The (often implicit) requirement to comply with the traditional gender roles persists in today’s society, in particular, affecting young children. However, this requirement may lead to several adverse consequences to individuals both when they are still children and when they grow up. This paper discusses some of these negative consequences. It is concluded that parents should be encouraged to raise their children in a gender-neutral environment in a way that is free of gender stereotypes, explicitly explaining to the children that the traditional gender roles are relative, conditional, and often artificial.
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The Adverse Consequences of the Traditional Gender Roles
Complying with the traditional gender roles leads to artificial, harmful behaviors among children, and stress (Culp-Ressler, 2014; The University of Warwick, 2014)
The need to act in a manner that is compliant with the traditional gender roles is stated to make children behave artificially, performing according to these roles rather than simply acting of their own volition, which has several adverse consequences for the children of every gender (Culp-Ressler, 2014; The University of Warwick, 2014). For instance, a study conducted in the school environment has shown that boys often feel obliged to behave in the “masculine” manner, that is, to always be strong, dominant, smart, etc.
This results in the fact that boys constantly feel that they have to compete with others, engage in dominating behaviors such as bullying or sexual harassment of girls, and demonstrate their advantage in everything. It is impossible to be better than the others in every single respect, so in most situations, boys feel that they do not correspond to the stereotypes, which results in psychological stress, anxiety, insecurity, and low self-esteem (as cited in Culp-Ressler, 2014).
Besides, the constant competition and the need to achieve a higher status to be respected lead to adverse behavioral practices, such as bullying, which is stated to be unpleasant for both the bullies and the victims (Culp-Ressler, 2014). On the other hand, the girls also feel that they have to behave according to the norms; for example, they often refuse to participate in athletic activities due to their fear of being thought about as non-feminine, which may hurt their physical health. The girls also have to pretend to be less intelligent than they are in reality so as not to intimidate boys because the boys feel the need to be smarter and more dominant (The University of Warwick, 2014).
Also, the pressure to remain beautiful (from the gendered norms) and slim results in under-eating even in girls who are of healthy weight, which may have a strongly adverse impact on their developing organisms (Culp-Ressler, 2014).
Complying with traditional gender roles may be harmful to individuals when they mature (Good & Sanchez, 2010)
Also, the (implied) requirement to act in the ways that the gender roles prescribe often has adverse effects on individuals when they become adults; for instance, it has been shown that persons who attempt to act in a manner which conforms to the gender roles are likely to have lower self-esteem, lower quality of close relationships (including contingent self-worth, lower sexual autonomy, and poorer sexual pleasure), and so on (Good & Sanchez, 2010).
On the other hand, being able to meet the gender requirements may lead to higher self-esteem. And still, it is generally more difficult to meet these requirements than to fail to do so, which means that in most cases, suffering from the adverse consequences of trying to comply with the traditional gender roles is much more likely than enjoying its positive effects (Good & Sanchez, 2010). This corroborates the need to nurture the realization of the relativity of the gender norms in individuals.
Traditional gender roles pose risks to transgender and homosexual persons (Clements-Nolle et al., 2006)
Individuals who are transgender or homosexual deserve particular attention in this respect. These persons fail to comply with traditional gender norms, which causes psychological pressure. Such phenomena as gender-based discrimination and gender-based victimization, resulting from the non-compliance of these individuals with the gender norms, significantly reduce the quality of life of these persons and lead to constant stress and anxiety.
In particular, transgender individuals often attempt to commit suicide due to the constant gender-based pressure and abuse from society (Clements-Nolle et al., 2006). Therefore, it is paramount to teach such individuals from early childhood about the relativity and conditionality of these norms. Because it might sometimes be hard to tell whether a person is non-gender-compliant while they are very young, it is a good practice to explain the relativity and conditionality of these norms to any child.
The Need for Parents to Address the Gender Issues
Children learn traditional gender stereotypes at a young age, which is why the issue of gender roles should be addressed by parents early (Katch & Katch, 2010; Good & Sanchez, 2010)
It is known that children learn gender roles while being very young, and start attempting to conform to these stereotypes approximately at the age of six (Katch & Katch, 2010). This occurs as a result of the combined influence of the media, the educational system, and the children’s parents and peers (Good & Sanchez, 2010). Therefore, to avoid the situation when children feel that they need to comply with the traditional gender roles (and suffer from all the adverse consequences of it), it is paramount that parents do not raise their children according to the gender biases, but raise them in a gender-neutral environment instead.
It is also recommended that parents clearly and explicitly explain to the children that the gender roles, about which the children will learn from the media and their peers in any case, are relative, conditional, and often artificial. Of course, it is important that not only parents teach their children about the relativity of gender norms; the pressure to comply with these norms also ought to be addressed in kindergartens and schools, so that a child who is free of the gender stereotypes is not the only such person, and does not remain an outsider in their peer community.
Therefore, it should be stressed that the feeling that one needs to comply with the traditional gender roles and stereotypes may lead to a number of adverse consequences to individuals both when they are children and when they mature. Therefore, it is paramount that parents do not raise their children according to their gender biases, but raise them in a gender-neutral environment and teach them that the traditional gender roles are relative, conditional, and often artificial. Also, gender issues must be also addressed at school or in other environments where children communicate with their peers.
Clements-Nolle, K., Marx, R., & Katz, M. (2006). Attempted suicide among transgender persons: The influence of gender-based discrimination and victimization. Journal of Homosexuality, 51(3), 53-69.
Culp-Ressler, T. (2014). Forcing kids to stick to gender roles can actually be harmful to their health. Web.
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Good, J. J., & Sanchez, D. T. (2010). Doing gender for different reasons: Why gender conformity positively and negatively predicts self-esteem. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 34(2), 203-214.
Katch, H., & Katch, J. (2010). When boys won’t be boys: Discussing gender with young children. Harvard Educational Review, 80(3), 379-390, 436. Web.
The University of Warwick. (2014). Girls feel they must ‘play dumb’ to please boys. Web.