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When taking a closer look at the differences between genders it can be concluded that it is something much more meaningful than sex. It becomes easy to see just what the stereotypes surrounding gender are and how these stereotypes affect young minds along with the things in our culture that make gender roles and stereotypes so influential. Stereotypical ideas of Masculinity and Femininity are present in American society, media, and homes. Masculinity is associated with the words handsome, muscled, driven, machismo, vigor, strength, ruggedness, and robustness.
This definition supports the idea that men need to be strong, protective, and aggressive among other things. Femininity is associated with the words feminine, mother, weak, and girlish. This definition supports the idea that women need to be submissive, beautiful, soft, and kind among other things. These ideas tell us who we can become and who we are. The ideals make it hard for men to show emotion and express themselves and it makes it hard for women to be strong, causing them to oversexualize themselves and have poor body image.
The stereotypical ideals of masculinity and femininity represented and supported in American culture are dangerous to young minds.
Historically, the terms "sex" and "gender" have been used interchangeably but their meanings are becoming increasingly important. Gender is difficult to define but typically refers to gender roles, or an individual's gender identity. Gender deals with personal, societal, and cultural perceptions of sexuality. Differences between man and woman are anatomic biological differences. Genetics is what defines the sex of an individual, but this does not directly determine how you should represent yourself societally.
However American society has affected the way we must act and the things we must do based on the biological characteristics we display as male and female. Gender is based on the this societal belief/influence/pressure put in place in America that deals with masculinity and femininity. The gender identity that most people adhere to is usually unconscious or forced upon us at an early age. We see the concepts of gender in the colors assigned to children, the common length of our hair, the toys we play with, the jobs we aspire to have, and the behaviors and interests we are encouraged to embrace (The Mask You Live In, 2015). This is harmful to young minds because it removes choice from children's lives. Children are unable to choose how they want to express themselves and what they are allowed to play with. Boys and girls are separated into different categories and must remain there for the rest of their lives. This increases rates of anxiety, depression, suicide, and substance abuse. This is caused by destructive self talk as children age.
Humans talk to ourselves by carrying a conversation that is constantly researched by scientists and psychologists. A majority of the time when this is done by adults it is a way of self criticism. Mistakes are commonly made, but what is more important is that typically we react to these situations in a negative way. When children absorb this information, they begin to fall into the trap of "self-defeating inner criticism" (Kusa, 2001). During childhood, much of self talk takes place out loud. It guides the way that we play and the way that we learn. If you listen to a toddler play, you will hear words being sounded out and repeated. You will also hear tasks being described briefly and cute phrases of encouragement or defeat. This is obviously learned from adults. Children's self talk is largely influenced by the adults who teach and care for them. Children whose teachers and caregivers teach them to use calm logical language when learning a task will go on to use that language on their own. On the other hand if a child's teacher or caregiver is negative and impatient the child will learn to use the same type of self-defeating self-talk when they are on their own (Diamond, 2006). This is evidence that self talk is a form of learning. Kusa and Diamond are correct in saying that self-talk is a way of learning and that this is greatly influenced by caregivers and society. However, self-talk is not just used as a tool for learning, but it is also a social act. By engaging in self-talk, children internalize what they have been taught by society and their family. This means that they also carry on the societal beliefs presented to them at a young age. Self-talk has deep and lasting effects on each of us, as we internalize these societal pressures and grow and change into adults. It also seems that children have a skill most adults assume is not present yet. Very young children can be far more attuned to the "desires, preferences, beliefs, and emotions" of others, including adults, than we assume. Children are able to judge when a human behavior is normal or socially acceptable versus when it is unusual (Middle Sexes, 2005).
Kusa proves this in her study working with adolescent children. When children were asked to choose what adjectives describe them based on a gendered list of terms, both boys and girls closely aligned themselves. Both genders thought they were strong, creative, friendly, and good leaders. However, when asked to define the perfect idea of the opposite sex something interesting happened. Boys chose that women should be quiet, kind, caring, smart, and pretty. Girls chose that men should be loud, athletic, creative, aggressive, and good leaders (Kusa,2001). From Kusa's study it can be concluded that even though we are actually closely aligned regardless of gender, that society has shaped the idea of masculinity and femininity in children's heads. In society Masculinity is possession of the qualities traditionally associated with men. This typically associate's men with the terms handsome, muscled, driven, machismo, vigor, strength, ruggedness, and robustness. This definition supports the idea that men need to be strong, a lady's man, protective, and aggressive. In society Femininity is the quality of being female. This typically associates women with the terms feminine, mother, weak, and girlish. This definition supports the idea that women need to be submissive, beautiful, soft, and kind. With these stereotypes in tact, children might feel wrong or out of place when they have characteristics that align with the ideals of the opposite sex even though men and women are not actually all that different.
