Los Altos High School

More than just a stereotype — An examination of gender stereotypes found in essays, history and media

Recognition of Cross-Gender Behaviors

The origins of societal gender roles began from the beginnings of humankind, where there were both women and men. The roles of gender has been shaped by society, leading to stereotypical gender norms women and men are expected to follow.

These gender expectations are referred to “femininity” and “masculinity” which shapes the perspective of both women and men’s “natural” conduct. Femininity is traditionally characterized as submissive, dependent, and passive, and masculinity is characterized as dominant, independent, and aggressive. Characterizing femininity and masculinity leads to the perception of women being calming and communal and men to have a thirst for power and competition.

However, many activities and expressions are often displayed by either gender. There has been a change in gender roles as social roles and labor force participation of women and men has begun to converge according to online publication “Gender Stereotypes Have Changed: A Cross-Temporal Meta-Analysis of U.S. Public Opinion Polls. ”

In some cases, cross-gender behaviors are recognized by observers, and they are labeled to have inappropriate gender role behaviors. Gender roles and stereotypes — which have traditionally defined our social beliefs, values and norms — are no longer reflective of our modern reality. Gender-based barriers built up over generations have begun to merge and gain wider acceptance as traditional feminine and masculine traits have been seen to be shared among genders.

Feminine Behavior Confirmed

There are women who display traditional stereotypical “feminine” characteristics such as being dependent on others, emotional, and submissive through their physical appearance and mode of expression. Although femininity does not define how all women behave, there are women that showcase feminine characteristics.

The biographical essay “What Kind of King” exhibits women confirming stereotypical femininity. The essay details a lesbian couple, Barrie and Linnea, looking at ties at J.C. Penney. The tie signifies masculinity because men typically wear ties. There were two options, a geometric shaped tie or a rose-stitched tie. While Linnea wants the geometric shaped tie, Barrie says that she prefers the tie with the flower design. Barrie says, “Our clothes, they say, are just the facile presentation of our surfaces…[Linnea] tries to choose between two silk neckties…I feel certain there is something more than a surface at stake.”

The two ties both symbolize masculinity; however, the geometric ties appears more masculine than the rose tie. The rose ties was chosen upon Barrie’s request because she understands society is not accepting toward people who do not follow societal gender roles.

Physical appearance and clothes has a large significance in gender politics due to societal pressures and the objectification of women according to Nigel Barber Ph.D. from Psychology Today. Due to external pressures and the power of inequality, genderqueer people try to follow presumed rules when it comes to gendered clothing and appearances. Barrie confirms stereotypical femininity by complying with societal standards by attempting to fit in.

The mother named Ana Veciana-Suarez in “Thank Heaven For Little Boys” also validates women embodying stereotypical femininity.

Veciana-Suarez comments about young girls, “[The] daughters who played so quietly I hardly noticed them … I remembered [their] soft charm…the genteel way she so naturally related to her playmates.”

Veciana-Suarez notices the feminine traits in the girls’ actions. By their gentle and quiet nature, the girls’ characteristics fall under stereotypical femininity.

Chan-sook in television series “Fight for My Way” also confirms stereotypical femininity. Chan-sook meets an old classmate at a café where she flaunts her wealth and her recent engagement.

Chan-sook and her old classmate chat, “[Chan-sok says] ‘Did you give up being the next [broadcaster]?’ [Classmate says] ‘You said you were going to be the next Kim Joo Ha. Why are you depending on your guy’s credit card?’ [Chan-sok says] ‘…It’s love…[Y]ou should also get married before it’s too late.’”

Typical feminine stereotypes expect women to be home-oriented and dependent on others. Chan-sook chose money and to be dependent on a man over her own career. Chan-sook’s wealth comes from her engagement with a man, which showcases her lack of independence. Chan-sook’s comments about her old classmate’s life shows how society expects women to marry rather than pursuing their academic dreams. While there are women who demonstrate feminine characteristics, there are many women breaking the traditional gender roles.

Feminine behavior contradicted

Women have stereotypically been characterized as emotional, submissive, and dependent on others; however, women have many traditional masculine characteristics such as independence and confidence.

Women have also defied stereotypical femininity through their clothing style. “What Kind of King” displays women contradicting stereotypical femininity. Barrie describes her girlfriend’s clothing style, “[S]he has been buying all of her clothes in the men’s department…I looked at Linnea, noticing that the only items she buys outside the men’s department are her plain cotton and lycra sports bras.”

Clothing expectations for women and men are often based on gender stereotypes. Linnea’s taste in clothing differs from traditional women as she chooses to wear men’s clothing — breaking the norm. Feminine clothing portrays women to be friendly and gentle.

Choi Ae-ra also defies societal feminine stereotypes. She got in trouble in class but promises her teacher she will be successful in the future, “When I become an announcer, I’ll look for you on a show where they search for people.” Ae-ra speaks confidently and was not submissive when talking to higher powers of authority, which are typical masculine traits. Her career goal is a masculine job requiring traits such as dominance and toughness.

According to Data USA, 76.3% of announcers are male. Ae-ra’s mindset and aspirations illustrates her masculine characteristics and is a key part to the subversion of gender norms and stereotypes because of how few women are announcers. Challenging these heteropatriarchy constructs in the work force helps cross and contradict gender barriers.

