Feminism, Gender Roles and Stereotypes
The feminist movement has freed many young women from confining gender roles. Nowadays, it sometimes seems as if boys are more limited by gender stereotypes. For example, girls in youth programs will often participate in a wide range of activities, while boys typically segregate themselves in sports. In the stories below, a girl imagines the negative effects of gender stereotypes on boys, and a boy writes about being caught off-guard by a female taking on a “male” role.
Feminism and the Plight of Boys
By Kelly Stephenson, 17
Taking a break from an in-class essay, I sat back in my chair and took a moment to gaze about the room. Instead of cogitating on the merits of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s writing, I found myself contemplating the gender ratio in my class, where less than one-third of the students are male. As I daydreamed about the boys in the room – the gender ratio, I mean – I began thinking:
What would it be like to be a guy in today’s high school world? What would “Kelly” the male face?
Kelly walked into honors English and sat by one of the five other guys in the room. The period would be devoted to a discussion of The Scarlet Letter, a novel about a man who could not get his act together and the woman who protected him. It figures! Pull out the MP3. It’s a shame to waste a whole 80 minutes on another boy-bashing book.
His class just finished Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice – hardly a book a 16-year-old boy can get into. Kelly would rather not read about 18th century girls trying to marry rich men, but at least it’s not Reviving Ophelia or a lecture in history class about the warlike, competitive males who have caused all of the world’s problems. Back in elementary school, Kelly raised his hand a lot, but he got yelled at even more. He recalls the day when a band performed at his school and he drummed along with the music, using pencils for sticks. His overstuffed female teacher tapped him angrily on the back.
“Stop that!” she whispered. His brilliant rhythmic exploration was terminated. Energy, creativity, and vivacity apparently are not what the teachers are looking for. Too bad most young males possess the very traits that are so systematically squelched at such a young age.
Today, Kelly sticks with a rigorous course load because he knows he is smart. He just needs to make sure that nobody else does. And he plays the piano, too. Shhh. Don’t tell.
“Kelly” does not fit the mold of the typical high school guy. He doesn’t play sports; he plays piano. He doesn’t read Sports Illustrated; he reads Ernest Hemingway. He doesn’t go to parties; he goes to libraries. But why can’t he be cool, too? Because he doesn’t fit the right mold.
Women, since the ’60s, have been fighting their own set of stereotypes – and they have won. The doors have been thrown open for girls: We are encouraged to find ourselves, find our passions and achieve great things. If I want to play with dolls, I am said to be exploring my childhood. If I choose to play with G.I. Joes, I am finding my strength. If I decide to play the piano, I am told to discover my artistic talent. If I want to play soccer, I am given a poster of Mia Hamm and told to “go get ’em!” And if I get straight As, society shouts, “Harvard bound!” Girls today are encouraged to reach any goal.
Boys are not so lucky. Some males are innately competitive, aggressive and outgoing, but, more and more, society seems to be enforcing the idea that sensitivity and emotion are the important traits.
If a male fits the competitive and aggressive mold, then he’d better excel in sports; the classroom will not tolerate him, as “Kelly” found out. However, if a male possesses more sensitive characteristics, sports leave him behind, as do his peers. Even if some special guy has both the athleticism and the sensitivity, he cannot escape the struggle. He won’t be accepted in two worlds at once.
Plenty of advocates lined up for girls fighting stereotypes. Where are those gender-equality advocates now? They are lost in a feminist battle, but it is the boys who need fighting for.
Today, new opportunities for women seem to come at the expense of men. Title IX is a perfect example. At many colleges, men’s athletic teams are being cut and women frantically recruited, to match the male-to-female athlete ratio to the school’s male-to-female student ratio. Guys already have lost their place in the classroom, and now their place in sports is being wrestled away, too.
Have women gone too far in the name of feminism? Girls can do anything, but boys must choose one of two paths: Be competitive and win in sports while losing in the classroom; or be sensitive, appreciate literature and the arts, and remain unappreciated by peers.
But hope is not lost. We may not be able to change the curriculum of “Kelly’s” honors English class, but we can release him from the stereotypes. It’s about time we let boys be boys.
© 2003, The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore.
A Girl Takes Control
By Troy Sean Welcome, 19
I was walking down Eighth Avenue with my best friend a couple of months ago when he slipped on a mountain of snow and almost fell down. I started laughing, he started laughing, and a group of girls from across the street started laughing.
We kept walking, but one of the girls called out, “You, in the all black – come here.” We couldn’t see what they looked like because the street corner they were standing on was very dark. After thinking it over, we decided to go and see.
“You look mad good,” a husky, dark-skinned female blurted out. She reminded me of Sergeant Slaughter.
“Damn, this girl looks rough,” I was thinking. She wasn’t even cute. I was speechless.
“Word?” I said.
One of her friends, a short-haired, dark-skinned girl said, “I’m sayin’, she was watching you from when you was down the block, so I think ya’ll should just say ya’ll words.”
I was double shocked. I couldn’t believe that I was actually having to take in the words that I was used to dishing out. And it didn’t stop there.
“You got a girl?” Sergeant Slaughter anxiously asked.
“Not really,” I said.
“You got a commitment?” she countered.
I told her that I didn’t, but for the life of me, I don’t know why. Probably because I love to flirt.
Then she asked for my number, but neither one of us had a pen. Unfortunately, one of her friends did. I didn’t feel like dissing her, so when she asked again, I gave her a number. It wasn’t mine, but I’m sure it was somebody’s.
There were a couple of reasons why I gave her a wrong number. First of all, she wasn’t my type at all. I mean, she looked like she could kick King Kong’s butt. The other thing that bothered me was how she talked to me.
It was a weird feeling to be talked to in the same way that I’d sometimes talk to a female. I was intimidated by the way she spoke to me. I am accustomed to being in control when I’m trying to talk to a girl or she is trying to talk to me, but this girl was dropping line after line on me. I didn’t have enough time to think. I didn’t like that at all.
You see, we guys love to be in control. It’s our nature to plan how we’re going to get a female and imagine we’re the ones making all the decisions. We don’t realize that women know what they’re doing, too.
My friend Jeanette Santiago says, “We [girls] could get ya’ll to do whatever we want. … We’re always a step ahead of ya’ll guys.” But even if that’s true, girls usually let us go on thinking we’re the ones in control.
Sergeant Slaughter didn’t bother to do that. She just came right out and told me what she wanted.
As horrid and dominating as she was, being stopped by her boosted my ego. Females are always being flirted with in the streets and probably get tired of it. But for me, that was the first comment I’d gotten all day, so I flirted with her a little.
The experience made me feel mad good about myself, like I was the man, like I was mad phat. A female, on the other hand, probably wouldn’t think of it in that way. She gets so many comments a day that she probably thinks more about her safety than her ego. I suppose that’s what draws the line between males and females.
© 2003 Youth Communication/New York Center, www.youthcomm.org.