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Gender Stereotypes: Definition, Examples and Analysis

Gender stereotyping is defined as overgeneralization of characteristics, differences and attributes of a certain group based on their gender. Gender stereotypes create a widely accepted judgment or bias about certain characteristics or traits that apply to each gender. If a man or a woman act differently from how their gender is assumed to behave, then they don’t conform to the norm. For example: assertive women are called “bitches” and “whores”, while men who don’t appear or act masculine are called “sissies” or “wimps” or assumed to be gay, which is a very offensive stereotype in the LGBT community. Gender stereotypes are dangerous because they might create unequal or unfair treatments to a certain person who chooses to defy people’s assumptions about his/her gender. When gender inequality occurs on the background of gender stereotyping, this is called sexism

Why Does Gender Stereotyping in the Workplace Occur?

Gender stereotypes in the workplace,emerge from the assumption that women belong at home. Women cannot have any job they would like to, that there are jobs they are “inadequate” for. This resulted in women drawing lower wages than men, holding low-status jobs, comprising a few senior positions in prestigious firms where they compete with men and take up equally huge responsibilities.

Despite women making up half of the employees of large corporations, they are under-represented in higher-status, higher-paying occupations such as university teaching, law and medicine. 

Female gender stereotypes in the workplace are called “women’s ghettos.” This name references women’s positions in relation to the higher paid jobs in which they serve men. “Women’s ghettos” are supervised by men, constantly and forever, such that whenever a woman moves a step up the corporate ladder, there’s always a man above her.

There’s also the issue of trust. How often have you heard “I trust a male doctor more,” or “I’d call a female plumber but they’re not as good as men.” Female gender stereotypes precipitate the fact that women are less trustworthy and less capable of handling certain “tough” jobs than men.

Gender stereotypes imprison humans in the “fact” that every person should either act as male or female, disregarding completely those who identify as neither or both.

Most Common Gender Stereotypes

There are four basic examples of gender stereotypes:

  1. Personality Traits: Women are supposed to be shy, passive and submissive. Women are organized and clean. Men are expected to be tough, aggressive, dominant and self-confident. Men are lazy and messy.
  2. Domestic Behaviors: Women are supposed to cook and do housework. Women are better at raising children. Stay-at-home mothers are better than working mothers. On the other hand: Men are better at household repairs. Men cannot cook, sew or care for their children. Men always tell their wives what to do.
  3. Occupations: Women are supposed to have “clean” jobs such as teachers, nurses, secretaries and librarians. Women are not good at math. Women are supposed to make less money than men. Women are not politicians. Women cannot be presidential candidates. On the other hand: Men are supposed to have “dirty jobs” like mechanics, construction workers, plumbers and engineering. Men are all good at math. Men are better doctors. Men are supposed to be in charge at work and should make more money than women. Men are better politicians.
  4. Physical Appearance: Generally speaking, women are expected to be short and slender, small and delicate while men are supposed to be tall with broad shoulders. However, physical appearance gender stereotyping varies from culture to culture. In cultures where men are small in size, masculinity is determined by acting macho. Acting macho for men would mean getting involved in fights, drinking alcohol, smoking unfiltered cigarettes and getting into fights. Female gender stereotype occurs for women who act “macho” in some cultures. Women who smoke, drink, and swear often are considered “masculine”. 

Female gender stereotypes always play on the notion of women’s inequality to men. Women are weaker, less competitive, less adaptable to harsh environments outside the house.

Male gender stereotypes pressed on the facts that men were more tolerant and they expressed their feelings differently from women. Men should act in a certain, acceptable “manly” way: other than that men are not worthy of their natural “superior” role.

Gender stereotyping basically discards the concept of gender identity. Gender identity is defined as how the individual feels inside, whether masculine or feminine, regardless of the person’s biological sex. An androgyne, or androgynous person, is one who doesn’t conform to a particular male or female gender role. 

