In almost every society, from Baltimore to Beijing, young boys are instructed to venture outside, while girls of the same age are encouraged to stay home and help out with household chores. In more orthodox communities, girls are even warned off taking the initiative in any relationship and as they reach adolescence, are already under the impression that their physical appearance is their key asset. Gender stereotyping is the practice of assigning a particular characteristic to whole gender groups, such as males and females, failing to respect their individual differences. It can limit the advance of the capabilities of girls, boys, women and men, as well as their educational achievement and life opportunities. Stereotypes about females both stem from and are the root cause of, deeply embedded patriarchal values, beliefs and norms. They are not only used to validate and conserve historical relations of masculine domination but also prejudices against women that hold back the development of women.1 Gender stereotyping can also lead to physical, mental and social harm, which can limit the potential of groups and individuals.2
Despite having a sweeping progress towards gender equality such as a dramatic increase in women’s employment3, widely available birth control4, rates of college graduation of women surpassing men5 and the illegalization of gender discrimination in employment and education6, changes in the gender system has been uneven. There has been a negligible amount of cultural or institutional change in the depreciation of traditionally female jobs and activities. Consequently, there was a greater amount of initiative from women then men to explore non-traditional jobs and roles. However, in certain cultures and regions, there are comparatively low employment rates of less educated women and the tenacity of conventionally gendered patterns in heterosexual romantic, sexual, and marital relationship.
“The personal is political” was a rallying cry of 1960s feminists, insisting women to stress equality in private as well as public life. Yet conventions symbolizing male dominance have altered much less in “the personal” than in the job world. For example, parents are more likely to
give girls “boy” toys such as Legos than they are to give dolls to their sons. Girls have increased their participation in sports more than boys have taken up cheerleading or ballet. Women now commonly wear pants, while men wearing skirts remains rare. A few women started keeping their birth-given surname upon marriage7, with little adoption by men of women’s last names. Here, as with jobs, the asymmetry follows incentives, albeit nonmaterial ones. These social incentives themselves flow from a largely unchanged devaluation of things culturally defined as
feminine. When boys and men take on “female” activities, they often suffer disrespect, but under some circumstances, girls and women gain respect for taking on “male” activities.
When gender stereotypes get attached to a job, it biases the authority that people attribute to the man or woman who happens to work in that position. In this manner, men experience undesirable bias when working in positions that others associate with women. In other words, stereotyping a job as “women’s work” and societal biases that grant women less authority than men harm us all.
Furthermore, they can lead other people to have a narrower sense of us too. That can affect individuals, whatever their gender. It can affect the economy: we have a shortage of engineers in this country, in part, says the UK’s National Academy of Engineering, because many women don’t see it as a career for them, and it can affect our society as a whole. Gender differences in access to economic opportunities are frequently debated in relation to gender differences
in labor market participation.
Under horizontal segregation, there are occupations and fields of economic activity which public opinion categorizes with men, such as heavy industry, construction, the army, drivers, economics, sales and commerce. Likewise, public opinion identifies certain occupations and areas of activity with women, such as personal care services, education, secretarial or office work, nursing, caretaking, marketing and public relations. Vertical segregation is also apparent. In the same sector – for instance, healthcare – public belief recognizes the professions higher on the wage and hierarchy scale with men, such as doctors and surgeons, while occupations lower on the hierarchical and salary scale or those coupled to self-employment are mostly allied with women, such as nurses or pharmacists.8
There are steps employers can take to alleviate bias among managers. One way is to highlight workers’ value in front of clients, or anyone who might need to conform to their instructions. A hospital administrator, for instance, may tout the importance of nurses (traditionally a woman’s job) at a staff meeting by encouraging physicians and other staff to follow nurses’ suggestions and respect their professional abilities. Temporary special procedures, including quotas in parliaments and political parties, judiciary, law enforcement agencies, executive and the corporate sector are to be taken.
On the other hand, having firm gender stereotypes can ensure a rigid society. It can help foster harmony between different social systems, such as the workplace and education. It can, additionally, aid with social security; by providing conventional jobs for each gender, there will be lesser social unrest and chaos caused. Members in the society will also be financially able to provide for themselves by at least having one member in each nuclear family have a stable job.
