Thursday, March 22, 2012

Gender roles and Conformity

What are gender roles? Why do they exist and who decides what they are?

What does conformity mean? Why do we conform?

Gender Roles

Gender roles are basically the behaviour and appearance that are expected of someone based on their gender. Traditional gender roles are the idea that says girls should be quiet and nurturing and boys should be aggressive and unemotional. They’re the idea that says girls should like pink and boys should like blue.

They go even further than that and they define what roles either gender should play within a family. Mothers should be responsible for taking care of everyone, they should be the ones cleaning and cooking and overprotective of their children and always worried. Fathers should be the breadwinners, they shouldn’t clean or cook and, they should be distant with their children and only getting involved when the kids misbehave and being the one who does the punishing because the mother is too soft to do it herself.

Where do gender roles come from?

Unlike a person’s sexuality (straight, gay or bisexual etc.), which comes from within, gender roles are assigned at birth based on your genitals. They come from a bunch of different influences based on the culture you grow up with in, different cultures have different gender roles, but they are reinforced often by parents who push their child to behave a certain way and greater society who imposes expectations of people based on their gender. If someone does not feel connected to their assigned gender role some issues can arise. (

“According to Dr. Benjamin Spock, people are likely to appreciate girls' cuteness and boys' achievements. For example, a girl may receive the comment, "You look so pretty!" for the outfit she is wearing. While this compliment isn't harmful in itself, repeated over and over the message the girl gets is that she is most appreciated for her looks, not for what she can do. Boys, on the other hand, are praised for what they can do--"Aren't you a big boy, standing up by yourself!" Many parents encourage and expect boys to be more active, to be more rough-and-tumble in their play than girls. A boy who does not like rough play (and so goes against the gender role he has been assigned) may be labeled a "sissy." A girl who prefers active play to more passive pursuits may be called a "tomboy.”” (

Do gender roles have any effects?

Gender roles used to be a lot stricter, today gender roles are still present but a lot more flexible. Sexual expectations for genders are something that has changed a little bit over the last few decades. It was at one point expected that men would want to have a lot of sexual experiences and women would just want to get married. Women who had even a few sexual experiences was considered “loose” and “easy” because they were supposed to guard their virginity or “purity” from men all the time, and men who didn’t have any sexual experiences and/or didn’t want to would be considered less manly. You can still see some of the lasting effects from these more strict gender roles with the focus on girls sexuality and the shaming of girls sexual activity. (Care, 2001)

When we unconsciously try to live up to the unattainable standards of the stereotype we can do physical and emotional harm to ourselves. Often, we don't notice this because we tend to mould ourselves to fit these stereotypes as a matter of course. This can be damaging. A boy with a very slight build who wants to be muscle-bound is fighting against himself if he tries to change his physique to match that of the stereotypical male. A girl who has an angular nose can fall into the same trap if she listens to her friends and/or relatives who are trying to convince her she needs a nose job.

It takes conviction and self-assurance to accept oneself despite of the disapproval of others. The first step is seeing that beliefs in stereotypes stem from a weak sense of self. Being accepted by others, as desirable as it may be, is not as important as self-acceptance. The activities in this lesson are designed to help students see the harmful effects of believing in gender stereotypes.”
(Change, 2010)


Conformity means to change or form your beliefs or behaviours to fit in or be accepted by a group. This group can be peers (friends and classmates) or authority figures (parents, teachers and, coaches). This can come from pressure that is real or imaginary and it involved the pressure of social expectations to be similar to everyone else and not “stand out”.

Is conformity good or bad?

Have you changed because of bullying, teasing, criticism or pressure? This is an example of conforming to social expectations. It can make life a little bit easier to relieve some of the pressure off you, and it is only good or bad based on your own personal opinion. Conforming to social norms to make school or home life easier is a perfectly good reaction, refusing to conform may make your school or home life more difficult but there is also a good thing about being true to who you are.

“We are a tribal animal, which leads us to have a deep need to belong to a group of some sort. Conforming to group norms is a signal to the other group members that 'I am like you. I am following our rules. I am not a threat.' This signal indicates your consistency of behavior, allowing the other people to predict what you will do. It is also a step along the way to increasing your esteem within the group.” (Minds, 2012)


What do gender roles have to do with conformity?

Gender roles are a type of social pressure that people are expected to conform to.

Are gender roles and conformity good or bad?

That is a personal decision, there is no right or wrong, good or bad, when it comes to deciding whether or not to conform. Whether it be to gender roles or anything, there are good and bad things on both sides and it is up to you what you decide to do.

Works Cited

Care, U. o. (2001). Retrieved 03 22, 2012, from It's Your Call - Making Sexual Decisions:

Change, M. F. (2010). The Impact of Gender Role Stereotypes. Retrieved 03 22, 2012, from Media Awareness Network: (n.d.). Gender Roles. Retrieved 03 23, 2012, from

Minds, C. (2012). The need for Conformity . Retrieved 03 22, 2012, from Changing minds: