by Ayesha Azeem, February 27, 2021
Whether we want to believe it or not, stereotypes control our conscious and subconscious thoughts, influencing our actions and behaviors towards society. As Leslie Scrivener’s article “The Cult of the Mean Girl” highlights, our perceived ideologies about how women behave toward each other influence our behavior in practice. Because we believe women are supposed to indulge in gossip and jealousy due to social norms, we as a society expect and even participate in this behavior. Ideologies and perceptions of men’s behavior also exist; while society perceives women as emotional and judgmental, we also expect men to remain professional, dominant, and violent. These thoughts and expectations not only affect how we behave towards others but also how we recognize ourselves.
As soon as we are born, we gain awareness about the accepted and rejected behaviors in our society. One of these expected roles of a woman include “being nasty to each other … one of the rigidly enforced North American standards of what constitutes femininity” (Scrivener 1). Society expects women to treat each other as antagonistic competition, making them their own worst enemies. Little girls are not directly taught about these attitudes from their mothers, yet women around the world understand and engage in hostility towards each other. Girls watch their mothers gossip about neighbors and coworkers and administer this pettiness within themselves as well.
Society expects young women to rely entirely on their husbands and center their appearance, behavior, and mindset around what the men in their life anticipate and desire. As a result, women may prioritize their romantic relationships over friendships with other females since “women receive messages that their primary relationship should be with men, and that they have to compete for those relationships” (Scrivener 3). This often induces unwarranted aggression and possessiveness as part of the rivalry against female peers and thus destroys any connection they once felt. With the heavy emphasis on supporting the patriarchy, the media influences women to yearn for successful romantic relationships as their ultimate goal in life, belittling friendships and enhancing incivility among women. Because of this, when women suffer domestic violence and other relationship-related stress, they find themselves alone with no one to confide in. The stereotypes women comply with cause failures in their connection with peers and foster unnecessary cruelty. However, stereotypes and social norms control not only women, but also men.
We expect men to act dominant, controlling, and violent, and we criticize them when they do not make these traits apparent. From minor reprimanding like “real men don’t cry,” to extreme, life-changing situations such as forced enlistment into the military for men in South Korea, the way in which our society regards and expects men to behave alters the way they recognize and think of themselves. Generally, we expect men to remain nonchalant and unaffected, whereas we portray women as overly emotional. When men find themselves unable to effectively communicate their feelings because they learn at a young age that their tears are forbidden, they tend to internalize their feelings of depression, pain, and hatred, which may transition into radical acts of violence. Studies find that nearly 1 in 4 women experience physical abuse issued by an intimate partner, generally a male (National Domestic Violence Hotline). However, men are also victimized by abuse and rape. 15% of domestic violence victims are males who may not have the support they need to speak up about their struggles for fear of being labeled as an instigator or facing disbelief — or even taunts — rather than the help they desperately need (National Domestic Violence Hotline). Other men may resort to mass violence instead, attempting to get revenge on society for trying to isolate men from their feelings. The recent mass shootings witnessed in the United States have been overwhelmingly committed by male gunmen, from El Paso to Parkland, Florida. The terror and fear only increase as time goes on (Reese).
Rather than allowing young boys to communicate their feelings and feel heard, society ignores their violence as “boys will be boys” until the resentment transitions into horror. Additionally, with the emphasis on the patriarchy and the supposed role of a man, young boys are forced to grow up earlier than they are meant to. Society expects every young man to graduate college with a degree, find a career immediately, buy a house and find a suitable woman to make his wife before he grows old. The pressure put on young men without providing an effective and safe outlet causes harm both for themselves and the people surrounding them.
With this generation’s eagerness to raise awareness about the immoralities around the world, we would benefit from diminishing the unnecessary stereotypes held about gender and how one’s sex and gender should affect the way they convey their emotions. Parents should nurture their children in a way which young boys do not feel obligated to conceal their emotions and vulnerability, and young girls should feel encouraged to create enduring friendships with other females rather than focusing on finding an intimate partner. After all, we have bigger things to worry about than whether our behavior matches that which society expects of us.
- Scrivener, Leslie. “The Cult of the Mean Girl.” Toronto Star, 5 Mar. 2006.
- “Statistics.” The National Domestic Violence Hotline, https://www.thehotline.org/resources/statistics/.
- Reese, Phillip. “When Masculinity Turns ‘Toxic’: A Gender Profile of Mass Shootings.” Los Angeles Times, 7 Oct. 2019, http://www.latimes.com/science/story/2019-10-07/mass-shootings-toxic-masculinity.