Changing Gender Stereotypes

Christen Mullet

When we hear the term “sexism,” most of us immediately assume discrimination against women based on sex. However, sexism against men is also a relevant problem in today’s world. Sexism toward men is largely ignored and much more accepted than sexism toward women. Let me give you an example from my Development of Gender Role and Identity class: a cartoon depicts two opposite sex individuals sitting together, reading magazines. One says to the other, “There’s an article in here explaining why you’re such an idiot.”

Imagine that the person speaking is female. Disparaging jokes like these are common in reference to males; we often joke about how stubborn, lazy, stupid or inept men are. Now imagine that the person speaking is male. The cartoonist responsible would surely receive a flood of angry letters from women all over the country, decrying his or her blatant sexism. The same words can have entirely different connotations depending on who is speaking to whom.

For decades, women have spoken against the repressive gender roles assigned to them, and how stereotypes associated with those roles have held them back in many areas of life. Many men have also expressed this sentiment for themselves. Our society expects and encourages men to be independent, strong, tough, confident and self-reliant, to strive for status and success and to exhibit aggression and resort to violence. To deviate from these norms is to invite immediate criticism, as well as the threat of ostracism. This leaves little room for individual differences, let alone the genuine acceptance of alternative lifestyles.

Despite advances in acceptance, our society still places a stigma on gay males. From my experience, any affection shown between one male and another is often interpreted as a sign of homosexuality. Most guys I know seem to avoid this like the plague. As a woman, I cannot imagine the loneliness some men must feel being denied close friendships all your life. For women, affection and sharing feelings is practically required in female-female friendships.

What does this broad social problem have to do with you, the reader? I recently encountered an example of sexism against males on this campus when a friend called to my attention a less than desirable situation in my hall’s male bathrooms. There are no urinals in these bathrooms and most of the stalls do not have doors. Some of the toilets don’t even have seats on them. When my friend told me about the situation in these bathrooms, I was shocked. That low level of privacy would never be tolerated in a women’s bathroom, so why is it allowed in a men’s restroom?

While I do see changing trends in the way society treats males who deviate from the norms prescribed to them, the bottom line is, it’s not enough. Like the women’s movement, the men’s movement still has a long way to go. The good news is that we can change the way our society treats differences in gender roles and sexual preferences. We have the choice to ignore the stereotypes and treat men who don’t fall cleanly into those cookie-cutter molds with respect. And we have the choice to raise the next generation outside of those confines, too.

Contact Christen Mullet at [email protected].