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GENDER ROLES: BREAKING THE BINARY CODE

The Binary Code:

Girls wear pink.
Boys wear blue.

Girls are soft, delicate, and intuitive;
boys are hard, rough, and mechanically inclined.
 

Women like to cook and sew,
men like to play sports and hunt.
 

Women are emotional, men are logical.

 Men have careers, women raise children.

Women nurture, men provide.

These are examples of the polarized gender roles, or the gender binary (Binary: split in two), that are applied to men and women by our society, intrinsically molding us even before we are born. From the feelings communicated to us in the womb to the way we’re cradled and held at birth, these differentiated male and female societal expectations act to condition and mold our self-concepts and behavior.

The problem with gender roles is that real people, whatever sex or sexes they are, don’t fit into molds. Large pieces of our being have to be suppressed and cut off for us to give the appearance of matching the parameters of a gender-role mold.

What happens to us when we’re alienated from aspects of ourselves by rigid gender roles?  When men cannot be tender and women cannot be strong? When "strong male traits" are valued and "soft female traits" are denigrated?

Self-loathing, inequality and all its' miseries result. Sexual, psychological and emotional violence to ourselves and others becomes the norm.


Above: Biting satire on the female gender role. Do you relate to it?
 

Growth: Beyond the Binary

For many of us, expanding beyond confining sex roles means going against deep conditioning. As children we want to be accepted and loved, and bend to the expectations required of us to gain these precious things. We follow the behavioral role models we’re exposed to. In a million ways we respond to factors that mold our character; tone of voice, touch, body language, verbal cues. And to be accepted, we unknowingly surrender our true selves to limited versions of what we can feel and who we can be. 

Rejecting social conditioning to become undiminished and complete - men who are emotional, might like the color pink and can become good cooks if they want to; women who are can be logical, independent, and change their own tires if they want to - is the only way to be really happy with yourself, and fully intimate with other people. But it can be very difficult. Getting ourselves back as whole people means courageously transcending the voice of social authority to become the authority ourselves. 

Outgrowing gender roles takes courage. It may change your relationships, or who your friends are. It takes a commitment to yourself not to be restricted from feeling and being everything you can be. Are you ready to try? 

Exercise: Opposites 

Pick characteristics or qualities that you associate with the “opposite sex”. 

For women, this might be: Aggressiveness, outspokenness, the expression of anger or strength. 

For men, this might be: Tenderness, patience, attentiveness, softness; letting your partner take the lead. 

Embody these qualities as you walk around your home, do chores, work, answer the phone, and speak with friends and family. How do these qualities affect the way you move, talk, think? 

How do they affect your relationships? 

Do you find these qualities are of value? 

Put what you’ve gained from this exercise into the exercises for Massage, Communication, and Role Playing - and be attuned to any differences you experience. 

Shared Words:

Do You See Someone You Know Here? 

Clarissa: "I've always had a "deep voice for a girl". On the phone people call me "sir". I'm tall and physically strong. My kids call me The Tree. I feel good about my strength, my deep resonant voice, my 'large' qualities of solidity and steadiness and gravity, like a tree too strong to blow over, roots in the earth. The only problem I've ever had with the way I am is how some people are put off or scared by me. 

I jar them.  A tall, strong, easy woman who doesn't apologize or moderate the way she looks and moves and sounds throws their concept of reality off. They look like they want to run away. From what? Do they ever wonder?

I feel apart of nature, the earth, living creatures. There is no artifice in them. I would have to carve pieces of my soul out like people carve out mountain tops when they strip-mine to fit in the world where those people wouldn't be afraid of me. Why would I want to be less my self? What is to  gained from becoming less unique? Hiding in a mass identity of less-ness?

People spend so much energy trying to compromise, they never really know happiness. They never know themselves. 

Sex roles are a half- life.  That shouldn't be enough for anyone. I have never been fooled into thinking it would be enough for me." 



"
A Story of Colors and Toys
Q.P."This is how a girl acts. This is how a boy acts."I thought myself free of sexism. "I'm going to let my kids be themselves. Whoever they are, I'm lucky to have two great bambinos!

Honestly, I didn't realize it when I held Kim tenderly and Jude at a distance. I didn't think when I bought her dolls and him trucks - they always played with each other’s toys anyway.

It wasn't until I saw Jude wearing Kim's pink kitten sweatshirt and Kim fighting with Jude for the baseball mitt that it hit me. I was unintentionally molding them as I had been molded. Clipping their wings and shaping them.

I put a cloud over their happiness.

I had to step back and take my hands off. Let them take the lead, pick their clothes, make their own choices. Learn from my beautiful kids how not to be sexist. How to let them be themselves. Cause I thought I knew, but I was wrong.

I get the expression now "your kids set you free". They are my favorite people. They are their own people."

Jim: “When I was scared I always hungered for my parents to hold and comfort me tenderly like they did my sister, but I understood that they would think less of me if I expressed my need to them. I learned to swallow my fears, cultivate a loud, pushy façade to cover how I felt, and tried to brazen my way through scary situations by hitting first.”


The Hunt

Juan
: “My worst childhood memory is of being taken on a ‘manly’ hunting ritual with my father and brother. Neither my brother nor I wanted to kill a living being! My father had decided to toughen us up and show us the way real men are in the world. I’ll never forget how sad, reluctant and bad I felt, shooting a beautiful buck. My father stuck it’s antlers on a plaque on our dining room wall. I could never eat in that room again without feeling sick."

Toshiro
: "I grew up in a family where men did not express emotion. Our role was to provide and rule. My wife, and eventually my second wife and I, never shared intimate feelings; more specifically, I didn’t share my feelings. I didn’t know how, and thought they would think I was weak if I did.

Same story with my children. They went to their mothers for their emotional needs; I had no real connection with them.

After both women left me and my children never came around, it dawned on me that I was very lonely, and not only was I lonely now - I had always been lonely. And I had no idea what to do about it. No idea how to reach out and share any part of myself with another person." 


Kara
: "I grew up believing that women were supposed to be passive and have no life goals. I always felt incomplete, and searched for a partner who would supply the missing parts of me; drive, ambition, focus, passion. I would live in them and through them.

I felt sort of pale or ghostly as a human being. Inside I kept thinking something was missing, in me or in my relationships, and I worried about my ability to be feminine because I had these recurring impulses to assert my intelligence and will, and how unattractive was that?

The truth was that part of me hated my partner, my child, and my family members because of the role I felt they required of me. I didn’t realize that I also required it of myself.

Finally I broke out of the confining social world of the family, church, and people that I had grown up with and whom I defined myself by. I met people who were really themselves – independent, whole people – and I was so excited! I didn’t have to diminish myself to be accepted, and I refused to subdue myself any longer. It was terrifying, great, and totally necessary.

I learned that I could be strong and was amazed that instead of expecting unflinching strength from the “strong” partner I’d chosen, my expectations shifted; I felt compassion for him. I appreciated his fears. We enjoyed sharing responsibilities. We were finally able to be close."
 
PPPP
Photographs: Woman in Kitchen, Man in Hardhat,  release by www.kozzi .com      By Coentor - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18764835





 
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