The phrases “boys will be boys” and “girls should act more like ladies” are the common misconception of gender stereotypes that we are socialized into learning at a young age, whether it was from our parents, peers, teachers or the media. Throughout the life of an individual, men and women develop differently and mold different expectations of the identified biological gender because of the different socialization an individual encounter. Ferris and Stein (2016) says that there are “four major agents of socialization” that includes families, schools, peers and the media. Socialization is important to the development of a gender identity because of how an individual can interpret and analyse the world to break away from these stereotypical roles that can harm one psychologically.
It is important to understand the difference between sex and gender to understand the feminine and masculine stereotypes influenced by society because many people confuse these two words as the same thing. According to Ferris and Stein (2016) sex is identified in two categories, male or female, based on their biological factors. While gender is the “physical, behavioural and personality traits that a group considers to be normal, natural, right and good for its male and female members” (Ferris and Stein, pg. 243). Research shows that we are raised into gender roles through a process called gender-typing (Ferris and Stein, pg. 243). As children grow up, they easily absorb behaviours and beliefs that society deems to be culturally acceptable for each biological sex.
Children are quick to observe and play out the stereotypical behaviour of one’s gender. By the age of two, “children are aware of what their gender and others’ gender, and by the age of three they start to identify specific traits that are associated with each gender” (Ferris and Stein, pg. 248) Families are usually the primary source of socialization, their own beliefs and perceptions of gender are influenced based on society around them and from traditions beforehand. Parents treat sons and daughters differently from one another. Berk (2000) states that before children can express their own preferences, parents choose the environment for boys or girls to follow. The bedrooms are decorated with colours and themes with gender specific colour, primarily pink or blue along with infant clothing. Parents encourage their sons and daughters to participate in gender typed activities, girls are encouraged to play with dolls and tea sets and boys are encouraged to play with cars or to play any physical sports (Berk, 2000). At such a young age, these babies and children have yet to completely understand what is being asked from them and they are simply following along with what their parent envisions for them.
As the son/daughter begin to reach the grade-schooler age, it becomes crucial for the parent to expand the child’s perceived stereotypical role. Berk (2000) observed the interaction of mothers and fathers with their school-age children that revealed boys were expected to have more independence and a tougher exterior than the girls. Girls were treated very fragile and sheltered from the “harsh reality” of the other kids, girls would be watched more carefully and when explaining what is wrong, the parents would sugar-coat the truth. Parents also hold different expectations for their children in school subjects. During this age, it becomes more apparent how gender plays in the role of the development and shapes one’s belief and outlook of the other gender. Boys are more likely to have maintenance and/or physical chores around the house that include taking out the trash or mowing the lawn, while girls are more likely to do domestic chores like cleaning or cooking (Berk, 2000). These household chores are categorized and influences the children to define certain chores/activities as masculine or feminine, which can heavily influence one’s outlook on future occupation. It is crucial to socialise both gender with the different tasks of simple household tasks in order to break away from the stereotypical gender role. Although, it seems it has been done this way for years, the acknowledgment of where the socialization of gender roles stem from can break away the dividing line that creates inequality and the fragile concept of the word masculine.
The threat to a man’s masculinity can impact his mental health and self-esteem. There are so many different societal pressures to conform under to what it means to be masculine. In the study, Pasick found that men are more than four times likely than women to committing suicide in 1999, fortunately in 2007 the number reduced to three times as many men. The numbers are still quite at large with the number of suicide rates compared to women and it is shocking. Examples of the social rules that men are supposed to conform and comply to according to, Pasick’s (1992) critical mandates for men include: we must be competitive in all endeavours, we should be in control of ourselves at all times and we should never allow ourselves to be weak or to act like a girl. These “rules” are taught to boys at a young age from parents, peers and media that can cause of psychological stress that men must endure and perform to be perceived as masculine.
