Many people feel that gender equality has already been achieved in industrialized countries; it is even celebrated every month of March, Gender Equality Month. However, women and men alike cope with gender stereotypes at work, in their communities, in high schools, and even at home. What can you do to overcome these stereotypes? First, it is important to know the gender stereotypes definition, understand what they are, and determine why they matter before you can overcome them.
Research suggests that, as more people learn about how gender stereotyping is dangerous, the more likely it will decrease. The more we can learn about these issues and openly discuss them, the more aware others can become. Hopefully, the prevalence of harmful stereotypes and prejudices can shrink over time.
What Is The Difference Between Sex And Gender?
Conventionally, the medical community announced your sex to the world the minute you were born, if not before, through sonogram photos. Your genitals were used to determine whether you were labeled as a male or a female. If someone were to perform a DNA test when you were born, your genetic code would also have been used to determine 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 definition of male or female. For example, a baby could be born with external genitalia, but could also have ovaries. Their genetic code would not be XX (typical female) or XY (typical male). This population is referred to as "intersex" and occurs in about 1 out of every 1,500 births.
Gender refers to a person’s identity – how they see themselves from a personal standpoint – and the norms surrounding masculine and feminine roles within a culture or society. A person whose biological sex and gender identity match – for example, a person with internal genitalia and a uterus who identifies as a woman – is typically considered cisgendered, while a person whose biological sex and gender identity differ – such as a person with internal genitalia and a uterus who identifies as a man – is generally considered transgender.
Larger society often promotes certain types of gender roles, responsibilities, and relationships for men and women. However, these expectations are not set in stone, nor connected to DNA. Gender identity is a spectrum; the roles we assign to different genders can change and have changed as society has progressed.
What Is A Gender Stereotype?
A stereotype is a fixed belief or image of a certain type of person or thing based on a generalization of the entire group or an idea perpetuated by society. To manage many complex things and people in life, people form stereotypes or rely on the stereotypes of their culture. Stereotypes can be formed around things like age, race, culture, gender, and other characteristics. Yet, these simplified images don’t take into account the differences within that group of people or things.
Gender stereotypes and stereotyping 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?
If you're a woman and want to be the CEO of a major corporation or a high commissioner, you won't get far by putting too much stock in gender stereotyping in media that say that a man should be in charge. If you're a man and want to be a nurse or midwife, you may have to counter gender stereotypes and discrimination that promote the idea that you should be a doctor or stay out of the delivery room. With this attitude, gender stereotypes can deprive society of workers who would otherwise thrive in a non-traditional job and contribute greatly to society.
The idea that women are weaker, overly emotional, and must be defended may lead to discrimination that causes women to be discouraged from taking on exciting challenges. The belief that “true” men don't show emotion or become emotional may cause men to have difficulty forming deep, personal relationships. This can be extremely damaging to their mental health in the long term.
It's important to note that gender stereotyping can also make unacceptable behavior more acceptable at times. Consider the old saying, "Boys will be boys." This attitude may be used as an excuse for men to be aggressive, violent, or unfaithful. The stereotype that women need men to survive may sometimes discourage women from pursuing a career.
In this way, gender stereotypes can hold people and societies back from their true potential.
What Is Gender Equality?
Gender equality is the concept that people of all genders deserve to have equal human rights, opportunities, and resources. Gender equality is closer at hand now than it was in the past. However, it still hasn't come to fruition, and gender discrimination still exists in both subtle and obvious ways in modern society.
What Can You Do To Overcome Gender Stereotypes?
There are several facets to overcoming gender stereotypes. You can break the cookie-cutter view of your sex by thinking differently and behaving in intentional, yet 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.
1. Emphasize Accomplishments Over Physical Attributes
Whether you’re thinking of yourself, interacting with children, or working with others, emphasizing accomplishments is usually much more helpful than putting the focus on physical appearance. People often turn their attention to “being pretty” when speaking to and about girls and women while paying little attention to their capabilities. Focusing on a boy’s or man’s physical strength can be just as harmful, especially if he isn’t as physically strong as society expects him to be.
2. 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. Colors have no gender, so treat them as such. If you're a man and want to wear dresses or 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.
3. Learn Skills Based On What Interests You
There was a time when all women were expected to learn skills like sewing, cooking, and childcare. Even today, women are often denigrated if they try to learn skills like automotive or electronic repair. On the other hand, a man who spends his free time sewing may be considered weaker or ridiculed.
Whatever skills you want to gain or interests you want to pursue, find the right teacher or class, and get to work. You might find that it's harder than you thought. On the other hand, you might just find your new vocation and become more interested in the subject or field.
4. Encourage Young Women To Excel In STEM Subjects
There's been a lot of discussion lately about getting young women more involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects. Significantly more men than women study STEM subjects in school and pursue STEM jobs after graduation. Why? Chances are it has nothing to do with the biological capabilities of the students and everything to do with cultural norms for gender.
If any child expresses interest in math, the sciences, or engineering, it may be worth encouraging them to explore those subjects in depth, as they can lead to exciting and personally fulfilling careers or hobbies.
5. Participate Equally In Household Chores
Every household must make decisions about who will perform the chores, especially those that no one enjoys doing. It's unfair to suggest that women should do all the cooking and cleaning. 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 should do the chores that no one wants to do? Consider creating a rotating schedule so that no one is stuck with a chore they detest long-term.
