By CeCe Rivers
Our U.S. Constitution purports that all men are created equal. Assuming the word men is inclusive of both genders, women might beg to differ. Things are not equal for men and women.
Overcoming gender issues requires us to get to the root of why inequality exists in the first place. Where should we really look for an answer?
Let’s begin by examining gender roles, which are established based on our assigned sex, regardless of whether they are right or wrong. For women, societal expectations revolve around being feminine, polite, accommodating, and nurturing. Throughout history, women have often been perceived as less capable, physically weaker, and intellectually inferior. On the other hand, men are expected to display strength, assertiveness, and masculine traits. Traditionally, they have been cast in roles as decision-makers, heavy-lifters, and leaders in various spheres such as religion, business, and government. These expectations are set in motion from the moment we are born and become deeply ingrained as we reach adulthood. Consequently, men continue to enjoy greater responsibilities, higher positions, income, and respect simply based on their gender.
While some of the differences between men and women are mutually appreciated, other such practices and beliefs are reflective of the social phenomenon of gender discrimination. These forms of discrimination exist everywhere in society and start early in our development.
Let’s look next in our homes. If home is where our view of the world is first shaped, could it be that this is also the first place our little girls are socialized into the kinds of gender norms, values, and stereotypes that limit female potential? If so, it is no wonder that by adulthood, many women find themselves grappling with unequal rights, privileges, and opportunities also based solely on gender.
Studies have shown that girls’ sense of gender is determined predominantly by their childhood experiences. The most significant influence on gender roles occurs in the family setting, with parents and guardians modeling and passing on their own beliefs about gender.
Long-standing practices such as choosing pink for girls, blue for boys; dolls for girls, and trucks for boys are normalized. Just take a look at a recent gender reveal on YouTube or TikTok. (Fun fact: did you know the color assignment used to be the reverse in the US?). Many girls are still taught to cook and boys to mow the lawn as gender assignments. They are told to stop acting like a boy, or acting like a girl.
Intentionally or unintentionally, the words and actions of parents and other adults contribute to perceptions that females are somehow different in a way that justifies unequal treatment. These perceptions become manifested in laws and policies that perpetuate continued inequities.
Given the power of influence that women hold, let’s take this matter back to homebase. Behavioral changes that address a root cause of women’s inequality and promote the inherent capabilities of women and girls are necessary. We must equalize expectations of our boys and girls and encourage our husbands, brothers, and sons to do the same.
When we release old norms, values, and stereotypes about gender roles, we can accelerate our progress towards a just world where no one is held back by restrictive gender practices.
The path to true equality for women begins at home.