What is the difference between gender stereotypes and actual gender differences?

This is something that’s been kicking around in my head for some time now. I’m a big fan of equality. The biggest. If I had my way everyone would be paid the same rate, doing the jobs they loved, living in a community that accepted their life choices regardless of gender, race, sexuality, ability, or income.

But I wonder sometimes If I take things too far. I tend to agree with most of the posts online about sexism. There should be more actresses in strong roles in movies and TV. There should be more women involved in game development. There should be less sexism in the games industry. Advertisers should stop selling women as objects. A whole bunch of stuff.

But when is something a gender stereotype or an actual gender difference? This is the day to day stuff I see that doesn’t delve into all the important work being done in family violence, pay divides, and rape culture.

Let me bring up some examples and I will investigate. Please feel free to start discussions with me online. I don’t claim to have all the answers, just to start the discussion, one that I haven’t really seen covered. I may come across as a sexist pig, but I’m only trying to walk the tight rope that separates our genders.

Here are some common ideas supported by many men and women:

Men are physically stronger than women. Where possible a woman should seek a man’s aid to lift or move heavy objects.
This is rather common in my life and a day to day occurrence at my work. In an office environment we need to carry and stack boxes of paper. The majority of my team is made up of women and yet the ‘heavy duties’ are delegated to the three men in the team. These aren’t particularly heavy boxes mind you. We have trolleys to carry the work and everyone in the team is capable of lifting at least a single box.

Where is the equal sharing of duties here?

Is this a proven genetic difference between men and women? I don’t work out, am of slim build and yet because I am a man I am therefore more capable at light physical work than a woman?

Women are more emotional than men and cry more easily.

I’ve heard stories of where new mothers are surprised by their reactions to seeing film-based babies and young children put in danger. Is this a maternal trait instilled in DNA? Or simply an emotional reaction to now having the added responsibility of another life?

And let’s not forget PMS. While this is often used as a derogatory insult against women I have heard from many women that their emotions are more easily swayed during “that time of the month”.

I don’t see anything wrong with emotions as long as they are directed in the right way. I’m a man and I still feel emotions. I will even show them too if I’m in trusted company. And I dare say, who among you – male or female — can watch the beginning of Up without watering eyes?

Women are submissive whereas men are dominant.

Things have changed quite dramatically in this space over the years. Women are no longer delegated to the household while men are the money earners and decision makers. But there are still remnants of the old ways of thinking.

Dating is one area that still feels antiquated to me. Men are expected to initiate conversation with women around prospective dating. Men are also expected to drive and pick up the girl, to pay for their meals and activities. Same with marriage proposals. While women can and will propose to their boyfriends this is far from the norm. The idea that a woman needs a man to take the lead and be in control is something I find repugnant. Both men and women are independent human beings who have the willpower to make their own decisions.

There’s a fair bit of negative language around women having power . If men are not dominant in making decisions they are considered ‘whipped’. Pussy (used in reference to the female vagina) is used to define someone as weak, or even being called a girl is an insult to some people. The popular word, bitch is often resigned for any woman that is too controlling. I could go on.

Clothing choices are determined by gender.

Women have more range of choice when it comes to clothing. Women are free to experiment with a broad range of colours and clothing in a broad range of styles. Men are delegated to darker colours such as black, navy blue and grey.

On the other side of the coin women’s clothing is often sexualised. Women’s skirts are shorter and shorter. Bikinis are more revealing than underwear for crying out loud.

Women with short hair are considered butch, tomboy, or lesbian. And men with long hair are simply laughed at.

Men and women are expected to know things about certain subjects.

We aren’t all born with an instinct to sew and drive cars. These are things taught to us via nurture and how we are raised in society –how men and women are expected to behave, how they treat one another, and what they’re expected to know. Here’s a few stereotypical subjects that the respective genders should know about.

Men

  • Cars
  • Sports (especially rugby in New Zealand)
  • DIY
  • Technology and computers

Women

  • Makeup
  • Fashion
  • Beauty treatments
  • Cooking
  • Cleaning
  • Raising children

It’s all a little ridiculous when you write it all out like that.

4 thoughts on “What is the difference between gender stereotypes and actual gender differences?

  1. Sociology examines how culture (in language, suggestion, behaviour) teach us what gender means. These examples are all cultural, not genetic or biological (what then intersex?). For example, from young age, girls told to read a book inside, boys expected to rough & tumble. Delicate boys who would prefer to read are often derided or told to ‘go play outside’ – girls who rough & tumble told to ‘be ladylike’. It has an effect on our physicality. Girls given dolls, taught to nurture, boys in same scenario often called ‘sissy’ or worse. When show nurturing traits, are told to ‘harden up’, ‘be a man’ etc.

    1. Quite right. It’s all in the messages we teach our kids from birth. From what toys we buy for girls or boys to the clothing on their backs, and the hobbies we encourage or discourage.

      And I agree that it’s sociological rather than physiological. But many will rebut that and say it’s in our DNA. That men are the warriors and women the nurturers.

      This subject fascinates me and I think I’m going to check out some books and actual research on the matter of gender roles.

      So what can we do about it all? Put our kids in gender less kindergartens. Perhaps stop using derogatory comments about another’s gender? Like the battle of racism things can get better. But then again racism still exists, we still need to categorise and compare. It’s going to be an ongoing discussion for perhaps forever.

  2. Sociology examines how culture (in language, suggestion, behaviour) teach us what gender means. These examples are all cultural, not genetic or biological (what then intersex?). For example, from young age, girls told to read a book inside, boys expected to rough & tumble. Delicate boys who would prefer to read are often derided or told to ‘go play outside’ – girls who rough & tumble told to ‘be ladylike’. It has an effect on our physicality. Girls given dolls, taught to nurture, boys in same scenario often called ‘sissy’ or worse. When show nurturing traits, are told to ‘harden up’, ‘be a man’ etc.

    1. Quite right. It’s all in the messages we teach our kids from birth. From what toys we buy for girls or boys to the clothing on their backs, and the hobbies we encourage or discourage.

      And I agree that it’s sociological rather than physiological. But many will rebut that and say it’s in our DNA. That men are the warriors and women the nurturers.

      This subject fascinates me and I think I’m going to check out some books and actual research on the matter of gender roles.

      So what can we do about it all? Put our kids in gender less kindergartens. Perhaps stop using derogatory comments about another’s gender? Like the battle of racism things can get better. But then again racism still exists, we still need to categorise and compare. It’s going to be an ongoing discussion for perhaps forever.

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