Gender ideologies in society are reflected in almost every part of daily living. Growing, up, children begin to understand how they are expected to behave according their sexes. These societal expectations eventually start influencing how men and women decide to conduct the rest of their lives including family roles and careers. The environment pressures individuals to behave in a manner acceptable to the society. For instance, young children absorb views of masculinity and femininity from their schools. Schools play a major role in shaping gender ideologies of what is appropriate or inappropriate. It is important to note that one’s self perception determines how tolerant he/she is towards other people in the society. For example, in a patriarchal society where men are dominants and women are subordinates, men have less tolerance towards women, which subjects women to suffrage and limits their abilities. Also, men feel insufficient when they fail to reach the required standards of masculinity, which can push them to aggressive behaviors or violence. Since the patriarchal definitions of masculinity and femininity are harmful, it is important to modify these views to create a healthy society.
What is Patriarchy?
Patriarchy is a male-centered, male-dominated, or male-identified system in society (Johnson 153). In a patriarchal society, economic, political, religious, social, educational, military, and domestic positions are dominated by men. This is evident in the prominent presence of men in positions like Heads of state, corporate CEOs, school principals, board members, and members of legislatures. While there are women in these positions, their ratio to men is very small (Johnson 153). Patriarchy creates a power divide between men and women. Men are given the power to claim large shares of wealth or income and to influence cultural views to serve their interests. Core cultural values that are considered good, preferable, desirable, or normal are judged from a man’s lens. For instance, Johnson explains the pervasive use of ‘he’ and ‘man’ for general representation of people, which marginalizes women as outsiders or puts them under the man’s shadow (154). Furthermore, organizational systems in fields like law, business, and politics have been designed to thrive on qualities like toughness, decisiveness, self-sufficiency, and autonomy, which patriarchy associates with men. The only place this system has elevated women is in sexuality whereby women are prized for their physical beauty, which serves the men’s sexual desires (Johnson 154). Evidently, patriarchy is an enemy to the female gender.
Problems Posed by Views of Masculinity and Femininity
Since male superiority is assigned central importance in a patriarchal society, women, who are perceived as inferior, are subjected to oppression. Professionally, for instance, women have been assigned caring roles, which are reflected in occupations like teaching, nursing, and child care. Women who manage to cross the gender wall and enter fields like engineering, leadership, and politics are subjected to gender stereotypes, which undermine their efforts to succeed. Furthermore, for these women to secure such positions, they are subjected to rigor vetting whereby they are required to portray male-associated traits like aggressiveness, decisiveness, toughness, and portray emotional control. These qualities are manifested in some of the prominent female leaders like Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, Queen Elizabeth I, and Indira Gandhi (Johnson 155). The excessive amount of red tape placed on women’s participation in society has limited their abilities. Even though women have been allowed into major institutions, their positions are generally subordinate.
The views of masculinity and femininity in a patriarchal society have not only poisoned women but the entire society. The traditional attributes of masculinity including resiliency, physical strength, independence, and pride encourage violence among boys and men. For instance, Thompson explains that boys who are perceived as weak or timid in school are called ‘fag’ to indicate they are not masculine enough (53). Therefore, to avoid being demeaned, boys are forced to portray their masculinity by portraying aggressive behaviors like fighting and bullying others. Thompson also says violence perpetrated by attributes of masculinity is reflected in homophobia and misogyny, which are pervasive in the society (53). Homophobia is the dislike of gay men or those men who display behaviors perceived feminine. Misogyny, on the other hand, is the dislike or prejudice against women. Misogyny is characterized by sex discrimination, social exclusion, belittling women, male privilege, sexual objectification, and violence against women. Thompson sums homophobia and misogyny as the “hatred of feminine qualities in men and the hatred of feminine qualities in women” respectively (54). Homophobia can be expressed in the trend of the school boys calling others fag because they dislike the feminine quality i.e. weakness portrayed by the subjects. Thompson gives another powerful example of homophobia and misogyny. He asked students what they would do if they woke up and discovered they were the opposite sex. While the female students expressed satisfaction and excitement, the male students expressed an intense disgust.
The belief that boys should be tough also induces emotional and physical pain on them. While few boys can enjoy the success of their toughness, Thompson says it is only short-lived and in the long run, they are deprived of security (55). This is because many boys are competing to be at the top, and thus, the assurance of being at the top is diminished. As a result, those who fail to maintain their status at the top develop stress, endure physical injury, and may even get killed (Thompson 55). Since nurturance stands in direct contrast to toughness, males often distance themselves from meaningful interpersonal relationships. Fathers spend less time with their children since it is believed that nurturing is a feminine role. Men who spend less time with their children deprive them parental love. Men not only avoid close relationships with their children but also other men due to homophobia.
New Socialization for Men and Women
Due to the cost of the views of masculinity and femininity, there is need for adjusting these societal definitions. Since gender roles continuously change across ages, it is evident that alterations can occur successfully. While children are exposed to traditional gender ideologies at preschool age, they develop their own identities, attitudes, and self-perceptions as they grow into adulthood. This indicates attitude flexibility. Thompson suggests that boys should learn to embrace their vulnerability and freely express emotions including sadness and fear (55). While independence and self-sufficiency are positive qualities, boys should learn to seek for help and support when in need. Furthermore, boys and men can be gentle, cooperative, nurturing, and practice non-violent methods of solving disagreements. This change in socialization will be helpful in lowering levels of aggression in societies which are evident in crimes like rape, robbery, and domestic violence. Schools should begin to teach boys to embrace the qualities perceived feminine in order to steer the required social change. Mediums like televisions, radios, and print media can also make significant contributions of changing feminine and masculine perceptions.
In her work, Why I Hoped for a Boy, Orenstein talks about how female children are raised according to societal expectations. Mothers dress their daughters in Cinderella gowns and buy them pink items because it is believed to be the appropriate image of a girl. However, Orenstein argues that imposing Disney characters on girls only teaches them to be fragile and dependent on men as portrayed by the characters. She further explains that the culture of raising girls as princesses compromises their strength and ambition. Orenstein suggests that girls should be allowed to dress in a manner that they prefer and chose their own dolls. This way, they will pick their own identities as opposed to conforming to the societal expectation of a girl’s identity. When maleness and femaleness is not dictated and equally valued, men will not have to be aggressive to prove their masculinity and women will be allowed to participate freely in the society.
The patriarchal society promotes a power divide by depicting men as superior and women as inferior. This system defines masculinity in terms of toughness, aggressiveness, power, authority, and control. Men dominate economic, political, and social positions while women are required to assume the subordinate positions. Also, men who try to embrace toughness end up emotionally and physically in pain when they fail to prove their masculinity. Some men also engage in aggressive behaviors like rape and domestic violence to exercise their power over women. Due to such harm engendered by views of masculinity and femininity, there is need for modification of these perceptions. Men should be taught to embrace qualities like nurturing, seek help when in need, and be gentle and loving. They should also accept to be equals with women to complement the efforts of feminism in the modern society. Also, parents should allow girls to choose their own identities through clothes and dolls. Once the traditional attributes of feminism and masculinity are eliminated, the society will be healthy for both genders.
Johnson, Allan, G. “Patriarchy”. The Gender Knot: Unraveling our Patriarchal Legacy, 152-161. 1997. (Source attached by client). 12 Nov. 2018
Orenstein, Peggy. “Why I Hoped for a Boy”. Cinderella Ate my Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. 2011. (Source attached by client). 12 Nov 2018
Thompson, Cooper, D. “A New Vision of Masculinity”. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, pp. 53-56. 1985. (Source attached by client). 12 Nov. 2018