22 Ways To Overcome Gender Stereotypes
By: Ashley Brown
Updated September 18, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Audrey Kelly, LMFT
Many people feel that gender equality has already made its way to most industrialized countries. Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, women and men alike deal with gender stereotypes at work, in their communities, and even at home. What can you do to overcome these stereotypes? First, you need to understand what they are and why they matter. This article will address 22 ways to move beyond gender inequality.
You probably already have an idea of what gender stereotypes mean. Yet, to discuss the subject coherently, it's important to start out with an understanding of exactly what gender stereotypes are. First, you need to understand what gender means and what a stereotype is. Research suggests that as more people learn about these stereotypes and how they are dangerous, the more likely equal treatment between the genders will develop.
Sex vs. Gender
Conventionally, the medical community announced your sex to the world the minute you were born, if not before, through sonogram photos. Your genitals showed whether you were a male or a female. If someone were to do a DNA test when you were born, your genetic code would have also revealed whether you were biologically a male or female. Biologically speaking, there are also many people who are born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't fit the typical definitions of male or female. For example, a baby could be born with male genitalia, but could also have female ovaries at the same time. Their genetic code would not be XX (typical female) or XY (typical male). This population is referred to as "intersex," and makes up about 1 out of every 1,500 births. These differences in sex are purely biological.
Gender is something different, though. Gender refers to ways of being male and female within a culture or society. The larger group promotes a certain type of gender roles, responsibilities, and relationships for a male or female. However, these expectations are not set in stone. They can and have been changed as society progresses.
What Is A Stereotype?
A stereotype is a fixed belief or image of a certain type of person or thing. To deal with many complex things and people in life, people form stereotypes or rely on the stereotypes of their culture. Yet, this simplified image doesn't have the desired effect because it doesn't take into account the differences within that group of people or things.
Gender stereotypes are fixed and oversimplified beliefs about what is normal and appropriate for people in a certain culture based on their biological sex. Some examples of stereotypes include:
- Women should take care of the home.
- Men should go to work.
- Women should be secretaries or work at a daycare.
- Men shouldn't be nurses or kindergarten teachers.
- Women should be "ladylike."
- Men should be macho.
What's Wrong With Gender Stereotypes?
Gender stereotypes aren't always wrong in the sense that sometimes people do behave the way society or their culture expects them to. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that! However, there is no reason why you should have to conform to the expectations of others based on your biological sex alone. If you're judging others because they don't adhere to traditional gender stereotypes, that's when problems arise.
If you're a woman and want to be the CEO of a major corporation, you won't get far by putting too much stock in gender stereotypes that a man should be in charge. If you're a man and want to be a nurse-midwife, you may have to fight gender stereotypes that say you should be a doctor or stay out of the delivery room. With this attitude, gender stereotypes deprive society of workers who would otherwise thrive in a non-traditional job and contribute greatly to society.
The idea that women are weaker and must be protected creates a world where women are discouraged from taking on exciting challenges. The belief that true men don't show emotion creates a world where men aren't able to form deep, personal relationships. This can be extremely damaging to their mental health in the long-term. Thus, gender stereotypes can hold people back from their true potential.
Gender stereotypes also make bad behavior more acceptable at times. Consider the old saying, "boys will be boys." This attitude makes it more acceptable for men to be aggressive, violent, or unfaithful to their wives. The stereotype that women need men to survive may sometimes encourage women to allow men to do all the work for them rather than getting out in the world and doing their share to support the family.
What Is Gender Equality?
Gender equality means that men and women have equal access to rights and equal opportunities. Men and women also have the same resources and protections. Gender is not a factor in whether you have these rights or opportunities.
Gender equality is closer at hand now than it was in the past. However, it still hasn't happened. If gender equality ruled the world, there would be equal chances for men and women in any given career field. Men and women would have the same access to assistance from the community and government. Both men and women would be equally protected under the law. Yes, there have been advancements in all these areas over time, but they are far from settled.
What Can You Do?
There are several facets to overcoming gender stereotypes. You can break the cookie-cutter view of your sex by thinking differently and behaving in unexpected ways. If you have been harmed or held back because of gender stereotypes, you may need help healing from the negative consequences. Finally, people everywhere can work towards overcoming gender stereotypes in their culture.
Here are 22 ways to help yourself and your society move beyond gender stereotypes and the resulting gender inequality.
- Emphasize Accomplishment over Physical Attributes.
