Did you know gender stereotypes can lead to women abuse? According to the UN, harmful gender stereotypes are one of the root causes for discrimination, abuse and violence. And the best way to end violence against women is to prevent it from happening in the first place. To do this, we need to address the root and structural causes such as stereotypes.
So if you’ve had enough of problematic gender norms and want to be part of the solution, we are with you. Here are four common gender norms that perpetuate unhealthy behaviours for both women and men and what we can do about it.
Myth: Boys grow up into men thinking that crying is a sign of weakness and that they shouldn’t show their emotions. Sound familiar? When boys cry, instead of expressing their emotions, they are told to man up and not be a sissy. They bottle up their emotions and associate crying and weakness with femininity. This causes gender discrimination and abuse because women are seen as inferior.
Fact: Crying is a natural human reaction to an intense emotional situation and everyone does it from the time we are born. It is a natural and healthy outlet for people to regulate their emotional stress. If you know a man who struggles with crying, or expressing his feelings, start by encouraging him to talk to you without feeling judged or ridiculed. Women are naturally intuitive and we can help the men, and boys, in our lives to identify their feelings and find ways to help them express themselves.
Myth: Despite many households being dual-income, the expectation that men should make more money than their partner still exists. When the roles are reversed, men can feel resentful and inadequate. Many men would probably agree that this is illogical and they should feel happy for their wives. This type of resentment actually comes from a place of insecurity and such stereotyping can lead to financial or economic abuse.
Fact: The role of labour distribution has changed significantly as more women enter the workforce, further their education and stretch their careers. This is naturally going to shift pay gaps between men and women. Attaching someone’s worth to their pay slip is not only outdated but also completely unfair. There are many meaningful ways for men and women to make contributions to their relationship, workplace or household, and it’s about empowering one another to do this, by playing to each other’s strengths.
Myth: Gender norms typically dictate women should be polite, quiet and not speak their minds, and let men take the lead. From an early age, women are depicted as vulnerable and in need of protection, they need to hide their assertiveness in order to conform to society’s beliefs. This can be part of the reason why women survivors of sexual assault or sexual harassment don’t speak out about their experiences until later in life.
Fact: Assertiveness comes from self-esteem and confidence which needs to be nurtured from an early age. Women can also support each other by speaking up for those who feel they can’t. A big part of this is to build each other’s self-esteem through encouragement and kind words.
Myth: Women must have it all, live it all and be it all. The career, the family, the body, and failure is not an option. A big chunk of this myth is perpetuated in the media through advertisements, TV shows and social media. This stereotyping can have a detrimental effect on women’s mental health and result in emotional abuse.
Fact: Women feeling inadequate ties back to their own self-worth and how we measure this. By comparing yourself against what you believe to be perfect is no way to measure it. You need to rather understand how you value self-worth and the way you measure it. Everything else is just somebody else’s opinion and you need to let go of what other people think. It’s not an easy ask and either therapy or a life coach can help you find these answers.
The most effective way we can support each and break down gender stereotypes is by speaking up when we see this type of thing happening. Recognise it when it happens and say something. And, while there are many contributing factors towards abuse, this is one of the ways that we can work together to prevent it.