Another thing that shapes how people perceive gender is what they are exposed to as children. One of our readings this week was Baker Sperry and Grauerholz’s “The Pervasiveness and Persistence of the Feminine Beauty Ideal in Children’s Fairy Tales.”
This quickly reminded me of the types of satirical images that we viewed in class about the classic Disney Princesses and how they were designed and marketed to reinforce damaging gender stereotypes. Well, it turns out that men aren’t too happy with their portrayals either.
The huge problem that I find with these portrayals of men and women in their socially-determined roles is that they are being marketed toward young children, who then have this kind of idea ingrained in their behaviors and interactions with others. It really makes me wonder how many individuals haven’t pursued certain things that they might excel and be geniuses at, simply because they’ve been told that it wasn’t “right” for them based on their gender.
I remember being pretty young when I first heard the stereotype that girls are better at literary and creative endeavors, while boys were better at math and science. I’m not really sure how that has played out me being both a woman and an Asian American, but I know that math has always intimidated me. I’ve always been more drawn towards reading and writing, and numbers just plain out confuse me. But hearing that stereotype when I was really young may have deepened that small fear of being bad at math and science, and so I never really tried hard to get better at it. I even remember my mom buying a math workbook for me to practice during the summer before third grade, and I pretty much disregarded trying to get better because, if the stereotype was true, what was the point in trying?
However, I’m glad that not all kids are simply accepting those rigid stereotypes. I absolutely loved seeing people take a stand about how LEGO has discriminated against young girls who wish to play with their product, or little youngsters bluntly saying that all toys should be for everyone. It really is pretty simple that girls and boys can have varying interests not tied to their respective genders.
And meanwhile in Sweden, toy companies are recognizing that by marketing toys traditionally tied to one gender to both boys and girls.
Unfortunately, these perceptions of what a man and woman should look or act like continue to follow those who are unwilling to acknowledge the stereotypes. Consider, for example, Fox News contributor Suzanne Venker. But then again, this type of thinking can totally debase certain political writers and their assumptions when they run a piece about traditional gender roles, and accidentally accompany it with an image of a same-sex couple.
The original photo of the couple can be found here, where the Lela and Stephanie became the first same-sex couple to be married at the Empire State Building in 2012.
(**UPDATE: the photo has since been removed from the Fox News article, but The Nation’s Jessica Valenti has a quick recap of the ordeal. Still funny.)