In countries around the world, different cultures and societal rules tend to shape our definitions of ‘masculinity’, and ‘femininity’.
These definitions, which are often stereotypical, become the default definitions in which many people use to view, discuss and treat one another, based on gender. These social constructions of gender marginalize individuals who are gender non-conforming and reinforce the notion that certain traits, characteristics and behaviors belong to either male or female.
Historically, men, especially in the western world, have held the highest positions of power and therefore, have been able to enforce and enact rules that are in accordance to what they believe to be true and virtuous. With men making the rules, women have come to be defined by their qualities, rather than their capabilities. For instance, Eric Beaudette, Junior Psychology major at the University of Massachusetts Amherst said, “When you think of women, you think of a housewife, someone that takes care of people.” But, as we know, women are far more than caretakers and housewives.
According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2015, about 20 percent of the members of our House of Representatives are women, and 20 percent of members in the Senate are women. Although these percentages are still very low, women are participating more in politics than ever before. And they’re not just entering the political sphere, women hold careers in occupations across the board, from teachers to accountants, from custodians to construction workers.
Stereotypical occupations for men include fields that require more physical labor and less expression such as construction, or enrolling in the military. Women are stereotypically expected to take on occupations that require being more gentle or caring; such as being a teacher, a cosmetologist or a nurse. As we see in the Department of Labor’s, 30 Leading Occupations for Employed Women, while some women seek out more traditional fields, such as the aforementioned, there are an increasing number of women and girls entering the traditionally male dominated world of STEM. This can be attributed to the recruiting of women to enter these fields, as well as campaigns and initiatives by groups like GoldieBlox, which had a commercial featured in the Superbowl.
In a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2014, only 24 (about five percent) of the CEOs of the Fortune 500 Companies are women. With these leadership roles predominantly taken over by men, women are overshadowed socially; disassociating women from positions of power. The research study also points out that although 35 percent of survey volunteers said they prefer their boss to be a man, only 23 percent of those individuals said they prefer their boss to be a women. Forty-one percent of the participants said they had no preference to whether their boss was male or female.
Some people we interviewed said that they did not feel there was a difference between the genders, a notion that is gaining more support. In an article by Youth Radio, produced by outLoud, and published by NPR, we learn that students as young as third grade are feeling like they do not fit their biological gender or the role that society has imposed on them.
Brian Johnson, a senior communication and economics major at UMass understands how that feels.
“I feel like I exist within some sort of box that society has created. But in understanding the definitions, I try to go outside of the box and explore different options,” said Johnson.
Ultimately, what matters most is that an individual is comfortable with themselves and with the way they carry themselves. If that happens to be something that is different than what they were biologically assigned, that is nobody’s business but their own.
By Brianna Davis, Christian Yapor and Pio Romano