It ends with us: the toxicity of gender roles

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Whether you’re male or female, you received messages growing up about gender. Maybe they were spoken out loud, like being told that “women want love and men want respect”, or maybe they were more subtle, like the way you were supposed to dress or whether your boyfriend had to ask your dad permission to take you on a date. Messages about our manhood or womanhood deeply shape who we perceive ourselves to be and our confidence in our interactions with the opposite gender.

To write this article, I posted a Facebook status asking what messages people received about gender. Here are a few of their responses:

For women:

  • “Don’t be too successful or don’t share your opinions too freely or else you will scare men away.”
  • “I was warned against ever making the first move or pursuing a man; it’s the woman’s role to wait patiently and passively and the man’s to pursue. If you, a woman, go after a guy, you are a slut, and you don’t know how to wait on the Lord. (Also, men don’t like it and won’t date you.) I kissed him first. There were no objections.”
  • “Men want respect; women want affection.” . . . Being told that as a woman I didn’t want to be respected was actually very hurtful (and a little insulting).”
  • “Only guys have strong sexual drives and struggle with sexual sin.”

For men:

  • “You should have more friends who are boys, otherwise you’ll start acting like a girl.”
  • “‘If you like romcoms, you’re probably gay.’ Good romcoms are pretty amazing. Sue me.”
  • “Always beware of sexual sin, which amounted to, be afraid of the woman you love at all times. I have since chilled out after realizing that being afraid of my girlfriend wasn’t loving to her or to me and was no way to live.”
  • “The idea that young men and women can’t be friends seems to have led at least a few young men in my life to be completely unable to have a female friend without either developing romantic feelings for her, or developing delusions about said friend having romantic feelings for him.”

You or I may not have experienced all of these messages, but they all have one thing in common: the restrictive boxes that exist around gender in our Christian community hurt more people than they help. When we tighten our grip on definitions of manhood and womanhood, we make people who deserve to belong in society—a 30-something single, a full-time working mom, a guy who doesn’t like sports—feel like untouchables instead of equally valuable members of our church community.

The only party that benefits from suffocating gender roles is the fear inside of all of us; fear that society will change if we relinquish the rules we’ve clung to for hundreds of years.

And these messages are passed down from generation, to generation, to generation. Do you know how they’re being spread? By the generation that came before them. You’d think we would learn, having been wounded by the same messages, but somehow we keep repeating them instead of nipping them at the bud.

It needs to end with us. Let’s make this the last generation that ever has to deal with that crap, because it really doesn’t do anything to positively benefit society. Why inflict the same pain on your future kid that you experienced now? I am convinced that in order for the next generation to be better off than we are, we must intentionally work to rewrite the narratives that we receive—if we don’t, we will unintentionally pass them on. Because apathy is not a neutral attitude; it positively benefits the structures that already exist in society.

And maybe, one day, we will wake up in a world that has taken another step toward loving others better.

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2 thoughts on “It ends with us: the toxicity of gender roles

  1. This is a really important message. It’s hard for me sometimes even to recognise the gender role messages I’ve been given, since I was raised by parents who were always very supportive of me being *me* rather than being some role society put on me, but they still often would point out society’s rules, so I grew up seeing a weird kind of double standard—I shouldn’t worry about what society thought, but I should know…in case I wanted to worry, I guess? I’m still working through what I think about gender roles (are they all bad or are there some that might be useful? Do they have any value at all?) but it’s very freeing to realise this is something I can consider and form an opinion on rather than a set of foundational rules to the world—that they’re something malleable, not something immutable. Thanks for posting.

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