Let us just get one thing clear: we live in a society that was made by men, for men. This statement is not meant to sound rude, or meant to sound like I am bashing men. This is just simply the truth. Before one begins to make claims that this statement is false, just look around. Look at the number of female political leaders around the world compared to male political leaders. Look at how women are portrayed in media. Look at how parents treat their sons, versus how they treat their daughters.
Look at rape statistics. Study rape culture, issues with pornography, wage gap, human-trafficking victimization, and overall, the high rates of gender-based violence. If that is not enough to realize how our society works, my favorite college professor always says, “Just read a history book!” After all of that, it should be very clear, and obvious, that women are still discriminated against in this society. The funny thing about this is that, men can also be discriminated against in this society too, it just happens to affect women more. The main question I would have, after learning this fact, is why are things still like this? Why are women still stuck in subordinate roles? Frankly, there are a dozen reasons why this is the case, but one major cause is the enforcement of gender roles.
In more simple terms, gender roles are about giving men, and women, a set role that society wants them to follow, roughly based on their biological attributes. Society wants men to be the primary bread giver, and it wants women to focus on family. It wants men to be outspoken and tough, and women to be quiet and gentle. It gives men, and women, a set of rules on how to act, dress, and present oneself in society. “Gender roles reflect society’s understanding of what it means to be either male or female. This understanding changes across cultures as well as throughout time. The elements that compose the concept of gender roles include physical traits, goals, sexual views, occupations, and interests” (“Gender Roles”).
Gender roles are like a multiple-choice exam, but without any “all of the above” answers. There is only one set answer, and that’s that. It puts men and women into two completely different categories. This may not sound too bad. One may ask, what is so bad about putting men, and women, in their appropriate place? They are biologically different, so why not put them in a place that fits those biological attributes. Well, the main issue with gender roles is that it causes harm to people who, even slightly, do not fit the mold that society created. It is very clear that this society hurts women, but with the added enforcement of gender roles, not only does it hurt women, but it hurts men as well.
There are many people who would argue that gender roles are needed for humanity, but the truth is that the enforcement of gender roles cannot be properly justified, and it does much more harm than good. I am an Indian girl. My entire family is highly conservative, and most of them follow gender roles to the core. The men were expected to provide for the family, work outside of the home, be the head of the house, and make most of the decisions. The women were expected to know how to cook, clean the house, care for the children, and listen to everything their fathers, brothers, or husbands said. That is how my family, and majority of the families in the Indian community, were. I am certain that this is the case for many other families as well.
Growing up in this environment was not always easy. I was always told what my “appropriate place”, and “role”, was in society. “Sonia, girls shouldn’t play with cars. That’s for boys.” “Girls shouldn’t laugh so loudly. They are supposed to be calmer than boys.” It only got worse the older I got. “You need to know how to cook food, or else who will marry you?” “You need to lose weight, or else no man will think you are beautiful.” God forbid, I had an opinion that was different than the men in my family; I would just get yelled at, or lectured. Women were not supposed to have an opposing opinion. We were just meant to blindly follow.
Growing up, I was “different”. Boys never showed interest in me. I was loud, outspoken, and not exactly skinny. I got to a point where I began to think that something was wrong with me. Getting told by my family that I needed to change those attributes just so I can find a husband, validated that everything that I thought was wrong with me, was indeed wrong. It psychologically affected me, I became quiet, and I developed body image issues. Yes, I have luckily grown past this, and I am more confident now.
I was able convince my parents to look past gender roles. I am not angry that anyone in my family treated me this way. This is just how they have been raised, and this is what they believed to be correct. This is what they have known their whole lives. While I do not blame them for their actions, I still understand that being treated this way, because of my gender, is wrong. I am just one person in this world filled with over seven billion people. Everyone has been subjected to gender roles in one way, or another. One may have dealt with it in a more, or less, extreme manor. Regardless, it is still very prevalent, and it leaves some sort of effect on the individual.
For example, gender roles can also affect one in the workplace. If a man is assertive, outspoken, and is in a leadership position, people will call him confident, and focused. If it was a woman, people would call her bossy, or use the word bitch. That is just how it is. Another issue is that many people do not trust women in high positions, women are not being educated as much as men, or there is just overall sexism involved. Almost four in ten businesses in G7 countries have no women in senior management positions. Globally, the proportion of senior business roles held by women stands at 24 percent in 2016, an uplift from 2015 which stood at 22 percent. However, this minor uplift has contributed to an increase in the percentage of firms with no women in senior management: 33 percent in 2016, compared to 32 percent in 2015.
Two of the worst performing individual countries are Japan, and Germany: Japan at 7 percent senior roles held by women, and Germany at 15 percent (Medland). “A third of companies (globally) still have no female input into executive decisions and no women helping grow the business at a leadership level” (Lagerberg). Gender roles affect more than just females and males, but it causes problems for people who do not identify as male, or female. “For individuals whose biological sex, gender expression and gender identity neatly align, there is a level of congruence as they encounter the world” (Merino 31). This is just one of the many forms of social privilege; an unexamined part of their lives. Where they buy clothes, the forms that they need to fill out, identification papers they carry, bathrooms they use, etc. do not even bring a second thought. Yet for a transgender, or gender nonconforming individual, each of those things are reminders that they are part of a culture, and society, that does not account for their own experience (Merino 31).
Gender roles are the behaviors, tasks, and responsibilities that society thinks are appropriate for men, and women. Our society has made a lot of progress, but we are still nowhere near gender equality. By enforcing gender roles, we, as a society, are getting further and further away from gender equality. By enforcing gender roles, we are causing way more harm than good. By enforcing gender roles, not only are we clearly making things harder for women, but we are also causing problems for men, same-sex couples, and people who do not identify as male, or female. We must move past the enforcement of gender roles, and focus on gender equality. Gender equality should be the goal for our generation, and the generations to come.
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