“How did men go from the Navy to Harry Styles in a dress?”
It’s easy to mock or make fun of statements like that, but let’s have a real conversation about them. That statement and others similar to it are quite common. People believe that biological males and females (men and women) should be and act a certain way. These beliefs have led to distinguishing some characteristics as only for men and others for women. Masculine and feminine traits, they’re called, but what are we not seeing about these sharp distinctions?
Stick with this article to the end and discover how sexist and biased these traits are.
We’re Not Where We Used to Be…
…and that’s a good thing. Here’s what I mean!
In the past, certain traits were known to be only for men or women. This reality did not exist because all men and women fit the category every time but because those traits simply became perpetuated over time.
“Men” and “masculinity” were typically supposed to have the following traits:
- Being strong
- Being a leader
- Going to war or going hunting/facing danger
- Owning companies, properties, etc.
- Emotional control
On the other hand, femininity demanded that women do all of the following;
- Be a nurturing caregiver
- Be a homemaker and take care of the family
- Sit and look pretty! (think: Jane Austen’s England)
- Support the “men” in her life, first her father and brothers, and then her husband
These “roles” and “traits” were divided and called masculine and feminine; many still hold in our 21st century. As we continue to evolve as a society, it’s becoming clear that these strict traits are unsustainable and entirely inaccurate. We simply need to unlearn them because they may hurt us more than they helped in the past. These days, we know that a woman can lead, build economic power, and be just as business-savvy as a man (if not savvier). Also, we know that a man can be a caregiver, support the “women” in his life and take care of the family. Did you know there was a time it was odd for a biological male to wear earrings? Odd, because there were several tribes in Africa where earrings were a sign of status among men and women.
But that’s only the beginning of how we can re-think what is masculine and feminine.
However, to get to that point where we can re-think these traits here’s a quick explanation of how masculine and feminine traits are sexist and biased.
These Traits are Biased and Sexist Because…
They don’t always match what we are inclined to as unique human beings. It’s like placing a general label where individual labels should be. It is relevant to note that biological males are physically stronger than biological females. But, many traits we label masculine and feminine are socially constructed. …which can become a BIG problem.
Socially constructed traits become a problem because they become outdated and restrictive. Imagine not being able to wear jewelry or makeup because a social norm dictates that you shouldn’t. As human beings, we’re designed to grow and evolve ourselves and everything around us. What fits society today will definitely change as we evolve. And let’s not forget that there will always be outliers in every society or group. Throw in the fact that we’re born as human beings unique and different from each other, and it begins to make clearer sense just how much these traits “box” us in.
Sexism and bias are forms of discrimination. It’s discriminatory when what you and I can be in this world is decided before we’re even conceived. When we show natural inclinations that deviate from those “traits” that have been decided for us, we’re the problem, not the sexist and biased social constructs.
2 Practical Steps to Unlearn Sexism and Bias
We’re at a point as a society where we need to unlearn the sexism and bias contained in these assigned traits. We need to ask, are these traits serving us? Or are these traits enslaving us and causing us more harm?
We can agree that as we grow, we learn. That said, some of these existing social structures are still based on limited information about masculinity and femininity. Here are two steps to unlearn the bias and sexism we impose on others;
- Question what you’ve always believed:
We don’t have to be afraid of asking questions because we’re afraid we’ll disturb what’s there. What if we should disturb what’s there and achieve something more suitable?
- Open your mind to new knowledge on individual abilities or characters:
People often describe the older ideologies on masculinity and femininity as better, and more informed. But, when you look closer, those same people aren’t really questioning the more profound implications of those older ideologies. For example, what about the people who experienced oppression under those preconceptions? Even when it was assumed that the constructed traits were natural? As we witness this explosion of new knowledge, it’s time to open your minds to the possibilities. We must lose the general labels, and pay attention to the individual.
I hope this helps!