Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised that the article below might mention trauma-related topics that include sexual assault & violence, which could be triggering.
Gender stereotypes, in general, have a massive impact on shaping our society and especially the minds of the younger generations. The media's roles shape individuals' beliefs about themselves and others and the expectations they see portrayed. These beliefs and stereotypes ultimately shape how gender is treated in societal constructs such as the workplace, justice, and mental health systems. Young boys and girls from childhood to adolescence can be greatly impacted by gender stereotypes, often negatively. These stereotypes may create mental health issues among this younger generation, fueling issues with body image, eating disorders, depression, and violence towards females or other genders.
The media plays a large role in the perpetuation of gender stereotypes. Through advertising, television programs, news programs, music videos, commercials, video games, social media, and newspapers and magazines, media bombards us with gender stereotyping that has become deeply ingrained in our society throughout the day.
Mental Health Stigmas Related to Gender
Mental health stigmas refer to negative beliefs or attitudes toward an individual or a group of individuals experiencing mental health concerns. The media and ingrained often perpetuate many stigmas associated with gender and mental illness within our society.
When gender stereotypes in the media portray mental health conditions or disorders typical to men or women, it can seem that this may be "normal" or typical behavior for that gender. This can lead certain symptoms of mental illness to be taken less seriously or dismissed as women being "too emotional" or "too sensitive." When the symptoms of the condition are found to be typical behavior for the gender, society at large tends to dismiss it as something that does not necessarily need to be addressed, preventing individuals from seeking treatment when they may need it.
Gender Stereotypes and How It Can Affect Mental Health
Both men and women are affected by mental health illnesses and concerns. However, these concerns are often untreated in men as they are less likely to seek treatment than their female counterparts due to the stigmas and stereotypes. Depression and suicide are leading causes of death among men, and suicide is four times higher in men than women.
Toxic masculinity has become a norm in our society and enforces certain behaviors among men due to expectations created by what is deemed as normal. This toxic masculinity reinforces the idea that men should be strong and dominant, making it more difficult to express their emotions and ultimately seek help. Men are more likely to turn to violence and substance or alcohol use to cope with challenges instead of seeking treatment from a professional. Because of this stigma, toxic masculinity may lead to many concerns with mental health, including:
The gender roles in the media may cause many mental health concerns among women, such as depression, anxiety, body-image issues, low self-confidence, and self-esteem issues. Women are often portrayed as being more dependent and submissive and are often sexualized within the media. Research shows that women are more likely to experience depression or anxiety due to harmful body image and sexualization stereotypes. Women are more likely to experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to sexual violence. Women are also at a higher risk of physical and mental illness due to gender pay gaps and gender inequality in the workplace.
A recent study found that boys and girls at age six associated being smart with masculine traits. They told a gender-neutral story about a really smart person, and when asked to identify the person from the story, the majority chose male characters. The study also found that belief in this stereotype impacts girls' activities and choices from the time they first enter school. It has been well established that women have not tended to go into fields of science and technology relative to male peers. This study suggests that these beliefs are shaped beginning in early childhood.
The media reinforces these stereotypes. Gender stereotypes in the media almost always portray female characters either as homemakers or in a subordinate role in the workplace. This perpetuates the belief to young children and young adults that women are not as smart as men. Therefore they may choose not to engage in certain activities or educational opportunities, leading to fewer women in those career fields.
How to Overcome Gender Stereotypes
To bridge these gaps and create gender equality, it's important to be self-aware and find ways to overcome these gender stereotypes within yourself and the people around you. Here are some ways to help reduce these gender biases in your life or with your children.
It is quite common for both men, women, and other genders to experience negative consequences against typical gender norms. Whether in the workplace, schools, relationships, or within the criminal justice system, fighting against gender stereotypes may be emotionally trying and stressful.
If you are facing challenges because of gender stereotypes or experiencing mental health concerns because of them, a licensed therapist may be able to help. They can assist you in identifying the gender stereotypes that are affecting you and help you overcome them. They may also help you make peace with things that have happened to you due to stereotyping and help you come up with solutions for coping and overcoming the stigmas related to these gender stereotypes. BetterHelp is an online therapy platform that can match you with a licensed therapist to best suit your needs so you can overcome these challenges and improve your mental health and overall well-being. Reach out today to begin your journey to a happier and healthier you.