Consequences of Gender Stereotyping

People who are threatened by gender stereotyping, act upon their insecurities by exaggerating the stereotyped behavior through hyperfemininity or hypermasculinity.
gender stereotypes
Hyperfemininity is the exaggeration of female gender stereotypes. Hyperfeminine women, gay men as well as male-to-female transgenders, believe that they are boosting men’s egos and pleasing them by acting too naive, too pious, too passive, too domestic, too flirtatious and too nurturing. Whether this is their true nature or a tactic to please society, hyperfeminine individuals are obliterating their own identities and becoming clones from the mold that was prepared for them.

Male gender stereotypes would also result in hypermasculinity. Hypermasculine men, lesbians as well as female-to-male transgenders exaggerate the stereotyped masculine behavior. They believe they are supposed to be dominant and in charge to impress other women by being too aggressive, too sexually active, too physically imposing, too macho, too obscene and too violent sometimes, making them a danger to themselves and to the society.

Gender Stereotypes in the Media

Gender stereotyping phenomenon goes back to the 1800s. only when the feminist movements of the 1960s gained more supporters and started broadening their goals did gender stereotyping become a questionable issue. The media machine played a great role in creating gender stereotypes. In fact, to reach out to more audiences and viewers, to become universal, mass media has played the gender stereotype card more than often.

Even with the social and economic advances of the feminist movements that called for women’s equality with men, mass media still perpetuates traditional gender stereotypes. They portray the subordinate groups in a negative and unrealistic way so as to implement a certain image in people’s heads and normalize an unfair, discriminatory behavior.

Gender stereotypes in the media starts from national TV that enters every home and affects millions and millions of people, the common masses, who constitute the backbone of any society. Starting from commercials, gender stereotyping is at its best, because commercials are always targeting a certain social group. Commercials are a “reflection of the recipient,” women are objects of beauty and domesticity, always appearing in seductive, full shot ads while men advertise automotives and cigarettes and are shown mostly in close-ups.

Female gender stereotypes in the media are either housewives, obsessed over home appliances, or a sexy seductress, kissing a man to advertise a lipstick or trying on a new fragrance. Women also appear in men’s commercials, advertisers use them as a tool to boost the man’s ego about a new watch or to flirt with him while seduced by his new eau de cologne.

Another modern female stereotype is the health-obsessed woman. This one appears in organic food commercials, fitness commercials or beauty-preserving commercials where she applies anti-wrinkles cream and smiles gracefully -not too seductively- to the camera.

Of course the sexy seductress, the health-obsessed Miss graceful or the frantic housewife are all portrayed unrealistically in terms of looks and body image. These women are Caucasians, mostly blondes, extremely thin and delicate. 

Male gender stereotypes in advertising fall into one of two categories, “the real man” who is muscular, handsome, chiseled, successful and a seducer. He is always with a beautiful, sultry woman tagging along. The second type, which is less popular, is the ordinary guy who appears in commercials for household products. This stereotypical male is a bit chubby, homey-looking, smiley and domesticated.

Female stereotyping in movies has not been overcome despite female leads sweeping off box office tickets and breaking records, especially recently with sci-fi franchises such as The Hunger Games and Divergent. Still female gender stereotypes in movies barely acknowledge the strong, independent, woman. In most movies, women are hyper-attractive, hypersexualized, unrealistic characters. They are mostly present to please men or to give in to men as the closing credits roll. Almost all female characters in the movies are praised for their appearance or physical beauty. Appearance praise is not a bad thing when presented in a healthy movie environment, but when a female stereotype is confined to this kind of acclaim, problems ensue. 

Gender Stereotypical Disney

Gender stereotypes in the animated world are no better than those in live action films. Disney movies are worshiped by kids worldwide. In all truth, Disney movies are no better than daytime commercials for implementing gender stereotypical images and body forms of animated boys and girls. Through close examination, gender stereotypes in Disney movies are no different than the 4 basic examples previously mentioned. Let’s take the animated movie Tarzan as an example: the main male protagonist, Tarzan, is portrayed as independent, assertive, intelligent, athletic, competent and stronger than everybody else. On the other hand, Jane, the main female protagonist, is emotional, tentative, romantic, affectionate, sensitive, frail, passive and weaker than Tarzan. Not only that, she is also weaker than all the other male characters, even the supportive ones.

