Fighting Gender Role Boundaries

While there is a difference between sexism and the reaffirmation of gender roles, the two are certainly linked. I realize, as most feminists have to concede, that there are inherent differences in trends between males and females. The question, though, is whether we should exacerbate and exaggerate such differences or just allow the “natural” ones and allow people to be who they are. In other words, if the majority of men (let’s say 80% or so) fit into a male stereotype (overly preoccupied with sex, weight-lifting, making money, using their “masculine” voices, etc.) and the minority of men do not fit into that stereotype (say 20%), why should we force that 20% minority to adopt the majority behavior? Can’t we just live with a general trend existing? Does it have to be a unilateral trend—polarizing femininity and masculinity? As a male in the minority, unafraid of both feminism and femininity, I’ve always resented ways in which both men and women, consciously or unconsciously, reinforce gender roles and stereotypes. Here are practical ways not to do so:

1. Don’t ask men to lift and carry things. Yes, yes, yes, I’ve heard it before—men on the whole have more upper-body strength than women on the whole. Two things to consider, here, though. First of all, some men aren’t “on the whole.” Some men are quite weak (uh, me, for instance), and some women are quite strong. So, rather than saying, “Can I get a few strong men to help me move x, y, and z?” you can say, “Can I get a few strong people to help me move x, y, and z?” That way, a strong woman won’t feel left out, and a weak man won’t feel obligated to help out. If you happen to get a bunch of guys seeking to be macho, then it’s not your fault. The other consideration is that most of the time things that need to be lifted, carried, or moved are not that heavy. We’re talking chairs, small bags, books, etc. most of the time. Anyone of any gender, no matter how “weak,” can carry a book or two. I’ve seen this scenario happen in a number of different “enlightened” environments, not just conservative Christian churches.

2. Never assume someone shares the same values as you just because she or he shares your gender. I can’t tell you how many men have made inappropriate remarks to me in the assumption that I, too, revelled in their inappropriateness. How many husbands or men have said, “Ah, women!” to me about their wives, as if I would commiserate. How many nudge, nudge, winks, winks have I gotten from sexist men who just want to “tap some ass”? I’m talking Christian and non-Christian men, here. In fact, many Christian men are more sex-obsessed and sexist than their non-Christian counterparts. Just because I’m a man doesn’t mean I share the values, desires, and experiences of other men. This is something for both men and women to remember. I’m sure analagous situations apply for women assuming other women share the same values.

3. Don’t assume gender is the reason for action or opinion. Let’s say I like computers. Let’s say I enjoy a good action flick. Let’s say I don’t wear dark clothing. Let’s say I listen to hard rock. If any of these statements are true, it’s not “Oh, that’s ’cause you’re a guy.” Now, I don’t operate under the illusion that every choice one makes is an individual choice, regardless of societal values and messages. Just read my other article about individual choice. Still, it’s not up to someone who doesn’t know you well to attribute actions or thoughts to sociological forces. That requires a great deal of self-examination.

I’m sure there are other ways you can avoid unnecessarily reinforcing gender roles and stereotypes, but the above three are a good start. Go, and sin no more.


  1. My husband could commiserate on the second one. After our first child was born, the doctor told him, with a wink, that he’d given me the “husband stitch” as a favor to him. That means, in case you don’t know, that he’d sewn up my vagina, after the episiotomy, to a smaller girth than it had had before. (I’m still pissed off about it, twelve years later. Sex was painful for six months afterward.) My husband was so horrified he didn’t know how to respond to the man.

  2. I really agree with a lot you’ve said here. I’ve tried to implement number 1 ever since I can remember and growing up in the south, where many non-stereotypical examples are a little more covert, it is quite challenging. Great post!

    honestpoet…whoa to that story.

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