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Gender Sensitivity & Boundaries

"Boys wear blue, Girls wear pink. Dads do work, Mums do housework"

If this isn't a common statement then what is it? It is a stereotype; a generalized belief that we form over years of cultural conditioning. These beliefs do not accurately reflect reality but are all around us due to existing traditions and subsequently formulated mentality. For example: "Boys don't cry." "Girls take a lot of time to get ready." "All boys are loud." "Girls love to gossip." In a toy store, when a male child picks a doll, the parent naturally tends to think, "Oh no! What's wrong with my child? I must have him checked!" This is how young minds are easily influenced about what they should play with, do or behave like. For instance: 1) Learning both at home and school influence observation and exposure to gendered objects, rules and regulations and discipline. Like when children are very young, their toys are defined by gender: barbie dolls or kitchen sets for girls, and cars or lego for boys. Similarly, according to a recent study, disciplinary actions at school are stricter for boys as compared to girls, even when both have committed the same mistake. 2) Peers define and reinforce what is normal, hence there is a palpable pressure to fit in. 3) Social constructs and community influence the norms and structures of safety and gendered language. 4) Media is meant to reflect reality but often offers unrealistic comparisons in its name. Advertisements for gendered products like shampoos and soaps create wider divisions between genders, even though there is no real difference between them, except additional fragrances. Also, cartoons such as Popeye the Sailor man depict how girls can't do certain things that boys can. Even though these are funny, they paint a picture that doesn’t sit entirely in truth. Media ends up influencing the definition of attraction, beauty, machismo, culture and myths greatly. We say that to break through stereotypes we need to change culture and society but this isn't wholly true. Here's a small activity. Read the following professions and think for a moment: Doctor Engineer Driver Pilot Teacher Surgeon Homemaker When you went over the list above, which gender did you think of as you read each profession? If you thought the following: Doctor-male, Engineer–male, Driver-male, Pilot-male, Teacher-female, Surgeon–male, Homemaker-female – then it's simply reflective of the stereotypes that are deeply ingrained within us and need breaking free from. We need to realise that rebelling, fighting and preaching don’t end up doing much good. If it is change you want in the mentality surrounding you, you need to change your own first. Bringing about a change in yourself is the only way to start because it is all about you first. Think of it this way, if Mary Kom hadn't learnt how to box or didn’t participate in worldwide competitions, would the world know of her if all she did was rebelling for her choices? Action ---> Motivates Preaching/Rebellion ---> Demotivates We should also try to steer clear of a mindset that lets us linger on the thought that the opposite gender is responsible for inculcating all existing gender stereotypes. According to a recent study, 45% of stereotypes are put forward by the same gender. We often find ourselves being questioned by the same gender when we do something that is considered inappropriate by the other. We must learn to differentiate between what is called sex and gender. Most believe that they are the same but they aren't. Sex refers to the characteristics one is born with – it is biological. Gender, however, is what society helps us formulate as the definition to a constructed role. It is culturally different and is learnt over time. Consequences of stereotypes: Low esteem Self-fulfilling prophecy Discrimination Self-stereotyping Depression inability to interpret others’ behaviour For example : When someone says “you run Like a Girl” or “boys don’t cry,” what do they really mean to say? Why do we take it as an insult? Is it because it is intended to show us down, because it is humiliating? When boys cry they are told that it isn't manly to do so. When girls are told they run like a girl or fight like a girl, their self esteem is brought down. In either situation, stereotypes are being inculcated. Why can't “run like a girl” means to run as fast as you can? Why can't it “boys don’t cry” mean that everything will be alright in the end? When a girl hits a boy it is assumed that the latter must've been in the wrong. But when a boy hits a girl, it is again immediately assumed that his mind is clouded with domestic violence. In both situations there is an uncertainty in interpreting others behavior. If we react or don't react to a certain justified or unjustified situation, our mind would constantly wander around the thought – what will others think? The simple truth to why we behave this way is because we are afraid of what society would think, rather than what is right for us. How to break free from stereotypes Always put yourself in others’ shoes Refrain from generalising Gain personal perspective Be open to others’ views D.I.Y ( Do It Yourself ) Boundaries "YOUR idea boundaries differ from MINE" Personal space is built out of beliefs, attitude, experience and learning is becomes a "boundary" to this, in psychological terms. Sometimes when we talk to our friends or siblings, we might unknowingly make them feel uncomfortable or frustrated. We may not even realize that while it is happening. So how does one stay in the know? Firstly, there are 3 basic ways of crossing boundaries: Visual – Staring intently, giving a look of examining someone Auditory - Making a comment about someone's beliefs, the way they talk, the way they act etc. For example: a comment like "you always overreact" is known to have caused discomfort among people Physical- constantly touching, holding hands, imposing touch when not reciprocated; improper body language Secondly, actions that reflect someone’s discomfort: Taking a step back Lack of eye contact Blushing Changing subject Long pause/hesitation Short, clipped words And lastly, knowing and understanding why boundaries are important. By crossing boundaries we tend to make impressions on the individual’s mind, which goes on to further create stereotypes. For instance, you may have heard people say "Punjabis are very strong-headed, beware of them" or "Biharis are unworthy of being trusted," – these impressions are created by people who keep assumptions in circulation. To prevent stereotypes from persisting, one must acknowledge boundaries. How Stereotypes refrain us from our responsibility? Based on recent experiments and studies, it has been proven that 85% people would help a victim when there is no one around. However, only 35% people would help a victim when people ARE around. This is called the Bystander effect. It is termed so because, when an incident takes place in the public eye, it leads to a lack of responsibility. This happens because we fear that people may judge us in different ways. We also tend to think that the other person would help the victim and then tend to tail away from the job at hand. Many of us often think that it isn't our problem if the victim is suffering so we leave them be. Is this wrong? Shouldn’t one not care what people around might think or what the consequences might be? Shouldn’t we know when to say "yes" or "no" to either people or situations? Decisiveness is a very important part of being assertive. Inculcating within first oneself, then society, the knowledge of how to break free from stereotypes, is the key to Global and national dignity. So, next time someone says that what you're doing is too girly or manly – do it more!
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