Gender Stereotypes Take One

16Dec09

A conversation at lunch got me thinking about one of my “irritated so let’s go blog about it” issues. The woman I had lunch with was talking about a conversation she’d had recently with and older man. He told her that he’d worked with a lot of women, and that all of them got very competitive and, for lack of a better word, catty with one another, and that the men didn’t do that.

I know that I get more irritated than I should over this. And in the past I really didn’t think it was a big deal. But I am so tired of running into gender stereotypes everywhere I turn.

Yes, some women get competitive and catty toward one another, both in and out of work situations. My sister is one of these women (and when you aren’t the one on the receiving end of it, it’s really quite endearing…when you’re getting attacked by a vicious 5’2″, 90-something lb. girl for kicking her ass at a video game, not so much). Some men also get competitive and catty with one another. It’s not fair to categorize and judge people by gender.

People often see what they want to see in the world around them. They take events and actions and choose to interpret them in ways that fit their views–whether they realize they’re doing it or not. We’re all guilty of it. We all look at a group of people with ideas opposite ours and make broad generalizations about them. I try not to, but I definitely do. Sometimes I catch myself at it and try to fix that way of thinking, but not always. It’s altogether too easy to get caught up in our differences and dehumanize the people around us.

Do you ever wonder how much of what you see in people is there because you expect it to be? You should.

That is why we have to work to change this way of thinking. It’s easy to say, “Oh, women always do this,” and “Don’t you hate how guys do that?” That doesn’t make it right. Think of it this way–when you say something like that, you are essentially taking the humanity away from the person to whom you’re referring. They are no longer an individual with unique personalities, needs, and wants. They are now part of the hive, only thinking one way, only acting one way, only feeling one way, for only one reason. Are you exactly like the gender stereotype that has been thrown on you? If you are, there’s no problem with that…but I highly doubt it. Do you want to be viewed and judged based on an inaccurate assumption of who you are? Do you want to feel like you are abnormal or inadequate because you don’t fit the container you’ve been given to stuff yourself in? I certainly don’t.

If you’ve read Ender’s Game, think about it this way: When you judge someone based on any characteristic that has no bearing on his or her personality (gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation), it’s like you’re putting them neatly into the role of the Buggers. There was no reason for the students (or anyone else, but we’ll focus on the Battle School) to think the Buggers were bad, except that’s what they’d been told all their lives. They grew up hearing it, and so accepted it as truth without question. They were a group of beings different, and therefore did not merit an attempt at discovering their motivations. There was no reason to question what they’d been told, no reason to second-guess their actions and perceptions. Now imagine playing the games the Battle School students played. Put members of the opposite gender in the role of the Buggers in those games. Remember the Buggers were innocent.

Maybe that’s a bit intense. Most of the time we don’t want to kill members of the opposite gender (although some people do, and even more think it’s acceptable to act in a violent manner toward others due to sexual orientation or ethnicity). But in any case, take hold of that idea of alienation, because that is sure as hell what we’re doing when we neatly pack someone away into a convenient gender role instead of stopping and trying to figure out how an individual thinks and acts, and why they might do so.

Also remember that, when someone does appear to fit neatly into their gender role, it isn’t always natural. Some of it is in the way many of us were raised, smothered in ideas of how we’re supposed to act. Some of it is just a defense mechanism–maybe if I act a certain way I’ll be accepted by society, make friends and be successful.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to fit your gender role. I’m not demanding we all strike out and make our own definitions of ourselves, or (even better) leave it undefined (though that would be nice). I am demanding we stop judging one another based on broad generalizations. I am demanding we start treating one another like human beings, with all the complexities, contradictions, and uncertainties that come with that.

I am not my gender stereotype, or any other stereotype. I don’t fit neatly into one category, and I think it would be a shame if I did. I do not want someone to look at me and file me away as being a certain way until I prove otherwise. I want people to look at me and accept they know nothing about me, except that I’m around 5’8″, have dark hair, and am really fucking pale. And damn, do I want one day to pass that does not involve my usually dormant temper flaring up because someone easily, unthinkingly makes a broad generalization about a group of people, even if they happen to belong to that group.

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