The daughter in “Thank Heaven For Little Boys” also does not display typical feminine traits. Veciana-Suarez discusses the daughter’s activities, “She loved sports and could wrestle with the best of her brothers.”

Society expects women to be kind, home-oriented, and quiet rather than athletic and strong. Female participation in athletic activities is “often thought to be less appreciated by Western cultures since athletics are primarily male dominated and characterized by masculine qualities” according to NYU Applied Psychology OPUS (Online Publication of Undergraduate Studies).

There are many preconceived notions of gender stereotypes which functions within the power dynamics of heteropatriarchy. Society predetermines genders capabilities, making this issue difficult to overcome. For women, society views them to be home-oriented to only be capable of being a wife and a mother.

However, society requires men to utilize their masculinity for activities such as athletics. The daughter’s athletic involvement debunks the societal feminine stereotypes. There has and will also be men who cross traditional stereotypical gender roles, and there will also be men who do not.

Masculine Behavior Confirmed

While many men are slowly breaking the mold of traditional gender roles, there still are men who demonstrate masculine characteristics.

Veciana-Suarez describes her sons are “like cubs at play, pawing, smacking, rolling, bumping, ramming, twirling, elbowing … [They] turned anything — even putting away laundry — into a form of competition.”

Society believes men are supposed to be aggressive and dominant in daily nature. By aggressively turning everything into a competition, the boys demonstrate masculine traits. The author’s comparison between the boys and “cubs” reinforce the evident aggressive nature when they play. Their actions display natural aggression, a trait associated with societal expectations of men.

These masculine traits are also present in Go Dong-man. He gets in trouble with a teacher who offers to let them off the hook and not whip him if he answer a question correctly. Dong-man agrees to bravely take on the challenge, “Challenge! I will take on the challenge!” in “Fight for My Way.”

Such stereotypes regarding how the male gender work within a system of power explains why many men like Dong-man blindly follow these norms. Instead of complying with the whipping, he takes on the challenge. Dong-man fulfills society’s expectation of men. In this scene, he is confident despite the consequences he is currently facing. Socio-political norms in the world dominated by men continue as they continue to act the way society expects them to.

Stereotypical masculinity is also prevalent in writings. Holden Caulfield in “The Catcher in the Rye” written by J.D. Salinger, he describes his father, “My father’s quite wealthy, though. I don’t know how much he makes — he’s never discussed that stuff with me — but I imagine quite a lot. He’s a corporation lawyer.”

His occupation as a corporate lawyer requires typical masculine traits such as dominance and toughness. Holden’s description of the father’s occupation confirms stereotypical masculine traits.

While there are men with defining characteristics of masculinity, there are also men who cross and contradict stereotypical masculine behavior.

Masculine Behavior Contradicted

Men have begun expressing traditional feminine traits such as independence, dominance, and bravery. Society has an “ideology underlying the schema postulates that the cultural superiority of males is a natural outgrowth of the innate predisposition of males toward aggression and dominance” according to Devor.

This is statement is untrue is some cases. Not all men have an egoistic aggressive personality. Mark Twain’s “Roughing It” details Chinese men working typically feminine jobs, “The house servants, cooks, etc., in California and Nevada, were chiefly Chinamen … Chinamen make good house servants, being quick, obedient, patient.”

These men are shown to be less masculine compared to the societal gender roles and labeled feminine due to their submission and obedience to their masters.

Feminine characteristics are also present as Holden shares his inner emotional thoughts, “I didn’t like hearing him say that. It made me sound dead or something. It was very depressing … It made me too sad and lonesome.”

Holden experiences depression and a sense of loneliness and admits he is hurt emotionally. His thoughts are associated to stereotypical feminine characteristics. Men are expected to be emotionless and strong, not emotional.

Later in his journey, Holden admits his hope to connect with his younger sister. Holden says, “New York’s terrible when somebody laughs on the street very late at night … It makes you feel so lonesome and depressed [to see] old Phoebe.”

Holden experiences isolation and longs for human connection especially to his sister. He displays feminine characteristics as he longs for emotional connection to confide in his younger sister.

In the context of gender roles and norms, the aspects of race, sexuality, age, and other components feature intersectionality. This can tackle prevalent gender norms by recognizing people’s differences to fix the system. There is no limit and rules to gender behavior, both women and men can cross the gender barrier.

Flexible Gender Roles

Societal gender stereotypes have existed from the beginning of mankind. They have been pervasive in society, leading to be normalized and perceived as rules to follow. These gender expectations and gender stereotypes led contemporary society to be prejudiced and discriminatory.

Although gender expectations have been enforced, there have been both women and men going against the trend and have crossed gender stereotypes. In recent years, society has begun to recognize many women and men are crossing gender roles and developing stereotypical characteristics of the opposite gender. Both women and men have participated in the subversion of societal stereotypes through the way they act, dress, and feel.

While there is still a presence of gender stereotypes, people have been redefining societal stereotypes. Over time, with more acceptance toward people crossing gender roles, there is hope toward a more uplifting society.