Are societal expectations on gender roles limiting the potentials of girls and boys?

April 6, 2015 | By
Vera Monteiro

4 foto-01Very often, when discussing the negative impact of social constructions on women and girl’s potentials, the assumption is that it is all about the battle of the sexes: who can and who should do what. Moreover, the norm is to assume that ‘gender’ refers to women. It is, however, important to note that ‘gender’ refers to both men and women, and the roles they offer to the society. Moreover, these gender roles are in turn shaped by the society – defining for men and women what personalities and attributes they should exhibit. We can all agree, at least to some extent, that since our childhood, simple things like the toys we were given and “the serious talks” from our parents or guardians have somewhat been shaped by the societal expectations for that a male or female child should fulfil. For instance, boys are expected to have leadership skills, be critical and logical in their thinking and excel in technical domains. Girls, on the other hand, are expected to be sensitive, caring and excel in managing the affairs of the household. From the moment that we define what is appropriate for boys and girls: defining what they ought to like, how they should act, we set a course for these boys and girls to follow into adulthood, and the consequences are long-term. This is how, over time, these gender assigned roles lead to gender imbalances and inequalities and subtly become part of the culture. The differences these gender roles create are then considered natural, accepted and transferred to generations after. Technical skills and areas of expertise are divided between genders, shaping masculinity and femininity in the sense that girls continue to follow the typically feminine activities such as tasks related to arts and house-keeping, while boys are encouraged to pursue science and technology and, of course, sport. Thus, the perception that attributes men more influence in technical areas is nothing more than a mere socialization which is carried out and passed on. The structural elements of gender stereotypes are likely to make it difficult for girls and boys to benefit from the present accomplishments in social parity and for the society, as a whole, to make further progress. To rectify this, there is need for gender responsive policies and development programs. In particular, education and awareness are needed to promote the active involvement of all in the elimination of gender stereotypes. Men and boys must be encouraged to become change agents in promoting and protecting the human rights of women and girls; supporting the equal sharing of responsibilities between men and women; and combating, in both sexes, stereotypical attitudes relating to men and women responsibilities, both within the family and in the community in general. As long as we keep women’s perspectives in the domestic domain or activities related to the care and reproduction and men in production and technology, there will be a higher tendency for adolescents to continue to choose professions “appropriate to their gender”, maintaining employment structures that are clearly segregated. It is important to break stereotypes and gender preconceptions and induce positive changes in our society.

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