Since media is constantly surrounding us, the high consumption media represents a major source of information and entertainment for all Americans. Information received from media whether it is accurate or inaccurate is an important part of our knowledge of how individuals act, behave, look, and feel (Hammermeister, Brock, Winterstein, & Page, 2005). The constant exposure to the media content being presented to the viewers create specific beliefs and attitudes of other people, allowing people to unconsciously shape their thought processes and behaviour based on what they consume. Gender roles are prominent in media that often portrays female as beautiful, caring, sensitive and reserved and males are portrayed as assertive, strong and analytic (Ferris and Stein, 2016). However, women in media like television or movies, women are see more negatively than men (Rouner et al., 2003) because men are perceived as hard workers, respectful and directive, women are displayed as likeable, submissive or too authoritative and bossy (Aubrey and Harrison, 2004). This depiction of men and women gender roles shows the divide in gender stereotypes that has been socialized into many people at a young age, it started at a young age through parents and families and influenced the way one aligns the belief to the television or movie is portraying. By having these perceived thoughts about what type of characteristics that are involved with the gender having a certain occupation, this limits the capabilities that others have to offer.
In video games, women are almost always portrayed as sex objects. Rouner et al. (2003) conducted an experiment that had school-age children evaluate advertisements based on gender and found that there were many unnecessary displays of the female body that were unrealistic of women in real life. In these advertisements and female characters, the female body is hyper-sexualized by having features of large breasts, tiny waist and an attractive face who are hardly ever the main character (Dill and Thill, 2007). These unrealistic images of the female body hold women to a different standard of what is “sexy” that leads many female to have a lot of self-esteem issues and disorders.
Morris (2006) summarizes that teenage girls being portrayed on television are vain and obsessed with superficial topics such as gossip, celebrity relationships, shopping and appearances. It is more common to see someone neglecting or making fun of someone who does not take those superficial topics seriously and focus on one’s academic and future career. The inequality goes way beyond gender roles itself, but how one gender perceives the people in it. It is hard enough to try and fit in with the ever so fast changing technology and fashion that it is easy to leave someone behind and cast them aside.
Media usage can have different meanings depending on each individual. People’s beliefs and stereotypical views are different because of personal experience of how it is portrayed through friends, family or media. Occupational status between men and women in the media are unequal, however some people do not believe so because of their socialization. Males are shown to have higher paying and prestigious jobs than women (Ellis and Armstrong, 1989). In Morris’s study (2006), he found that women were twice as unlikely to be portrayed in a career setting in popular interest magazines worldwide, but rather women were seen in more domestic scenes that show the inferiority of women. Women in popular prime time television shows are more likely than men to be portrayed in marital roles, relying on the male with an occupational job (Lauzen et al., 2008). It is also important to understand that women are more likely to have parental responsibilities (Glass, 2001) while the men are portrayed as bachelors, living without as many responsibilities. By portraying these types of gender roles and how much they do not differentiate from one another, it sets the limitations of what a person can and cannot do.
Women will see themselves as nothing more than doing domestic work, and men who do not want an occupational role must have that type of job. The damage of gender roles and stereotypes are deeply rooted into us because that is the traditional view of how it has been for hundreds of years. It causes psychological damage to an individual because one may want to go beyond what is expected of their gender role, but unfortunately cannot because of the mentality that one is not the opposite gender to fulfil the role. Pasick (1992) states that males feel the need to suppress their emotions in order to be adequately society appropriate with masculinity to appear strong and not weak or vulnerable. But by suppressing their emotions to conform to what society perceives is masculine, boys are more prone to depression, suicidal behaviours and get into more physical fights than girls.
Males are at a constant war with one another to prove that one is more superior to masculinity than the other is. This also degrades women because women find out that they are viewed lowly on the social ladder and men are expecting approval of other men rather than the women, themselves. By refusing the approval of women, women can take this as a sign that there might be something wrong with themselves although it has nothing to do with them, but rather men and their need to prove something. Ata, Ludden and Lally’s (2007) research shows that females who view media as a means of comparison for body image are likely to experience body dissatisfaction. The girls who are raised in loving homes with supportive parents are exposed to the media’s negativity of the female body, influencing the girls to believe they are not beautiful which raises eating disorders and addictions (Ata, Ludden, Lully 2007). Ata, Ludden, Lully’s research has shown that a third of the girls around the age of 12 and 13 are actively trying to lose weight by taking diet pills, vomiting or starving themselves. There girls know that something is wrong with the media and how it is portraying the female gender, but instead of looking for the source of the problem these girls try to find the fault in themselves and think that they will never be beautiful enough to societal standards. The constant comparison will take a toll on the mind and body because we know that the models are all photoshopped beyond reality but it still appeals to beauty standards.
The socialization of the stereotypical gender roles is very important to understand to break away from the “societal norms” that is limiting us to what we know we can excel in. However, the pressure to conform is keeping individuals from eliminating the problem.