Monday, October 20, 2014

Gender stereotypes must be confronted

(Published - Today October 10, 2014)

I refer to the report “Ministries studying feedback on relationship workshop” (Oct 9). In her open letter to her principal, Agatha Tan wrote that the booklet distributed at the workshop perpetuated gender stereotypes.

Snapshots of its contents suggest that girls must make behavioural changes to accommodate the behaviour of hormonal boys.

Other content generalised and trivialised the decision-making capacity and communication styles of females, such as suggesting that they may say one thing and mean another. Such materials leverage gender stereotypes that are unhealthy, if not harmful.

It is through stereotypes that we trivialise and misjudge lived daily experiences, such as if people believe men cannot control themselves and women do not often mean what they say.

The implications are that stereotypes often go unquestioned and are normalised in culture, professional environments and the law. This disadvantages and marginalises people further.

Gender stereotypes perpetuate body image disorder and impose unrealistic perceptions on relationships. They are behind bullying in environments that demand “manly” males and “womanly” females. The stereotypical view that “it’s a man/woman’s job” is an unfair workplace impediment.

There may be a history or a long-lived paradigm that informs our current view of gender roles, but this does not make it morally justifiable or eternal.

The booklet’s content may resonate with some persons at some points in their lives, but it does not fully account for relationships in general. In fact, it is simplistic and reductionist.

The snapshots Ms Tan shared are a regression, from understanding gender as cultural and nuanced to accepting it as a rigid, dichotomous and mutually exclusive binary. These stereotypes thrive on sexism, and sexism hurts us all, regardless of gender.

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