Gender Roles: A suffocating, social entity

BY RITWIK ARORA


"Don't do it, that's too girlish!", "Learn to do some cooking otherwise you'll embarrass us after your marriage!” I am quite sure most of us have encountered these lines in one form or another throughout our lives. As soon as we are born we are put into these metaphorical boxes, where our identity and behaviour must conform to the shape of that box unless we find ourselves becoming an “embarrassment” for our families and for society at large. This happens despite the fact that a person's birth sex may not even align with their gender identity. The years of conditioning and evolution the society has gone through has made us numb to the huge atrocity we are committing when we try to put labels on someone just on the basis of how they appear to be on the outside. This social genocide has been successful because of some of these deliberate as well as not so deliberate but equally harmful steps taken by our patriarchal society.

MYTHS

We love stories, don't we? There are probably just some rare few who don't enjoy a good tale. This human need for stories has led to the creation of some of the most incorrect myths that have taken root in our minds. "Hey, don't you dare drink or smoke otherwise you'll be unable to bear children" ; "A man doesn't feel any pain"; these are the kind of things we have heard growing up and we are expected to believe these lies despite there not being any concrete proof supporting these claims except some story from a neighbor or relative.

These myths are so ingrained in our society that sometimes we start to believe that ourselves. I mean I can never account for where the myth came from that women can't drive, but at a point of immaturity and naivete even I believed and sometimes participated in such misogynistic jokes. The only way we can counter these harmful effects of myths is by constantly questioning them and holding ourselves accountable for our actions.


STEREOTYPES

"A man is a bread earner and a woman is a homemaker"; "Women who work are not good mother's"; "Men who cook and clean are their wives' slaves". These are the types of things we hear when we try to break the norms and start making progress towards a more progressive future. As discussed with Myths, these stereotypes too are so deeply ingrained in our society that sometimes we forget that these are not facts or there is no rulebook which has stated these as some tenets we must follow. These are just made up ideas conjured by society to box people in a particular group.

Just take the stereotype of pink as a feminine and blue as a masculine colour. Today people use these stereotypes to even paint their unborn children's rooms in their houses. "Honey, if it's a boy, we'll paint the nursery blue, if it's a girl then we'll paint it pink". I mean the baby isn't even born yet but they are already being classified into these two traditional standards for sex. Maybe they grow up hating either of the colours or they are not even represented by these colours, despite the stereotype. Maybe they would like their bedroom to be rainbow-colored. It can be any of those things, but we tend to limit ourselves and our upcoming generations through these stereotypes. Fun fact: Before the 1950s, Pink was considered to be a predominantly masculine colour and blue was a popular colour for girls. So, yeah even these stereotypes don't have a leg to stand on. Now, seeing the problems created by these stereotypes, the question of their origin must be coming to our minds. Well the answer is simple: Media.

GENDER AND MEDIA

It’s been a long day, we have toiled in our offices or college. We are absolutely exhausted. What do we do? We put on a new show on Netflix or Amazon Prime or wherever we get our entertainment content from and just try to relax. And in this state of bone-deep exhaustion we start to consume the same tried and trodden stories, which are being told for generations. These stories which not just conform to the stereotypes mentioned above but actively recycle them for cheap entertainment. The hyper-masculine, all conquering guy. The submissive and dainty girl. These stories not just portray an ignorant point of view but ultimately a very dangerous one too. Some of the most popular pieces of entertainment in the last few years have featured this same narrative (looking at you, Kabir Singh and Mirzapur!!) leading to a whole new generation being exposed to an ultimately corrosive narrative.

Not just these but the way the media tries to box in the various achievers on the basis of their gender instead of their talent has been really damaging for society. I was watching an interview just the other day where an actor was asked, “How does it feel to be directed by a female director?”; In another interview a famous actor was asked how she manages her kids along with her work. I mean no one would ask a similar question in the opposite case, right? These small actions lead to the building of a narrative where we as a society start to emulate these behaviours culminating in the vicious cycle of myths, stereotypes and their recycling.

Despite these ignorant narratives mentioned above, we are starting to see some progressive and timely stories being told too, which break the norms which have been imposed upon us and actually lead to substantial change. But one problem that persists through though is the boxing in of these stories in the gender binary narrative. It’s high time we start to come out of this suffocating shell and explore stories which are not restricted to this box.

Now all these changes can’t be brought in unless we start to broaden our views. We need to look beyond gender and start to recognise talent and ability as the marker for someone’s success. We need to recognise the deeply ingrained stereotypes within us and try to counter them. We’ll definitely make some mistakes on the way but the only way we and in extension our society can grow is if we hold ourselves accountable for those mistakes.