I hate gender roles

As has probably been made abundantly clear over the years, I'm a woman. So I can't speak as anyone other than a woman - and a pretty privileged woman at that. I'm aware that there's a lot I don't see, maybe because I'm not looking hard enough, maybe because there are some things that my perspective on life simply doesn't allow me to see. I am writing this from a very limited and narrow viewpoint and I would be more than happy for others to add to what I've written or to correct what I will inevitably get wrong.

I remember facing a lot of pressure to conform to conventional gender roles and gender expressions when I was younger. I had to like shoes and make-up and boys and shopping, and not show my intelligence because none of the boys would like me. I had to be quiet and conventionally feminine instead of being loud, in-your-face, and more than slightly androgynous - allegedly. I stayed being loud, in-your-face, androgynous me and got threatened with assault, rape and murder. Even if I was annoying (and I was 15, so I was almost certainly an annoying little shit), that's pretty disproportionate just for being gender nonconforming. I ended up hanging out with equal numbers of boys and girls and trying to ignore the pressure to be feminine as much as possible, though I felt pushed into being as feminine as possible just so I wouldn't be treated like such a freak. Maybe it's because I connected with books better than people and didn't feel as great a need to please others as some would have liked, but somehow I skipped out on the worst of the pressure to fit in a little box of femininity and just stayed me. It paid off: I still have a roughly equal number of male and female friends and a loving, long-term partner who tells me if I'm being stupid and doesn't get scared of my mind. And I'm happy, I guess, because I'm not trying to pretend to be someone I'm not for the sake of social approval.

Now I'm a legal adult, I'm grouchy and uncool and finally beginning to escape the little box of femininity you get shoved into as a teenage girl. And looking back at the box, it looks absolutely horrible. There are reports of girls being told by magazines, by their parents, by other girls that they can't be smart or go into high-paying jobs because it'll scare off men (apparently, male approval is the only reason a girl should ever do things). Hell, there are even reports of a 3-year-old girl saying "I can't be a pilot. I'm a pilot's wife.", which absolutely break my heart; children that young do have some understanding of gender roles. Not as much as an adult, but enough to apparently internalise the idea that there are some things girls just can't do.

But why should this bother me? After all, there are plenty of adults out there who believe that certain tasks should be gendered. What's the harm?

The harm comes when young girls get insecure, when they think that they need to hide their talents because otherwise they're too unfeminine. The harm comes when young girls get told that making more than a man in a job is a no-no, so they think they need to hold back. The harm comes when young girls think that they need to do things for male approval, so that "if you act like that you won't get a husband" is a serious threat and not just a puzzling statement. We shouldn't be putting limits on what young girls can do just so they fit into our little boxes of femininity.

At this point somebody is probably going to get very offended that I haven't mentioned young boys. I do apologise, but I never grew up as a young boy, so everything I've heard about this has been from men. I've never experienced this. At this point somebody else is probably going to get very offended that I talked about this, because men are the ones who primarily benefit from and enforce patriarchy. That's as may be - but redefining the tiny little gender box of masculinity to be kinder and more inclusive, rather than pushing young boys into doing stupid and harmful things to be considered a real man, will be a small step towards having a kinder world. Which I get that not everyone wants, but I'd certainly rather stop the violence and bigotry and try and have a world in which everyone is free and equal.

Young boys are harmed because they, too, are told that certain things make them "un-masculine" and should be avoided at all costs. Young MOGAI boys are told that their sexuality is wrong, because only straight men are truly masculine. Young boys are encouraged to hide their emotions, because showing them isn't masculine - and that leads to so many problems down the line. Young boys are told that they should be insecure if a woman's better than them at something, rather than being happy for her achievements and working hard to match them, because a "real man" should always best a woman outside of the home. Young boys are told that they'll grow up to be breadwinners, and that if they're not breadwinners they've somehow failed. Young boys also have limits put on them to fit into a tiny box of masculinity.

And it's not doing young girls or young boys any good to be told that stupid standards of masculinity and femininity are more important than their health and happiness. It certainly doesn't help them grow up into well-adjusted men and women.

"But some people are always going to fit gender stereotypes!" you cry. "Maybe some of them want to be like this!"

That's certainly true. A woman wanting to stay at home and look after the children or a man wanting to go out and be happy as the sole breadwinner aren't in themselves inherently bad. The problem is, we live in a society where certain gender roles are shown to be more desirable (and in fact represented more) than others. And socialisation plays a huge part in the development of a child's mind. So because we preferentially show certain gender roles and gender expressions and tell our children that these are desirable, we can't say how many of the children who grow up to adopt those roles and expressions would have done so if they hadn't had the socialisation to be that way.

But some people don't fit those gender stereotypes anyway, no matter how hard you socialise them. Does that mean that I'm just talking bullshit when I talk of how young children are socialised to think that certain things are masculine or feminine?

I don't think so. And I don't think so, because I've been an idiot and forgotten to explicitly state that there is individual variation between humans. You'd think more people would find this obvious, but apparently individual variation is the devil's own work. Anyway, some people are more resistant to socialisation or end up socialised in different ways due to being exposed to slightly different sets of influences. That doesn't mean that socialisation doesn't exist - for that you have to look at media portrayals of different gender roles.

I suppose what I really want to say is that we need to abolish those little boxes of femininity and masculinity and separate gender identity (the feeling that you are a certain gender) from gender roles (the idea that people of certain genders have to do certain things). The idea that you've got to do certain things in order to be "properly" feminine or masculine is a damaging and dangerous one. We'd be better off without it.