How Cookie Cutter Are You? The Stereotypical Woman // Lauren Jacobs
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“He who loses individuality, loses all” – Ghandi.
Being able to distinguish yourself from someone else is a quality that most pride themselves in, however, what if I told you that your individualism had already been determined before you could speak? Taken from you and reconstructed as pre-determined by society? You may understand where I am going with this and can blame what is known as ‘social norms’ or the rules of behavior that are considered acceptable for your lack of originality.
The moment a baby’s gender is found out, the stereotypes begin. While this holds true for both genders, they focus on baby girls is an ever growing one. The nursery is painted in light shades of purples and pinks while being filled with tender décor of butterflies, flowers, and princesses. There are teddy bears and dolls awaiting her company and even a frilly tutu in the closet for her first family event. The wall art includes ballerinas and hearts, depicting the hopes and dreams that every parent has for their little girl to dance to beat of her music. However, most parents wouldn’t realize that they are setting up a scenario where their little girl’s music will play to the same tune as many others, as her room and their expectations of her femininity is teaching her how to become the stereotypical woman.
By continuing these patterns where we fill little girl’s bookshelves with fairy tales of princes and lavish parties, we neglect to fill their minds with independence and self-worth. Parents allow their child to waterfall into society’s standards of how girls should wear dresses, cross their T’s and dot their I’s, and be the one’s to raise children. Think of the age where little girls begin to play house. They quickly become aware that “mommy stays at home with the baby and cooks” while “daddy goes to work.” They dream of being teachers, nurses, and stay at home mothers. The thought of prince charming fills every girls head as they begin to plan their future wedding, first with Barbie’s and then eventually moving on to bigger things such as Pinterest.
What society has done is to allow for the gender identity known as ‘feminine’ to become an unrealistic goal for young girls. They strive to achieve something that does not accurately capture the way most females feel, behave, or define them. Girls grow up believing that they need to get married, have children, know how to cook a five-course dinner, and have all the chores done with everyone in bed by 9 P.M. The pressure to perform builds with every passing month of a new Cosmopolitan and InStyle being published.
Hyper-femininity often occurs under the pressures of society, as individuals feel pressured to exaggerate the behaviors that are believed to be feminine. Women with this mentality fall under the false pretense that they exist to boost men’s egos with passivity, innocence, and flirtatious behavior that often lead to problematic events such as unhealthy relationships and unwanted sexual advances. Of course, there can always be extremes to any scenario, however even the miniscule incidents are parts of the obstacle course we continuously climb in order to better fit our pre-determined character.
This ‘thing’ we know as gender refers to society’s expectations about how we should think and act as girls, boys, men, and women. Our identity is how we express our gender roles, including appearance and behavior. It is known that these roles are being shaped as early as the ages of two or three. This process is shaped by the child’s parents, culture, religion, and is not limited to the outside world, which includes television, magazines, and other forms of social media. As these behaviors develop and children grow, they tend to continue to adopt behaviors and patterns that are rewarded by love, praise, and acceptance. They will stop or hide the behaviors that appear to be punished or shamed. This leads to the question, “Who are we really asking our children to be?”
Developmentally, all children will begin playing house between the ages of 3 and 5, as Erikson’s stage of Initiative verses Guilt explains their exploration and need to begin asserting control over their environment. Children are particularly sensitive to acceptance giving them a sense of purpose while disapproval will result in a sense of guilt. Consider this when thinking about how we tend to encourage girls to continue playing house while boys are discouraged and shamed. Instead, if we were to encourage both genders to interact in this way, it could later prevent women from feeling pigeon held into their role as a housewife and allow for men to accept their own domestication characteristics without it taking away from their masculinity. This action could affect the perpetuation of the stereotype.
With this, I challenge you to confront gender stereotypes that contribute to individuals feeling like less of who they are. Be the person who points out how television shows and movies have unrealistic goals and expectations for children. Teach little girls that it is acceptable to like playing in dirt and that she can grow up to be a police officer or join the ARMY. Don’t just talk the talk, walk it as well. Be a role model for what you believe in by supporting and educating yourself, so that as a society we can work towards the prevention of continual stereotype promotion.