Whether you're thinking of yourself, interacting with your children, or dealing with others, emphasizing accomplishments is much more helpful than focusing on physical attributes. Too often, people put their attention on "being pretty" when speaking to and about girls and too little attention to their capabilities. The same is true of adult women. Focusing on a male's physical strength can be just as harmful, especially if the male isn't as physically strong as the culture expects him to be.
- Choose Colors Based On Personal Preferences.
The idea that you should choose a specific color simply because it is the right color for a person of your biological sex is counterintuitive. In fact, the colors for boys and girls have changed over the years based on nothing more than the whims of the fashion industry. If you're a male and want to wear a pink shirt, do it unapologetically. If you're a woman and prefer to decorate your home in brown corduroy, do what appeals to you.
- Learn Skills Based On What Interests You.
There was a time when all women were expected to learn skills like sewing, cooking, and childcare first and foremost. Even today, women are often denigrated if they try to learn skills like auto mechanics or electronic repair. On the other hand, a man who spends his free time sewing may be considered less than a man. Whatever skills you want to gain, find someone to learn from them, and get to work. You might find that it's harder than you thought, or you might just find your new vocation.
- Encourage Young Women to Excel In Science and Math Subjects.
There's been a lot of talks lately about getting young women more into the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering, and math. The numbers still don't add up. There are still many more young men studying and excelling in STEM courses than young women. Why? Chances are it has nothing to do with the biological capabilities of the students and everything to do with cultural norms for gender.
- Expect Men and Women to Share Fairly In Household Chores.
Every couple must make decisions about who will do the household chores, especially those that no one enjoys doing. It's unfair to suggest that women should do all the cooking and cleaning if that's something they don't enjoy doing. It's also unfair to expect that men should do all the yard work if they'd rather contribute in some other way. So, who does the chores that no one wants to do? Decide fairly so that both men and women take part of the burden.
- Create Mentoring Programs for Men and Women in Non-Stereotypical Jobs.
Being in a job where there are no or few other workers of your gender can be extremely stressful. You may be seen as an outsider. Others may fear you or discredit your contributions. Having support is crucial. A great way to get that support as well as learn how to navigate a difficult work situation is to find a mentor who has been through what you're going through. Moreover, if you want to help change societal norms, help others thrive in non-stereotypical jobs by working to create a mentoring program for others.
- Acknowledge Both Men's and Women's Contributions to History.
It's often said that the written history of the U.S. is all about what our founding fathers accomplished. Now, society needs to incorporate more stories of the contributions of the thousands of women who helped found the U.S. as well. An example might be the story of Sybil Ludington, who warned the colonists of the approach of the British forces in much the same way as Paul Revere. She was honored at the time but was never fully acknowledged in the history taught to American children. By telling your children stories of women who helped make history, you empower the girls and help boys understand their value as well. Then, when they become men and women stereotypes, won't color their view of the past, the present, or the future.
- Be Friends with People of Both Genders.
Friendships between men and women can be just as satisfying as those between women and other women or men and other men. When you choose your friends based on shared beliefs, interests, and activities, you may find that you enjoy spending time with someone not of your gender in a platonic way. At the same time, you may come to understand and respect the other gender even more.
- Don't Accept Violence from Anyone Regardless Of Their Gender.
Violence is never okay, whether it's a man or a woman who initiates the violence. Never accept violence in any form.
- Acknowledge and Help both Women and Men Who Are Victims of Domestic Violence.
Both men and women can be victims of domestic violence. Yet, many people find it hard to get past the gender expectation that men should be able to defend themselves. If a man is a victim of abuse, he deserves the same help in getting out of the abusive relationship as a woman. Help someone who is a victim of domestic violence whether they're a man or a woman.
- Recognize Men's Needs to Be Parent Figures Too.
At one time, children were sent to live with their mothers after a divorce unless the mother didn't want the child or she was openly abusive. That is changing, but complete equality hasn't been reached yet. Men need to be given opportunities to parent and spend time with their children, just as women are given those opportunities. If you're a male and feel you're being shut out of your child's life, there's no reason you should go along with it. If you're a female, you need to make room for your children's father to play a part in their upbringing.
- Plan Policies to Meet the Needs of Both Women and Men.
If you're a member of a government agency, a business executive, or a leader of a community organization, you might have the opportunity to have an impact on eliminating gender stereotypes. When you're creating policies for your organization, simply pay attention to what all of your employees need and create policies that make it easier for both to fulfill those needs within your organization.
- Plan Budgets to Take Everyone's Needs into Account.
