narrow repressive types of ideas about the male gender role”. It suggests that men who act too emotional, or maybe aren’t violent enough, could get their “man card” taken away, as defined by Urban Dictionary. It’s an attempt at the emasculation of a man and could lead to violent or aggressive behaviors. Men need to learn that it’s okay to be vulnerable, that its healthy and that it’s important to express your feelings, whatever they may be.

Be mindful of your words. You may not be able to understand why a certain phrase you say or words you use could hurt someone, but it’s important to be empathetic. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. See it from their perspective, and just be kind.

HCXO, Sarah

Hi! I’m Sarah. I’m very opinionated and my activism is important to me. I’m hoping through Her Campus I’m able to express my views and spread love and positivity through my articles
Shea Murphy

Oneonta '19

Shea is one of the Campus Correspondents for the HC Oneonta Chapter! Shea is a senior studying Biochemistry at Oneonta. She is a self-proclaimed photographer and loves spending time with her friends and family. When she's not in the lab or studying you can find her outside staying active and enjoying nature!