Understanding gender stereotypes – why we are missing the point
Where do gender stereotypes come from?
Gender stereotypes are very commonplace in our culture. But where do they come from? And why are they perpetuating the problems?
In legal terms, women in much of the developed world now enjoy equal rights to men. There are however a number of gender stereotypes that still pervade our culture. Antiquated biases that we don’t even always realise we have, and that as a society we just can’t shake. The problem is that stereotypes are often based in truth. They may come from genuine observations of female behaviour. However in simply pointing out these differences we are missing the point. Rather than being natural behaviours, they are in fact usually by-products of our patriarchal society. In order to progress and allow for a true equality, we need to understand where they stem from. In this article I will attempt to unpack some common misconceptions about women and shed a little light on where they come from.
1. Why are women so bitchy to each other?
‘Women are just bitchier than men.’ A seemingly simple statement that misses a much more complex back story. Women in particular go through life under extreme amounts of pressure to look, act and be a certain way. There are unrealistic pressures from magazines and advertising to look young, thin, tanned, toned - the list goes on. This not only causes women to compare themselves to the photoshopped models and botoxed celebrities, but to all other women.
For capitalism to work, women must feel insecure. If women aren’t paranoid about their belly or their skin, who’s going to buy the stomach-holding-in pants and the anti-wrinkle cream? Feeling insecure leads to everyone comparing themselves to others with translates to... you got it, bitchiness. Why should someone that is completely happy and self-confident need to cut anyone else down?
Films and TV through a patriarchal lens are also part of the problem. They often allow none or perhaps one token girl into a group on a show, think Smurfette. This constantly perpetuates the idea that women are a threat to each other and need to protect their position. Then there is the constant portrayals in the media of men trading in their wives for younger models. Is it any wonder women have their backs up to other women sometimes?
Female news reporters get fired if they ‘pass their peak’ while men supposedly just grow wiser and sexier. Men often don’t feel the pressure in the same way. This allows for them to have more ‘straightforward’ relationships with their peers. Whereas the lack of women role models in top jobs subconsciously makes women feel like they are constantly fight for their right to be there.
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2. Women aren’t funny
It is commonly argued that women just aren’t funny. The BBC introduced a quota for at least one female on every episode of any comedy panel show in 2014. Some people argued that was proof that females weren’t funny, suggesting they weren’t funny enough to be asked of their own volition. This is yet again a complete failure to understand the whole situation. It's actually because of the patriarchal framework for stand-up, sitcoms and especially panel shows that female comedy comes across this way to begin with.
Let's take the example of British panel shows. It's always the same select boys club of comedians. Every week they banter with each other and set up each other’s jokes as if they were down the pub. Relaxed and comfortable this set up allows for good, if not predictable, comedy. If there is one woman, making a guest appearance on a show that has been forced to invite you on, there are inordinate amounts of pressure. Not only does she have to 'be funny' to prove herself worthy, but she also has to represent all women. Each episode is like a final exam where everyone watches to see if the ONE WOMAN will be funny.
On top of that kind of pressure, there is no camaraderie or other female comedians to bounce off, plus often harsh edits. so it’s no surprise females don’t get out their best material. Even seemingly confident women like Jo Brand have commented that it’s hard to even get a word in. New female centric shows, female stand up comedians and female led podcasts, such as award winning The Guilty Feminist, show there are plenty of funny female comedians out there. It's the system of representation that needs to reform and those with the power need to realise that.
3. Women are bad drivers
On a recent trip to visit my parents it struck me that as long as I can remember if both my parents were in the car, my dad would always drive. It’s not that my mum can’t drive. In fact she’s a good driver. She picked me up and dropped me off more times than I can count during my childhood. But whenever both parents are present it’s like some natural hierarchy comes into play. My mum would claim she gets tired on the longer journeys and my dad, that he enjoys driving. It led me to sort of assume that my dad was just a more competent driver. This now seems like an unsatisfactory answer. There has to be more to it than that. It got me questioning why this dynamic is so often the case among heterosexual couples.
It seems to be a classic case of learned behaviour and the internalisation of societal norms. Boys are encouraged to take charge of things, as well as to be tough and the protector. They are expected to drive well, enjoy going fast and like cars. Girls on the other hand are encouraged to ask for help, be safer and more cautious. They are said to have a less logical head for driving, and are almost expected to chide the men for driving fast, while secretly swooning at the speedometer. The culmination of these factors leads to the natural split that we see.
A man is expected to drive, so he is likely to offer. In not doing so he may feel emasculated. A women is expected to mess up and therefore may feel more pressure and be more hesitant to offer. This will lead to a certain proportion of women driving less frequently than their male counterparts. In turn this may mean these women get less practice and may end up being worse drivers. If this is perpetuated over decades, it seems obvious why my mum would now prefer to leave bigger drives to my dad.
So when a man says women are bad drivers, he’s missing the point. Women aren’t naturally worse drivers. It is the patriarchal framework which subtly suggests gendered roles in driving, and it actually has a lot more to answer for than you might think.
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Dates for the Diary
November 12th European Commission DG GROW
Informal talk on how to deal with sexism - 12.30 - 1400
November 25th Council of the European Union - Corporate Event
How to deal with sexism and harassment in the workplace
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