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Social constructs and gender norms have conditioned all of us to treat men and women as ‘types’, rather than unique individuals.
We are not born a self, we create a self.
Simone De Beauvoir, the social theorist, and existentialist philosopher, once wrote, “One is not born, but becomes a woman.” The social environment in which a child grows up is more important to determine their gender, rather than their genetic characteristics.
This gender socialization has resulted in embedding certain social and cultural ideals into their brains that determine their preferences. We need to look beyond genders and treat everyone like a unique and separate individual, each with their share of experiences and struggles.
Gender roles and stereotypes are the main reason males are generally known as assertive and women as passive. Masculinity is still ‘secured’ by denying any semblances to feminine traits of emotion and softness. This is the most important reason we need to look beyond the social roles played.
A 2015 study under Social and Behavioural Sciences suggested that men who display feminine qualities are considered weak. Such assumptions can often limit the way they want to express their gender and sexuality. The development of gender identities defines sexual assertiveness as masculine and sexual receptivity as feminine.
However, there are many blind spots when it comes to the sex drive amongst men and women. The standard notion around female sex drives is that men do the complimenting while women get pursued.
This is the major roadblock behind denying the ‘female gaze.’ Women being the ‘receptors’ of men’s sexual desire is perhaps the biggest reason many women think they can’t outwardly demonstrate their willingness for their partners. Mostly because they believe it might make them ‘less feminine.’
It becomes imperative to note how the ‘accepted’ definitions of masculinity and femininity have changed through different periods of cultures. Both social and biological factors have an equal contribution during the developmental stages.
Judith Butler, the gender theorist and philosopher has proposed that gender is performative. She argues that we don’t invent these roles. In fact, they are created for us.
According to biologist, writer, and activist, Julia Serano, masculinity and femininity have certain natural aspects not restricted either by society or biological sexes. She calls upon the attention towards a truly significant, yet misunderstood trait, which is quite relevant currently. Serano notes that the sexist culture has brought negativity and trivialisation towards the behaviours already understood as feminine.
Behaving emotionally, interpreting their empathetic nature as husband and child-focused instead of globally, interests in aesthetics only to attract men. Frequently understanding femininity as “mysterious” these are just some of the daily incidents that indicate how social norms have dictated the roles. Her most profound observation was that society still disapproves of men wanting to have feminine traits. And this is much more disapproved of than the women wishing to have masculine characteristics.
With this, she suggests that sexism inclines more towards attributing more value to maleness in contemporary culture. On the contrary, men willing to be feminine poses a threat to the notion of male superiority.
However, male superiority can also become toxic to men because men feel emotions like their female counterparts. According to neuropsychiatrist Dr Louann Brizendine, male brains read emotions quickly and then shut off behind Masculinity. Kevin Hines, a suicide survivor and prevention speaker, said men concentrate so much on masculinity’s ideals that they often forget to be vulnerable.
Women being valued for ‘simply existing’ also makes us forget that no one is valued for their existence – one has to earn that value by creating a self. The society keeps putting women on a pedestal and respects them for being fragile, vulnerable, and too weak to protect themselves. It pushes them to believe they cannot design their own roles because these repetitive actions have already defined their identities.
Living and adapting to the social constructs and gender norms have compelled everyone to forget how to treat men and women as who they are. Neither empathy and compassion can be categorized as feminine traits, nor, independence and courage can define masculinity. It completely ignores that kindness doesn’t make women courageous and that men are assertive without being considerate of others’ opinions.
We need to understand that women can learn to be assertive, and men can also learn to be empathetic. But the problem is, we don’t know who we are as humans. That’s why we tend to try and fit ourselves according to the norms decided by society.
Picture credits: Photo by JESSICA TICOZZELLI from Pexels
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