by Kara Trott
I’ve always been curious about the differences between men and women, but unlike many, my curiosity didn’t focus on the physical distinctions for very long. My main concern was why they are so segregated. This concern was first realized when I was taking a shower one day and read on my brothers’ shampoo bottle, “For Men” written in bold blue lettering. I thought about it for a while, as one does in the shower, and I became convinced that there were special chemicals in that soap that where only to be used by men. This was the only logical reason I could come up with for why there would be such specific labeling on something as simple as soap.
How My World View Has Changed. I’ve pondered this odd segregation of genders and unnecessary gendering of inanimate objects ever since then. I now understand that it has to do with corporations. It is a selling point, or a branding tactic. This segregation is very unhealthy for a society, as it splits it in half and prompts each side to feel that they are different. This feeling of difference causes one side to convince the other that they are inferior. This plays on the human psyche causing both sides to act according to their status, leaving one to act violently and the other to act hopelessly.
How I Have Changed. Making a significant change on this grand scale issue requires multiple solutions and mass effort, because it has to do with a stubborn way of thinking that the majority of people share – as well as giant corporations that have far more power than necessary. Since realizing this frustrating issue, I’ve noticed that everyone just buys into and emphasize this segregation. As a result, I’ve avoided following this pattern like a sheep.
My awareness of this issue from a rather young age has had a big impact on who I’ve become and how I express myself. I am not limited to the ideas and rules of a single gender, I feel more free to be a person first. My gender isn’t a huge part of who I am, but rather, one small fact about me. It does not define what I can and cannot do as long as I have a say in the matter.
Why YOU Should Change. This freedom is readily available to everyone, especially if the majority of people join in. Don’t follow the norms of your gender, do what makes you happy; what you find cool, and what makes you feel healthy and improved. Though it is an important step in the right direction, we don’t even need to begin with the large feat of removing gendering from items, we just have to be brave enough to break the mold and follow our own paths, being who we want to be, rather than who we are expected to be.
How We Make This Change. A very integral part of changing the way a society thinks and acts is by influencing the children of the next generation. Therefore, it is vitally important that we stop alluding to young children that there is a stark difference in gender; that certain objects and themes belong to each gender by ceasing to label products as “for men” or “for women”; and by refraining from the usage of products that one is expected to simply because of their gender.
Gendered Objects and Themes. There is no reason we should designate inanimate objects to a particular sex. From trucks and princesses, to the colors pink and blue, it simply fuels a debate over which of the two sexes is “better,” when there is no such thing. There are obvious differences between men and women, but none that make one better than the other, nor separate one from the other. Contrarily, these differences typically provide for a good pairing.
The Negative effects of Gender Segregation. The way we currently approach gender puts restrictions on who an individual can be. As Amber Winn (in her 2017 thesis Biased Neutrality on gender segregation and clustering in retail) states, “Classifying someone as male or female, therefore, conjures specific mental expectations for the individual’s masculine or feminine characteristics, a process that implies an inherent reliance on gender stereotypes”. It makes people uncomfortable when someone breaks out of those stereotypical restrictions, just because we as a society have made it a custom over many years with seemingly no reasoning.
How To Change and Why You Should. By ceasing to use one’s gender assigned products, we can go against this custom and change our way of thought. If this practice becomes more common it will grow to be more understood and as a result, more accepted. This will allow future generations to gradually evade this unhealthy tradition we have unintentionally poisoned our society with, while at the same time gaining more freedom of expression and license to be one’s self.
Another Solution/Change. Another crucial change we can make to minimize gender segregation is through making an effort to stop reinforcing gender stereotypes in the media. In their 2015bpaper arguing that building media literacy skills in young people will help them grow more realistic and healthy views of themselves in the modern world, Naomi Berman and Alexandra White iterate that, “The media plays a significant role in shaping cultural norms and attitudes, concomitantly reinforcing “body” and “beauty” ideals and gender stereotypes. Unrealistic, photoshopped and stereotyped images used by the media, advertising and fashion industries influence young people’s body image and impact on their feelings of body satisfaction, self-esteem and confidence.” Therefore, it is important that this aspect of modern life be changed in order to give future generations the opportunity to live in a world without gender stereotypes and segregation where your can be yourself without being governed and judged by something as miniscule as your gender.
The Effect of The Media On Gender Stereotypes. Movies and TV are powerful forms of media that shape young people and leave a big impact on a generation, making them dangerous contributors to gender stereotyping and segregation when made using said stereotypes. In their 2019 paper about the effects of gender stereotypes on children, Eike Wille and her co-authors found that ”t.v. programs often transmit stereotypes about gender roles such as ‘math is for boys and not for girls’” causing less motivation and interest among girls to learn about and pursue math-based careers. This creates a gender inequality in the math field based solely on stereotypes suggested to children, rather than capability and interest. Most girls think math is not for them, or are convinced that they are not good at math. When really, they were just subliminally taught to believe so through TV and movies. Similarly, the way that characters are portrayed in movies, particularly in those “coming of age” movies geared towards a teen and/ or tween audiences, is problematic in many ways. The girl is usually pressured to change from her unique self into someone more feminine and sexual in order to “fit in.” The guys are typically portrayed as being perverted and acting in predator-like ways to woo the girl and are never punished for doing so, nor taught the negative effects of this type of behavior. One of the more recent examples of this type of movie is 2019’s “After”, directed by Jenny Gage, where these exact roles take place, particularly in the first half.
The Effects of Gender Inequality On Developing Minds. Gender inequality in government and businesses also affect the way children grow to understand gender and become accustomed to gender inequality. In their 2008 study on children’s and adolescent’s developing perceptions of gender inequality, Kristin D. Neff, Carey E. Cooper, and Althea L. Woodruff found “an age-related increase in perceptions of male dominance. Men were seen to have more power and status in politics than in business whereas relative equality was seen to exist in the home”. This means that as children grow, they are being shown a very heavy gender inequality in positions of power. This gives the impression that male-dominated industries and positions of power are normal and okay.
How and Why We Should Solve Gender Inequality. Growing gender equality in all fields and aspects of life will make an important change in creating a less gender-focused and divided world. If children are shown how few differences between men and women there are, they will grow to see people as equal and united, rather than segregated and different based on gender stereotypes.
Why We are Currently Stuck Here. In their 2017 research on the influence of gender based intelligence stereotypes on children and their interests, Lin Bian, Sarah-Jane Leslie, and Andrei Cimpian found that “gendered notions of brilliance are acquired early and have an immediate effect on children’s interests”. This creates a cycle of new generations being shaped by the previous, and continuously being dictated and influenced by their gender.
Conclusion. As I’ve pondered the segregation of gender throughout my life, I have discovered that it has many negative impacts on society, and fixing these problems begins with children, the next generation of humanity. No one person alone can easily reverse all of the biases and restrictions we have created over many years to define and segregate humanity by gender, but you can still make changes to help. Ignore gendered products and ideas whenever possible, support accurately represented characters in shows and movies, don’t let stereotypes hold you back, and lead by example for your children and other’s. We can make the world a better place with a simple change in attitude and perspective.