The Mask You Live In, Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes and Middle Sexes: Redefining He and She were key films in evaluating how much these vague and socialized definitions really affects people's everyday lives. A common trend in a each of these was toxic masculinity. Many men expressed that society pressures them to be a person that they don't recognize in public. What is meant by this is that men tend to have to divide themselves in half: a public persona and their actual identity. The public persona is the hypermasculine version of the man. This version tends to be "hardcore", have no emotion other than happy or mad, have extreme sexual tendencies, buffed up personality, and a party animal. Meanwhile, the man's actual identity can differ greatly. When alone, men may suffer a great deal when it comes to always having to display themselves as a rough person while they may actually be a soft person who enjoys watching The Notebook. The movies did a good job at representing toxic masculinity. However they did not address femininity to the same degree. Today's society is obsessed with physical attraction, which makes women self conscious and self hating as they try to fit society's idea of flawless or beautiful. Naomi Wolf expresses that today's unrealistic and destructive view of the female body is a form of social control. Women depend on cultural models more than men and are more likely to be imprinted by them. Successful men get statues and awards that are present everywhere we go. Meanwhile, women are given few role models in the world which causes them to turn to television or magazines for their role models (Wolf, 2002). Naomy is correct in saying that women live in men's culture. Women become obsessed with filling this perfect position because they are just meant to be the beauty in a man's world. This makes it so that women often also have a persona separate from themselves. This persona is often a sexualized version of themselves. Women are often pressured to appear submissive and "sexy" as a means to please men.
It is clear to see why people have such a hard time with identity and how to express their identity. This is because femininity and masculinity often go through a circle. Men typically express themselves as tough players and women typically try to fit themselves into that expression to please men. Even though neither sex necessarily wants this version of themselves to be who they are, they are both stuck in the loop that was forced upon them by society and expressed all throughout American Media. We constantly see versions of men and women that are stereotypical and don't vary much from the "ideal". An example would be in rap music/hip hop. Men in hip hop degrade women and show a huge tendency for violence. Many rappers are willing to acknowledge that they do stretch this hypermasculinity a bit. Their reasoning is that otherwise, the rap community would not accept them and they would often be shunned from the business (Hip Hop,2006). Likewise, women often see themselves in magazines and music videos. Many are willing to admit that they over sexualize themselves and that that's how they see tons of women in media(Wolf,2002). Their reasons are often about having a strong version of themselves for the men. It's not a surprise either that women are given tons of money to show off this version of themselves and are often considered "bitchy" or "prude" if they do not express this version of themselves (Worrel,2006).
These ideas of gender and its portrayal in American culture pose a serious issue when it comes to people whose identity differs from the ideas society tries to force upon people. A big issue already in America is bullying, and an even bigger issue when it comes to gendered harassment. Bullying that relates to gender or sexuality is the most common form of violence that students encounter in schools. Violence of this kind lingers in the school environment where gender roles are clearly defined by language and culture. Students and in some cases teachers discriminate against those who may not fit stereotypical ideals. An example of this are boys who are called "faggots" if they are not into sports or refuse to look at pornography. Similarly, transphobic bullying can happen when students do not fit neatly into binary gender ideals (The Mask You Live In,2015). It is true that the bullying linked to gender and sexuality often goes unchecked, as talked about in The Mask You Live In. Research has shown that teachers often fail to intervene in these instances because they see them as inevitable or not serious. This is additionally problematic as students often frame gender or sexuality-based aggression as a joke or a not serious matter. They may also suggest that the victim deserved the violence. Each of these attitudes fosters a culture of non-reporting, further facilitating aggression of this kind.
In American society stereotypes and biases are strong. Children adopt to gender roles which are not fair to both sexes. As children grow they are exposed to many things that influence their behaviors regarding gender. These things are first learned in the home and then reinforced by peers, school, and media. The strongest influence on gender development seems to occur within the parents. Parents pass on their own beliefs about gender and this tends to be strict on traditional gender roles where a lenient and fluid gender role/stereotype would be more beneficial. A child's earliest exposure to what it means to be male or female comes from parents. From the time their children are born parents treat sons and daughters differently, dressing infants in gender specific colors, giving gendered toys, and expecting different behavior from boys and girls. Parents have differential expectations of sons and daughters as early as 24 hours after birth. Children internalize parental messages regarding gender at an early age, with awareness of adult sex role differences. Children at two and a half years of age use gender stereotypes to generalize a variety of activities, objects, and occupations. Children even deny the reality of what they are seeing when it doesn't conform to their gender expectations (Kusa,2001). This is closely linked to how children grow up in their homes and their parents influence.
It is important to look at the way men grow up. When a boy is growing up he watches his father closely and mirrors his image and his mother's praise is very important. When a boy has to break away from his mother, they sometimes push femininity out of their lives. This commonly happens when boys grow up without a father. When this happens boys have issues dealing with their emotions, as men are typically told they are less of a man if they show emotion. As a result, boys fall into the trap of hyper-masculinity. This leads to a lifetime of struggle, anxiety, depression, and trouble with their identity (Diamond,2006). While Diamond makes it clear what this does to men, he does not mention how women are affected by their parents. Girls are often close with their mothers. Girls are taught to take care of household duties. Women are allowed to express their emotions openly. This allows for women to be able to deal with their issues, unlike men. However, women feel as if they are incapable of doing what men do. They often don't feel strong and feel as if they can not rise as high as men do. This hurts their self esteem and causes them to see themselves as weak and helpless.
The results of these stereotypes and gender roles are clear. They lead to a constant search for validation. Because of this, some people may never feel like they fit into society and it can take a serious toll on their mental health. These gender roles and stereotypes are extremely dangerous especially in a society that strictly supports traditional gender roles/stereotypes and poses such a big influence in homes and media.
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