Gender roles – a tool of oppression or a harsh necessity? The emergence of traditional gender roles and the images of masculinity and femininity can be regarded as an attempt to organize the society and create stable social structures. Gender roles are present even in the 21st century, but their impact on people’s psychological well-being remains questionable. Although gender roles provide a modicum of social and economic stability, the expectations associated with people’s gender do not promote mental health since they impact children’s ability to cope with stress, lead to restrictive emotionality, and promote gender inequality.
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Reactions to Stress
In order to understand the negative impact of gender roles on children, one must examine their typical reactions to stressful situations. Gender roles typically favour one gender as more stress-resilient than the other, which can affect long-term development. Gender stereotypes portray girls as weak and non-aggressive, whereas boys are supposed to be strong and capable of dealing with stress. Such social attitudes can prevent females from developing a capacity to cope with stress. As Smagur, Bogat, and Levendosky point out, girls with high degrees of gender conformity are more likely to develop behavioural problems after exposure to family violence when compared to androgynous girls or gender-conforming boys. This example indicates that traditional sex roles can be predictive of people’s reactions to high-stress situations, harming women in the process.
Gender roles are notorious for putting limits and barriers to emotional expression. They aim to regulate the way that people should express their feelings, which is associated with negative psychological health effects. Both sexes are denied the right to show their emotions, for different reasons. For example, men are expected to be strong, rational, and firm, and can be shamed for crying and being anxious. Because of such restrictions, emotional boys are often bullied, which negatively impacts their lives and self-image. Girls and women, on the other hand, are expected to be nice and please others. Trying to meet these standards makes individuals internalize negative emotions, which contributes to high rates of anxiety disorders in women. Therefore, expectations associated with masculinity and femininity negatively affect both sexes when it comes to emotions.
Gender Roles and Exclusion
Gender roles are strongly associated with practices of ostracizing and exclusion. Failure to meet the traditional expectations placed upon different genders creates an illusion of abnormalcy, which fuels bullying and inequality. Gender-based expectations associated with masculinity and femininity affect individuals in all age groups. Adolescents, for instance, face negative consequences of sticking out of the crowd even in societies that are regarded as tolerant. Gender non-conforming and transgender teenagers are more likely to become the victims of bullying and harassment, also reporting higher rates of substance abuse. Thus, failure to meet gender roles raised by the society results in multiple mental health issues, which questions the necessity of upholding these standards.
Despite numerous psychological, social, and economic issues associated with gender inequality, certain societies are still dominated by the concept of gender roles. The proponents regard them as helpful and necessary for the distribution of family responsibilities, ensuring effective collaboration between men and women, and assigning both sexes with tasks that supposedly suit them both physically and psychologically. The majority of these ideas do not reflect the reality since there are no psychological features and characteristics that are always present in men and absent in women, and vice versa. Moreover, instead of promoting mental health and collaboration, gender roles cause division and prevent many people from fulfilling their potential.
Gender roles emerged as a means of regulating relationships between the sexes and the very dawn of human civilization when resources were scarce, and dangers were prominent. However, gender roles are harmful to individuals’ mental health in many ways, as they require girls and women to be weak and fragile, which affects their ability to deal with stress. Gender-based stereotypes prevent men and women from expressing their emotions freely and being themselves, thus contributing to mental health issues, bullying, and substance abuse. In order to allow everyone achieve their true potential, gender roles should be campaigned against on all levels of the economic, political, and psychological spectrum, until they become a thing of the past.