Thoughts on Changing Gender Norms

The first toy I ever played with was a Barbie doll. It wasn’t that I was forced to; I genuinely wanted a Barbie. My older cousin played with Barbie’s so it seemed like the cool, girly thing to do. I wore dresses, played with makeup, and participated in every stereotypically girly activity, much to my mother’s chagrin. She wanted me to develop my own ideas/feelings and felt that I was succumbing to the societal pressures to fulfill gender roles.

While I couldn’t understand at the time why that was such a bad thing, now that I am older and have gained perspective I can see why these gender norms are so detrimental to society as a whole. Despite the fact that we’ve progressed far enough in America that women should have conceivably as many rights as a man, we still have unfortunately continued to keep many gender norms that have been nearly impossible for many to breakthrough. Recently, in class we were asked to list some of these expected roles such as boys liking blue and girls liking pink in addition to the idea that women are expected not to propose. It reminded me just how much we accept these without any reasoning.

After reading Castor Semenya’s story in class, I was yet again reminded of the unwillingness of many individuals to not accept people with any difference. Women are supposed to be small and feminine while men are expected to be strong and masculine. It is easy to see how there could be a bias among athletes. The fact that Semenya was attacked for not fitting that mold is indicative of it. The trauma that she suffers after finding out that she is intersex is just an example of how our societal gender norms can harm a person’s wellbeing. This article depressed me for many reasons: one being that Semenya’s incredible athletic ability was overshadowed by this controversy over her actual sex, and two was that we still haven’t made it to a point even in athletics where people can be accepted.

Castor Semenya

Yet, perhaps despite this we are still progressing to a point where these differences no longer matter as much.

It made me also think back on a recent change Facebook made to their settings. While previously a user was required to be either male or female, they now have a range of 50 extra ones to choose from. This is great news for the lgbtq community; Facebook reaches millions of people from all over the world and it is reflective on the importance of people who identify as something differing from the norm.

It does raise questions, though. Where is the line drawn? Do we just allow everyone to decide what they are or do we choose specific classifications? I don’t think there is an easy answer. Clearly there isn’t one.

I think that while it may take a while, change is occurring. People are beginning to realize that we all have our differences and responding to that. It’s important though that we start from childhood, teaching kids to be accepting of others and choose how they want to define themselves. It’s fine if little girls want to play with Barbies, but it’s important that they are because they want to, not because they think they are supposed to.