Gender stereotypes - a straightjacket we've worn for far too long

March 24, 2018

 

What do we mean when we’re talking about gender stereotypes? It could be referring to the way one dresses, their makeup, their attire; or perhaps it’s their behaviour, mannerisms and speech; or a whole other myriad of things, such as gender and sexuality, gender and raising children, or most prominent in today’s discussions, gender in relation to the transgender movement.

 

Sex and gender are not synonymous, and gender really does seem to be a social construct. It has even been said that gender is a spectrum, or that there are many genders, Facebook now offers a choice of a whopping 71 genders.

 

In light of this, it is surprising that, although within our society enough people have accepted that gender does not equal sex, these stereotypes are still ingrained.

 

Investigating these stereotypes today, one may realise that the issue of them surrounding behaviour is prominent in both the genders of men and women; however, it has become evident in recent decades that the issue of gender stereotypes externally, predominantly in dress, is upheld more for men. This can be explained by the suffrage movement from the turn of the twentieth century, and both the first and second world wars, women have had a gender stereotype revolution of sorts.

 

Women not only began working as more than just teachers, nurses, and clerical workers, but it triggered something in the world of women’s fashion. It began with women wearing pantaloons and trousers, which was followed by decades of new freedoms: the bob haircut, the abandonment of corsets, the mini skirt, and the two piece suit.

In reaction to all these changes, there began a “panic [which] started over the instability of gender identity… [as] many worried that the lack of hoop skirts would lead to the ‘usurpation of the rights of man,’” as quoted in Bustle’s article ‘How Women Have Used Fashion As A Feminist Tool Throughout History’. This quote alone indicates the vital attachment of gender stereotypes to fashion, a trivial matter, which still seems to be associated with power and domination.

 

It is now evident how women have gained so much more freedom within the world of fashion, and it is now also clear why men haven’t. To quote Bustle’s article once more: “What causes society to panic isn’t different hemlines, but rather women defining for themselves what it means to be a woman. So, the power of dress was an important tool that influenced their standing in society, helping them towards less oppressive gender norms with every snap, zip, and fasten.” It is in this quote that I find the essential arguments for abandoning these gender stereotypes, not just for women but for men too, and therefore feel the urgency to reiterate: as a society, changing our idea of gender acceptable fashion is imperative to our abandoning of those gender stereotypes altogether.

 

The Western zeitgeist leads one to question the sexuality of a man wearing makeup or nail varnish. If he’s wearing a dress, skirt, or heels, one would assume that he must be transgender, or at least gay. Why must we tie such superficial things as a person’s choice of clothing to their sexuality?

 

Why can’t androgynous looking people be accepted and allowed to be whichever sexuality they are, without being ridiculed by society? I believe that the solution to this is to promote the view that femininity, whether in behaviour or dress, doesn’t take away from masculinity. People can have both, a mixture, and should be proud.

 

 

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First published in 1965, InQuire is the University of Kent student newspaper.

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