Workshop: Gender Stereotypes

David Elvy

Vice-President, Beaumont Society. Treasurer, Family Division, British Association for Counselling. Trustee, Beaumont Trust. BT Trustliner. GEMS associate.
Gendys Conference, 1992


Irrespective of how liberal our "upbringing" or how we ourselves feel personally, there can be little denial that the society in which we live, in the main, has very clearly defined attitudes to as to what is masculine behaviour and what is feminine. Many of us have found this out to our cost both emotionally, and sometimes physically.

During the 1970's and 80's a few well-meaning bodies attempted in vain to move away from the Janet and John principle of behaviour relevant to each gender, but this was only scratching the surface of the attitudes that had prevailed for as long as any historical information could record. There are a few exceptions, but they are very few.

In early childhood, our primary influences are, of course, our parents, usually mothers. It is with our mothers that the human bonding process commences for virtually all of us. In the main, our mothers/fathers want their children to grow up in an environment where boys are treated as boys and girls are treated as girls. Again there are exceptions but, for now, particularly because of the nature of this conference I need to generalise.

Today, communications are instant. Knowledge of worlds and attitudes different to our own are learned faster than ever before. In the workplace, some attitudes are slowly changing. Female engineers, bus drivers, high flyers, solicitors, barristers and other professions are, at long last, beginning to realise that, not only are women able to compete but more importantly are treated as equals. The emancipation goes on a mere few decades after women gained their say in politics. Abhorrent as conflict may be, the 1939/45 World War did much to set the ball rolling.

What has happened on the other side of the coin? What inroads have men made into what traditionally have been "women's jobs". Very few. How many male typists are there, or receptionists? Some men, due to economic influences, may stay at home looking after children, while other wives go out to work but, in the main, certainly in the larger cities, both husband and wife go out to work, often leaving their children with a child minder - female of course.

Not only are attitudes to working often categorised as male or female but, far more importantly, emotions are segregated into the two camps. From my experience in counselling, very often, while a woman appreciates, or may appreciate, a compassionate understanding man, when the chips are down, she wants her man to be a man in the traditional sense. Men, likewise have their images of the ideal woman. One only has to pick up a copy of Playboy to see that man's ideal woman is based on physical attraction and their perception of femininity, physical and emotional, rather than a balanced overview of an individual's persona. I accept that I overemphasise in order to make a point. Nevertheless, boys and girls are still brought up and educated into stereotypical gender roles.

The questions that I wish to address are: Do we, ourselves, perpetuate these stereotypes? Are they so deep rooted that even though many of us have fought against them or helped others fight against them, they still prevail.

Throughout the 1960's, 70's and 80's, the password, almost, of somebody being transexual was "I feel like a woman in a man's body" (or vice versa). Do we assume by that statement that all women feel the same? That all women have the same emotions? Or that all men have the same feelings? Have we written into our personalities, preconceived ideas of how we should react, or behave, in specific circumstances. Do women always cry, always get depressed, always show a negative reaction? Are men always aggressive, ambitious and dominant? No. We are influenced by films, TV, radio and news papers long before our own feelings get an airing. What we feel and what we show can be very different things.

Perhaps we can discuss these emotions, feelings, jobs, chores, tasks and sexual impulses that are seen as masculine and feminine and why?

Perhaps over-compensation by transsexuals and transvestites helps to confirm the stereotypical images of both males and females in an effort to complete the gender transition in breaking way from what we perceive as wrong for us.

Apart from the physical, what is it that makes men and women so different? Why are men who are seen as overly emotional seen as weak, and progressive, successful business women often referred to as "having balls".

Regrettably, time did not allow for discussion, other than to confirm that gender stereotyping is probably as rigid now, as it has been in living memory.

Citation: Elvy, D., (1992), Workshop: Gender Stereotypes, GENDYS II, The Second International Gender Dysphoria Conference, Manchester England.
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