From the crib, children are indoctrinated with messages telling them how to act based on their gender. The girls’ toys aisles are literally a barrage of pink and the boys’ aisle is a barrage of blue and silver. Girls have princesses to look up to while boys have superheroes (both who teach exaggerated gender stereotypes). If they deviate this, it’s met with the harshest penalty. Boys are automatically considered “gay”. Girls are told that they can be tomboys as young girls, but, of course, when puberty comes around and they don’t ship up into a more demure self, they are labeled as “butch”. And so it continues throughout adolescence. Girls are seen as somewhat helpless, sweet, demure, pretty, sexy without being a whore while boys are supposed to be macho, muscular, never cry, playboys. Both suffer from incredibly low self-esteem as they try to squeeze their round, dynamic selves into the square stale box of a gender role. Even if they try to break out of that system and decide to be nonconformist, they will always feel the tug to follow that whispers to them with every decision they make (whether they are aware of it or not); no matter how hard they try, even the best of them will find themselves caving into the pressure and feeling conflicted). It only gets worse from there.
The worst part about gender roles is that they are an entirely a product of society. While the sexes as a whole do have natural proclivities towards certain thing, it’s a pretty loose standard and certainly not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. To try to make it a total binary system is ridiculous.
As I said, it’s gotten way better since the fifties. And yet, it’s still not good enough. There are still so many people who are stifled in roles that they aren’t meant for and don’t feel comfortable with. If you are a girl and you don’t wear makeup, you’re ugly. A prude even. Same if you decide not to shave your legs, pubes, etc. If you are a girl and you want to sleep around, you’re a whore. If you’re a woman and you don’t want to have kids, you are selfish. If you are a boy who wants to wear makeup, you are gay. If you are a man who doesn’t act like you think with your dick, you’re weird. If you are a man who wants to stay home with your kids, you get strange looks. It’s actually a little ridiculous.
And, if we think about it, every inequality that either side faces is because of gender roles. That’s why I’ve never understood why the feminist movement and the MRA movement haven’t just teamed up already to stop the root of the problem instead of arguing over which sex is more oppressed. Why are women slut-shamed and objectified more so than men? Why are they forced to beauty standards they can never uphold (and why are men also held to such standards)? Why are their rights to birth control and abortion constantly threatened? Gender roles. Women are supposed to pretty, the pursued, upholding to perfect standards of beauty and sexual conduct. Why do men get heavier sentences than women, less custody, less equality in domestic violence cases? Men are supposed to be stronger; they aren’t naturally adept for child-rearing like women are; women are so much weaker and defenseless so, of course, women are not taken as seriously in court.
Gender is not a binary system. It’s not either “boy” or “girl”. Gender is a spectrum. You can be a girl, a boy, both, neither, somewhere in between and with attributes masculine, feminine, androgynous, etc. Gender is whatever we want it to be. Gender is a label and while labels can be somewhat useful, they can be divisive and confining. Biologically, you’re stuck with one of two sexes and, no matter how hard you try, you can never change your chromosomes. However, gender surpasses that in importance because it refers to how you see and label yourself (and that label should be respected).
I am a girl who, in many ways, fits the gender roles expected of me. I wear makeup and girly clothes and jewelry; I care a lot about my appearance; I'm sensitive. At the same time, I'm opinionated and generally obnoxious; I hate shopping and many girly things. I most definitely identify as a girl. I don't know how much of that has been influenced by my surroundings but, at this point, it almost doesn't matter. I don't strive to be anything but myself.
Next time you find yourself trying to cram into a box of any sort, stop and consider. Gender roles are simply roles, not real. It is your choice whether or not to take them on.