Gender stereotypes in Disney movies also play the femme fatale game a lot. Every heroine must have an evil female rival, who is usually more powerful and cunning. Disney villainesses like Cruella de Vil (101 Dalmatians), Ursula (The Little Mermaid), Lady Tremaine (Cinderella), Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty) and the Queen (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), are mostly sexy seductresses, often practice witchcraft and are middle-aged, sour women, obsessed with their looks and absolute power. Every Disney movie with a princess title, ends with the evil queen meeting her imminent fate. In almost every movie, the male hero kills the evil queen.

Gender stereotypes are very prominent in Disney movies. The female heroine is either a princess, a queen or a homemaker. In early Disney films, the princess was always the damsel-in-distress who waited for her prince to save her. Strangely, Disney relies more on their female heroines than male heroes. According to their statistics, audiences (male and female) are able to identify with a female power figure than a male.

Some sociologists and psychologists researched Disney music and discovered that many of the Disney classic songs perpetuate stereotypical images of masculinity and femininity. 

In Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Snow White sings “Someday My Prince Will Come,” while she is with the seven dwarfs in their cottage in the woods. The song reflects patriarchal control and traditional ideas of femininity probably due to the fact that the lyrics were written by a male and the music was also composed by a male. 

In Beauty and the Beast, the first musical number titled “Belle” shows women and men in their stereotypical roles. Women are consumers of goods and domestic workers, either buying from men or preparing their food while men are shown as the financial providers. In the small town where Belle lives, all of the business owners are men.

Gender Stereotypes in the Music Scene

Almost every popular song in the past decade has been about gender stereotypes in some way. You can see gender stereotypes examples in every genre: rap, pop, country, heavy metal or R&B. 

In songs, women are stereotyped through sexuality. They are objectified as helpless, vulnerable creatures that would receive anything from men, even something as grave as violence. On the other hand, men are mostly portrayed as masculine and violent. A few pop and R&B songs showcase men’s softer side as vulnerable, emotional beings.

According to the Willis Test-generated by music critic and feminist Ellen Willis-replace every “she” with a “he” in songs to discover gender stereotypes, misogyny or sexism.

With the emergence of artists like Marilyn Manson, Beyoncé, Mykki Blanco and Patrick Wolf, gender stereotypes were twisted and broken. Songs about gender stereotypes aimed to break them instead of glamorizing them. Examples on songs that broke gender stereotypes include:

  1. Girls With Guitars by Wynonna Judd.
  2. Run the World by Beyoncé.
  3. Can’t Hold Us Down by Christina Aguilera featuring rapper Lil’ Kim.
  4. I’m Gonna Be An Engineer by Peggy Seeger.
  5. Blow Me (One Last Kiss) by Pink.

How Do You Challenge Gender Stereotypes?

You can see gender stereotyping everywhere. Gender stereotyping has awful consequences and might lead to sexism or violence against subordinate groups. You can start breaking gender stereotypes through the following steps:

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  1. Point it out: Remember the “See no evil” mantra? Now is your chance to “allow no evil.” By becoming silent when faced with sexist or misogynist attitudes you are only allowing many people to get hurt.
  2. Walk the Talk: Be the change you want to see in the world. Start with yourself and don’t fall into the trap of advocating something you are not practicing in your daily life. You could be a role model to your friends and many people would follow your good example.
  3. Speak up: Don’t just point out the negative stereotypes, fight them. Answer back. Challenge sexist and bigoted people.
  4. Teach boys home economics: By getting your boys involved in the house chores and learning to cook you are raising them to break gender stereotypes and become role models for other kids their age.
  5. Switch gender roles in your daily life: Challenge gender stereotypes by defying them yourself. Play it safe, however, and don’t endanger yourself or any member of your family.

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