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Deprogram Your Gender Expectations

I am a BIG fan of music. I go to concerts, watch videos online and interviews with the bands. Some time ago, I was watching an interview with my favourite band, where they were asked about their personal thoughts on things like politics, etc. At one point, they said “We are feminists, we support women in their fight towards equality”. I was not surprised to hear this coming from them, as their singer once called out a fan for harassing a woman while they were playing live. I was very happy to see that some men can call out their peers on their inappropriate behaviour. Then, in the interview, they continued by saying “If more women were country leaders, there would be more peace in the world”. They mean well by saying this, but the issue is a bit more complex than you might think, and it took me some time to understand why. Let me be clearer about this.

In the past few months I’ve talked in my previous blogposts about societal norms when it comes to gender and how they affect our lives more than once. However, I still haven’t talked about one of the most important ones: putting unrealistic expectations on different genders, because this affects men as well as women. Let’s give a few examples and dig deep, shall we? Some of the things expected of men are for them to be the ultimate bread-earner of the house, that they should be strong and not show any emotions, that they should be aggressive in all parts of their lives. When you combine all these expectations and pour them on a boy growing up, it is no wonder he might be prone to psychological problems if he can’t meet all these expectations, being the sole breadwinner for his family or not being able to talk about how he feels. These can be some of the reasons why suicide among men is way higher compared to women [1].

But the unrealistic expectations don’t stop there: let’s also talk about what we, as a society, expect from women. In contrast to our expecting men to be aggressive and strong, we expect the exact opposite from women; they should be weak and submissive. This also includes being kind-hearted, as if being polite and empathetic was gender-dependent. And this is exactly the reason I think the member of my favourite band might have been a bit too quick to call women the better leaders. He thinks that women are softer, nicer, and that this will automatically translate into female leaders not waging wars on other nations. Things are not as simple as that, of course.

Basing certain behaviour and qualities on gender creates an enormous inequality. So, what is the reason for this? At its core, this originates from feminine and masculine qualities directly attributed to certain types of norms, specifically whether a person is strong or weak. Feminine qualities such as being kind and having a conscience are attributed to being weak. That’s why derogatory words such as “pussy” or “cunt” are used against people who show weakness or their emotions. On the other hand, being aggressive and dominant are attributed to masculine qualities. These are characteristics which are essential when it comes to good, powerful leaders in large parts of the world, and this is why many people think of men when they talk about leaders, politicians or fighters. This does not stem from any scientific observations; it is because that’s what we’re taught from a young age.

I, for one, used to agree with my favourite band. I thought I needed to be strong (I talked about my personal experience in an older blog post), because that was the way things were (and unfortunately still are) in our society, and that women can be better leaders because they are intrinsically better human beings. However, the more I read about gender equality, the more I have been opening my mind to the complexity of this issue.

Don’t get me wrong, what this musician said was correct in one major way: we need more female leaders. It is imperative to show our kids that having feminine qualities or being a woman does not mean you cannot do something men or people with masculine qualities can do. We need more equality in the politics as well as other jobs to show that women and men are equally suited for all types of jobs, especially when it comes to leading positions. Otherwise, kids growing up will continue to think only aggressive and dominant men can be leaders, which will lead to boys growing up to undermine women and women not even trying to reach these positions.

It is crucial to understand that every human can be good, bad, polite or aggressive. It has nothing to do with gender. It has, however, everything to do with education and upbringing. I am not talking about a university education; what I am talking about is educating oneself about the problems we have regarding equality in our world and doing something about it. Even informing a friend, a family member or someone you hear talking on the street can be important and enough. It is definitely not easy to deprogram ourselves out of these thoughts but it can be done. All we need is to try.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/jan/21/suicide-gender-men-women-mental-health-nick-clegg

Cenk Türkoglu is a guy who is trying to learn and support women in the fight for gender equality. Also writes, paints, annihilates atoms, etc. Cenk Türkoglu versucht über den Kampf für Geschlechtergleichstellung zu lernen und Frauen* zu unterstützen. Er schreibt, malt, vernichtet Atome etc.

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