This semester while I was in college, I was once again struck by how strong and prevalent sexism, the patriarchy, and gender roles are in our world (the stories behind this I will go into more detail on in my upcoming post about my second semester of college).
Having been raised by a feminist family, I was already well aware of sexism and everything that entailed. However, I didn't start noticing the more subtle, insidious messages until I was a bit older.
Now that I'm in college it is even more apparent to me that sexism (and racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc) is, indeed, alive and well.
One of the most sneaky bits of sexism that I notice (and that which affects me) is that of gender roles. As a child, I thankfully was raised by parents who let me like what I wanted to like, but I still chaffed against what society wanted me to be interested in. In this way, I made sure any so-called 'feminine traits' I had (when I was a bit older; I was a bit better about it as a little kid) were hidden away. And while I've moved past a lot of it (as I've mentioned in a previous post of internalized sexism), my effemiphobia still remains a presence in my personality.
But gender roles (and the internalized misogyny/effemiphobia that goes along with it), don't just affect me. They affect everyone. Even the most comfortable individuals will have some of these messages in their psyche.
Gender roles are the ways that society tries to keep us all in line under the patriarchy. Gender roles are why some men can be all "men are assholes/dicks/mentally retarded" (yes, I had a professor say that in college) as a way to excuse themselves from sexism and to show that they are a good guy (kind of how some white people will be 'white people suck!' to show that they are 'such good allies' *eye roll*). Not only does this- annoyingly- excuse sexist behavior from the man stating it, but it also feeds into the patriarchal beliefs that men are not in control of their behavior and thus, 'boys will just be boys'. These kinds of statements does not a good feminist/ally make. Changing your own behavior and encouraging others to do the same is the best way to do it.
What exactly 'are' gender roles, though? Sometimes the word is just thrown around without much explanation as to what it is.
Basically, gender roles are a conglomeration of such things as traits, jobs, and activities being deemed 'masculine'(for boys) or 'feminine'(for girls). So, if you've ever heard someone say 'that's for boys' or 'don't do that, it's for girls', then you've experienced gender roles to some capacity.
Below are a list of stereotypical masculine and feminine traits.
As one can quickly see, lists such as these are grossly inaccurate. They limit the experiences of human beings and make them seem much more simple than they truly are. If we look out at reality (and in good fiction), we'll see that most people are a mish-mash of the above (and can sometimes be both at the same time; humans are contradictory at times as well). For myself, a lot of these on BOTH lists apply to me. I can be nice and cruel, I can be aggressive and not aggressive, I can be emotional and logical, I can be tactful and blunt, and I can be gentle and tough. Not only that, I'm kind of obvious about how I differ from the feminine list(as a girl), which seems to surprise individuals a lot.
And because of this surprise (and sometimes weirded-out-ness), I think it's important to realize that people can lean more towards one set of traits or the other and that that is perfectly okay. You can be as 'masculine' or as 'feminine' as you want in personality. It's your life and you shouldn't let what society says is right or wrong about you to dictate what you do (which is why I ignore people telling me I "walk like a boy". No, I'm walking like a girl because I am a girl and I walk how I please!).
(here are some showings of both women and men showing both sides of the 'spectrum' (personally, I don't believe there is such things as masculine and feminine, but since it's a thing in society, I will use the terms).
(P.S. - to be fair, the show has been showing that this character is not as overtly masculine as he appears, but he still is what is masculine; a part of his story though is letting him like what he wants to, without fear of it rendering him non-manly (:P), which I think is just great ( to read more about it, check out this meta, which is one of my favorites on the topic - http://andythanfiction.tumblr.com/post/42721086913/aint-my-bitch )
The other aspects of gender roles are such things as activities, jobs, and fiction being deemed 'appropriate' for women or for men. While my jobs are currently viewed as acceptable for both women and men (I'm an actor and writer [technically a student, but that's what I'm studying]), a lot of my activities aren't, and there are a lot of jobs women and men are discouraged against going into. Women are often subtly shooed away from jobs in science, math, and anything pertaining to physical labor. Men are often discouraged from jobs in the arts, nursing, cooking, etc. Women are told my society that they shouldn't go for anything deemed male-ish (such as Taekwondo, which I love, but which is sadly something I see more men in than women) because it will 'turn men away from them' (I had a girl tell me that men noticed 'feminine girly girls' more than tomboys like me, which just goes to show how pervasive this message is). The same goes for men who want to enter things like ballet/dance in general.
This even comes to play in the kind of fiction we like and in the kind of music we listen to. Men are stereotyped as liking things like science fiction, fantasy, action, and things with just mindless gore-fests (and music such as metal and rock), while women are said to like things like romances, heart-felt emotional stories, and the like (and to like such music as pop ).
Ignoring the fact that science fiction was invented by a woman, it's quite obvious from looking at women and men in fandom that these stereotypes are very untrue (for example, Supernatural's fanbase is predominately female, even though the show is what many would call a 'guy' show). I for one love not only science fiction, fantasy, action/fight scenes, and supernatural stories, I also love the whole idea of shipping and I really enjoy reading fanfic/watching videos/reading metas(for shipping and for characters/the show in general)/seeing fanart of my OTPs a whole lot. I not only like metal and rock, but pop music as well (much to the surprise of others).
However sexism is still a large presence even in fandom and this can be shown in the fact that- while I have been lucky in avoiding them for the most part- male fans sometimes seem to question my legitimacy as a fan of Star Wars (like this guy in college who got all mad that TESB is my least favorite movie of the SW saga; though the guy didn't know who Siri Tachi was or the name of the Jedi Exile, sooo, yeah).
Obviously, these assumptions are just as ridiculous as assigning a type of personality trait to a girl or a boy. Activities and jobs have no gender, just like colors, instruments, music, etc have no gender. It is hard to push through the lessons we are taught by society from a young age, but with work, we surely can overcome them
So, regardless to what people say, I can like science fiction and fantasy, I can like metal/rock and pop, I can like Breaking Benjamin and Taylor Swift, I can like t-shirts and dresses, I can like martial arts and dance, I can enjoy fighting and still be kind and nurturing, I can be violent and aggressive yet gentle and innocent. I can be all of these things and more because they all incorporate who I am as a person.
And so can you.