6. Create Mentoring Programs In Non-stereotypical Jobs
Working in a job setting as one of few representatives of your gender can be extremely stressful. You feel you are seen as an outsider or are treated differently. Others may fear you or discredit your contributions. Having support is crucial.
A great way to get that support in navigating a challenging work situation is to find a mentor who has been through what you're experiencing. 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.
7. Acknowledge All Genders’ Contributions To History
It's often said that the history of the U.S. is all about what our founding “fathers” accomplished. It may help to incorporate more stories of the contributions of the thousands of women who helped found the U.S., as well, as have many people of other genders across the spectrum.
By telling your children, both boys and girls, stories of people of all genders who helped make history, you can empower them and help them understand their value and the value of people who differ from them. Then, when they become older, stereotypes may not color their view of the past, the present, or the future as much.
8. Be Friends With People Of All Genders
Friendships between people of different genders can be just as satisfying as those between women and other women or men and other men. When you choose your friends based on beliefs, interests, and activities, you may find that you enjoy spending time with someone who is not of your gender in a platonic way. At the same time, you may come to understand and respect the other gender even more.
9. 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.
10. Acknowledge And Help Both Women And Men Who Are Survivors Of Domestic Violence
Both men and women can experience 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 experiences abuse, he deserves the same help in getting out of the abusive relationship as a woman. Help someone who has faced domestic violence regardless of their gender.
If you need help, the Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 1-800-228-7395.
11. 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. All safe and responsible parents should have and make opportunities to parent, play, and spend time with their children. If you feel you're being shut out of your child's life due to gender stereotypes, it is important to advocate for your parental rights.
12. Plan Policies To Meet The Needs Of All Genders
If you're a part 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 everyone to fulfill those needs within your organization.
13. 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 all genders involved. With those needs in mind, create a budget that satisfies the needs of everyone involved. If this is accomplished, all may be able to contribute more effectively to the family or organization and have a satisfying life within it.
14. 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 sex offenders 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 younger boys can learn from diverse, respectful role models.
15. Build Your Self-Esteem Based On Who You Are As A Person
Building self-esteem around the identities ascribed to gender can limit people to only seeing good in themselves if it reinforces their preconceived notions regarding the relationship between gender and identity. If you celebrate every good thing about yourself, you'll likely find yourself going well beyond gender stereotypes.
16. 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 may make the task even more difficult. Instead, look at the full range of job opportunities. Let yourself consider any position that sounds interesting and within your capabilities.
17. Write Fiction That Promotes Gender Equality
Well-written prose can have a powerful impact on culture. If you write fiction, such as stories, screenplays, or novels, you can work to change stereotypes with each word you write. Consider including diverse genders in your characters and settings, and allowing different genders to be the heroes of your stories.
18. Create Time And Space To Care For Others Regardless Of Gender
Caring for others has long been considered a woman’s occupation. It is 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, expect, and ask for men to participate in these duties.
19. Network With Others Who Are Promoting Gender Equality
In social situations where you’re mixing with strangers, it can be easy to stick to groups that are familiar to you. It takes a little effort to break out of your normal sphere, 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. Taking the initiative to introduce yourself to a new group or groups can help you cross boundaries and form meaningful connections.
20. Speak Out Against Gender Bias
When someone is harmed or held back due to gender bias against them, be prepared to speak out against the practices that caused the damage. These situations include when you are the recipient of biased actions. Whether the problem is related to female or male stereotypes, the added attention can help affect change and reduce other harmful situations.
21. Don't Put Yourself Or Others Down Because Of Gender
Don’t put yourself down for being the gender that you are. Perfect stereotypes aren’t attainable, and reducing yourself to a stereotypical image may encourage you to belittle or judge yourself in negative ways, and this can be incredibly harmful to you. Think of yourself as the complex person that you are. Find a way to be happy and proud of who you are, regardless of who other people think you should be due to your gender.
22. Get Help For Mental Health Issues, No Matter Your Gender
There are several gender differences involved in the practice of seeking mental health help. Men are typically less likely to seek help for mental health challenges than women. This discrepancy may be due to many men feeling the pressure to not ask for help or to solve their problems independently.
For people of all genders, seeking help can be challenging. You can consult a specialist if you realize you have a problem you can't handle on your own.
Can Online Therapy Help Someone Overcome Gender Stereotypes?
Issues of gender, their associated stereotypes, gender-based human rights, and the mental health conditions that can be linked to gender can be difficult to study. This is because so many variables are at play. However, significant research has been conducted on gender, human development, and mental health throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.
For example, many psychologists believe that a trans person has a very good chance of improving their mental health by undergoing transition therapy. A 2018 meta-analysis compiled 4,000 different studies on the subject and found positive results of therapy in 93% of them. Stereotypes and other unverified information can spread easily in various communities. It can help to have an expert at your disposal who can answer your questions by drawing on existing scholarship.
If you think therapy is the logical next step, you might want to consider online counseling. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people around the world were unable to attend their counseling in-person. As a result, online counseling from platforms like BetterHelp has exploded in popularity. Additionally, therapists have praised online counseling as providing a means of delivering the same treatment to patients despite other significant disruptions.
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 defends your dignity. Here are a couple of 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."
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
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