However, gender stereotyping is not the answer for social control. Defining the idea standards of body sizes through media is yet another jarring example of gender stereotypes being a violation of human rights. Psychological harm done to fit into these boxes of conventions is not rare. Examples include Sarah Burge, a former Playboy model and a mother of three that went through $3,000,000 worth of operations9 to look like Mattel’s blonde fashion doll Barbie; Roberto Alves who spent about $170,000 on surgeries to look like the Ken doll from Mattel. Roberto Alves almost lost a limb in 2014 when a gel infected into his arms became infected, and Sarah received a lot of criticism for encouraging her eight-year-old daughter for a breast augmentation and liposuction10. She is also widely known giving her fifteen-year-old Botox injections.
Moreover, adolescents diagnosed with severe eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia11 often report that their symptoms can be associated to the bullying they often receive12 from their age peers as well as the unrealistic media images13 presented as an ideal for them to follow. When overweight people are shown at all, they are presented as comic relief and often ridiculed. The romantic heroes and heroines in contrast, usually have bodies that are smaller and thinner than average. This is especially true for female characters while males are allowed the choice of “bulking up” with greater muscle development.
Based on a survey among 391 seventh and eighth graders, a study14 found that media exposure negatively projected body image both directly and through a arbitration process involving relationships with favorite characters15, motivations to self-compare16, and engagement in social comparison17 with them. Further, social comparison with favorite characters was found to positively predict an “ideal body shape” discrepancy, which negatively predicted body image.
Media influences play an important role in personality development, peer pressure, and the development of a sense of identity as adolescents make the transition to young adulthood.
One way to tackle this issue is through promoting a positive and non-stereotyped image of women and men in the media, uplifting the media to pursue guidelines to promote equality between women and men to combat gender stereotypes. It is also possible to proactively address the effects of gender stereotyping by educating and raising awareness in society through the media coverage of issues such as gender-based violence against men. In 2017, United Nations Women partnered with Unilever and industry leaders such as Facebook, Microsoft and Google to launch the Unstereotype Alliance18 – a new global Alliance set to eliminate stereotypical portrayals of gender in advertising and all brand led content. Kathleen Hall, CVP Brand, Advertising and Research, Microsoft, adds: “Advertising is a reflection of culture and sometimes can be ahead of the curve and help effect change. We are proud to be a founding member of this UN sponsored initiative to ‘unstereotype’ through the power and breadth of our messaging. We are all in.”
Although gender stereotyping might assist in social progress, the examples provided above show that the economical and psychological harm caused by it far outweighs the benefits it provides us with. Combatting gender stereotyping starts with making changes to the portrayal of both women and men, primarily on media. This would encourage people to step out of “traditional” standards. Importantly, men who display feminine characteristics need more acceptance and free will to do what they would want to, and not what society wants from them.
In conclusion, gender stereotyping is a violation of human rights. It stops many individuals expressing themselves in the fear of getting excluded by peer groups, affects one’s educational and job opportunities, and places a lot of psychological harm on the individuals that strongly believe they do not belong in either stereotype, or can associate themselves with a bit of both.
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8 Focus Bari, 2010
9 Llorens, Ileana (4 January 2012). “Sarah Burge, ‘Human Barbie’, Gives Liposuction Voucher To 7-Year-Old Daughter For Christmas”. Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.in/entry/sarah-burge-human-barbie-liposuction-voucher-poppy_n_1183510
10 “Mom Sarah Burge gives 7-year-old daughter Poppy gift certificate for liposuction”. CBS News. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-57355300-10391704/mom-sarah-burge-gives-7-year-old-daughter-poppy-gift-certificate-for-liposuction/
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16 Halliwell, E., Dittmar, H. (2005). The role of self-improvement and self-evaluation motives in social comparisons with idealized female bodies in the media. Body Image, 2, 249–261.
17 Helgeson, V. S., Mickelson, K. D. (1995). Motives for social comparison. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 21, 1200–1209
18 In Cannes, UN Women Executive Director calls on members of global industry to eliminate gender stereotypes in advertising (2017) http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2017/6/press-release-in-cannes-un-women-ed-calls-to-eliminate-gender-stereotypes-in-advertising