Have you noticed people treat you differently depending on your gender? Some may assume you can’t do anything if you are female-identified. There are so many automatic assumptions people make based on gender. Depending on your identities, certain intersectionalities are ripe for faulty assumptions and stereotypes.
What Are Some Female Gender Stereotypes?
There is an expectation from traditionalists that females are supposed to be accommodating and nurturing. Female job descriptions often include caregiving responsibilities deferential to men, such as assistants, secretaries, nurses, etc. Another expectation is women should always be dolled up, i.e., wearing dresses and make-up, and be submissive/quiet rather than to speak their mind. A women's worth is thought of as dependent entirely on her looks and status associated with her spouse, hence the term "trophy wife."
In reality, there is nothing wrong with being a housewife, nurse, assistant, etc. if that is what you want. However, these gender stereotypes can be damaging if women are limited to what they are told and what they think are "supposed to do." If you are naturally quiet, there is nothing wrong with that as opposed to being told to be quiet all the time ,and thus stifling your voice.
Why Do We Care?
We should care because stereotypes are very limiting for females. While females can do whatever they put their minds to, it took over 200 years for a women of color to become our U.S. Vice President. There has been progress, but there is still much work to be done. There is still an undercurrent belief that females should be subservient to men and not be given rights to their bodies, i.e., debate on abortion in the U.S. There is also still pay inequality between men and women.
Women still do not have the same rights as men in multiple countries. The education of women is still an important concern with certain societies choosing to continue to suppress female education. Education allows women to progress and move forward in society, including becoming financially independent by expanding in their careers and gaining power positions. Due to females’ current position in societies, females are still victims of gender-based violence and sex-trafficking.
Today’s male-dominated society was created that way from the beginning, which is to keep cis men in control. Most females' obsession with physical appearance are a result of males wanting females to look a certain way. Due to society’s obsession with physical appearance, most women go on diets and engaged in disordered eating to conform to an "idealized body type." When the human body lacks proper nutrition, our body and mental health suffers. We usually cannot think clearly when we are starving, which is what most diets promote in their calorie-deficit model. If females are focused on their appearance, their attention is shifted elsewhere, then men can stay in control of humanity and the future.
How Can We Change This?
It all starts with awareness of our environment and of ourselves. Most of us grew up in a patriarchal environment and automatically acted as expected of us.
Look around. Are you consuming certain stereotypes through advertisements, TV, family members, etc.?
Look within. Are you just following along with a stereotype? Are you normally that way?
Have conversations about female gender stereotypes with friends. If you feel safe, have those conversations with your family.
Challenge others when they make gender stereotype assumptions when safe to do so.
If this exercise is distressing, please seek support with loved ones and/or connect with a mental health provider. If you are struggling with this and want therapeutic services with us, feel free to reach out to us through our site.
Reflecting on and challenging ingrained gender stereotypes is difficult, especially if we grew up that way. Take it slow. You do not have to challenge yourself to confront all the stereotypes in one day. This is part of discovering and learning about yourself as well as helping your fellow humans learn and grow. You define who and what you want to represent to the world not someone else. Good luck on your self-discovery journey!
Stay tuned. The next topic is "Identities."
Written by Elena Duong, Psy.D.
Edited by Susanna La, Ph.D.