We limit our opportunities and challenges when we only dance within the ropes of gender stereotypes, says Praseetha Naidu.
If I had a ringgit for every time someone said to me, “You’re a girl, please behave like one, I would be the richest person on earth.
Apparently, to be a girl, is to have a gentle demeanour that reeks of servitude. Where and when did we start the segregation of gender roles? Some say the media is to be blamed, that it is one of the most powerful influences in society.
But the media merely reflects what society does. It is the exaggeration of society’s perception. Blaming the media won’t change anything. Changing our society will indefinitely fix the problem.
Flip the pages of a magazine or go through the channels on television – it would be near impossible to find an advertisement or a show that doesn’t depict gender roles. If its kitchenware, chances are, a female is shown because, clearly, men do not know how to use a kitchen utensil!
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When these roles are portrayed by only one sex, it can be assumed, especially by children, that men and women are only qualified to do certain jobs based on their gender. This becomes alarming as children grow older and stick to these unwritten rules set by society.
Growing up, I had certain roles thrown at me; I was never held back as to the choice of my career. This is why, when I entered university, it shocked me to see how my female and male friends fitted so perfectly into their gender-stereotyped moulds.
The thought of doing something that wasn’t considered befitting their gender was inconceivable. I suppose the breaking point was when I was constantly told to watch my behaviour and mannerism – not because I was impolite, but because I wasn’t being enough of a woman in their eyes.
This not only applied to the women but also to the men. Men are expected to be these strong, muscular human beings with a strong sense of machoism coursing through their veins. They are told to not be sensitive and to not show their emotions. Doing this doesn’t make you manly, it makes you depressed. What does crying have to do with gender?
People need to be accepting, without batting an eye, that gender has nothing to do with one’s behaviour, career choices or sexual preferences. If a woman wants to be a neurosurgeon and a man wants to be a ballet instructor, what does gender have to do with it? If a doctor can save a patient, what does gender have to do with it? If a teacher can teach a student successfully, what does gender have to do with it?
All said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with accepting a gender-stereotyped role as long as it is willingly taken by the individual and not forced upon by society. If a woman wants to be a homemaker because she really wants to, there is no problem at all. But if she is forced to leave her job to be a stay-at-home mother, that is when the red flag is raised.
Gender-stereotyping affects one’s upbringing. It affects how one functions in society. We are doing nothing but limiting our opportunities and challenges when we only dance within the ropes of gender stereotypes.
Praseetha participated in Aliran’s Young Writers Workshops on Multiculturalism and a second one on Good Governance, Gender and Vulnerable Groups, both supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives.
“I enjoyed both very much and I am so grateful that Aliran decided to have these workshops because, I believe, young people need the push to write,” she says. “We have a lot to say but we just don’t know how or where to get our voices heard.”