Whether you're making a family budget or planning spending for a large corporation, you need to consider the needs of both the men and women involved. With those needs in mind, create a budget that allows room for both to satisfy their needs, so they can contribute more effectively to the family or organization and have a satisfying life within it.
- Pass Tougher Legislation to Punish Sex Offenders.
With the #MeToo movement, judges are beginning to take women's complaints of sexual harassment and misconduct more seriously. It's important for legislative bodies to keep up the pressure on men and the organizations that employ them so that the momentum isn't lost. Men who act appropriately need to be acknowledged and encouraged, too, so that change can go in a positive direction for everyone.
- Build Your Self-Esteem Based On Who You Are As A Person.
When you build your self-esteem based on your gender, you limit yourself to only seeing the good in yourself if it reinforces your preconceived notions of what you should be as a man or a woman. Yet, many parts of who you are have nothing at all to do with your biological sex. If you celebrate every good thing about yourself, you'll likely find yourself going well beyond gender stereotypes.
- Look for Work Opportunities In All Your Areas of Interest, Regardless Of Gender Expectations.
Looking for work can be a daunting task for anyone. When you automatically eliminate job opportunities from your search because they don't fit with what you think a man or woman should do, you make the task even more difficult. Instead, look at the full range of job opportunities and allow yourself to consider any job that sounds interesting and within your capabilities.
- Write Fiction That Promotes Gender Equality.
Well-written prose can have a powerful impact on culture. If you write fiction, whether you write stories, screenplays, or novels, you can work to change female stereotypes with each word you write.
- Allow Time and Space to Care For Others Whether You're A Male or Female.
Caring for others has long been considered a female occupation. It is the women who have been expected to care for children at home, care for children in daycares or kindergartens, and care for elderly or disabled people inside or outside the family. If you're a man, you can choose to take on these roles, too. And, if you're a woman, you can allow and expect men to share in these duties.
- Network with Others Who Are Promoting Gender Equality.
People in business often do a lot of networking, but if you're only networking with those who want to keep things as they are, you may miss out on opportunities to help overcome stereotypes of women. At least include others who share your intention to make a difference in gender equality within your networking circle.
- Speak Out Against Gender Bias.
When you or someone else is harmed or held back due to gender bias against them, be prepared to speak out against the practices that caused the damage. Whether the problem is female or male stereotypes, the added attention can help effect change.
- Don't Put Yourself or Others Down Because Of Gender.
Whatever you do, never put yourself down for being the gender that you are. Whether you're a woman or a man, perfect stereotypes don't exist. Think of yourself as the complex person that you are, because reducing yourself to a stereotypical image may encourage you to denigrate yourself in a way that harms you in the long term. Find a way to be happy and proud of who you are, regardless of what other people think you should be due to your gender.
- Get Help for Mental Health Issues, Whether You Are a Male or Female.
There are several gender differences in seeking mental health help. Women are more likely to go to their family doctor with mental health issues, while men are more likely to seek help from a specialist or inpatient care.
For both women and men, seeking help can be challenging. When it comes to your mental health, the time to seek help is as soon as you realize you have a problem you can't handle on your own.
Seeking help doesn't have to be complicated. Whether you are having mental health issues due to gender stereotypes or because of your unique life situation, you can get help in your local community. Another option is to talk to a licensed counselor at BetterHelp for affordable and convenient online therapy. Their counselors are qualified to handle these types of issues, and they will do it in a manner that protects your privacy and dignity. Here are a couple reviews of counselors to read, from people experiencing a range of life's challenges.
"Tyson did a really good job, and I can finally say that I don't need therapy right now since I am in much better shape. He was my counselor for about 5 or 6 months for depression, best therapist I've had. He helped me accomplish many of my career and personal goals, and I am much happier than I was now. When you align with your values with career, family, or anything else in your life, your life becomes much better. He also left me with a few techniques I can work on so I can continue to work on observing and overcoming my negative thoughts and behaviors. I would highly recommend. Thank you, Tyson!"
"Dr. Leclerc has been an amazing support system since I have been fortunately matched with her. She's helped me get closer to being the person I want to become, while also forgiving the person I am today, more than anyone in myself in a very long time. I'm really, really thankful for her, and recommend her to anyone that wants to get help and doesn't know where to start."
Following these tips can help you deal with issues related to female and male stereotypes as well as other issues that make your life more difficult. A therapist can also help, especially when it comes to healing from past hurts and injustices that came as a result of a gender stereotype or figuring out the best plan for you to succeed in your goals today. When that happens, you can find your way to a brighter future as the one and the unique person that you are. Take the first step today.