Our society has a set of ideas about how we expect men and women to dress, behave, and present themselves.

What are gender roles?

Gender roles in society means how we’re expected to act, speak, dress, groom, and conduct ourselves based upon our assigned sex. For example, girls and women are generally expected to dress in typically feminine ways and be polite, accommodating, and nurturing. Men are generally expected to be strong, aggressive, and bold.

Every society, ethnic group, and culture has gender role expectations, but they can be very different from group to group. They can also change in the same society over time. For example, pink used to be considered a masculine color in the U.S. while blue was considered feminine.

How do gender stereotypes affect people?

A stereotype is a widely accepted judgment or bias about a person or group — even though it’s overly simplified and not always accurate. Stereotypes about gender can cause unequal and unfair treatment because of a person’s gender. This is called sexism.

There are four basic kinds of gender stereotypes:

  1. Personality traits — For example, women are often expected to be accommodating and emotional, while men are usually expected to be self-confident and aggressive.
  2. Domestic behaviors — For example, some people expect that women will take care of the children, cook, and clean the home, while men take care of finances, work on the car, and do the home repairs.
  3. Occupations — Some people are quick to assume that teachers and nurses are women, and that pilots, doctors, and engineers are men.
  4. Physical appearance — For example, women are expected to be thin and graceful, while men are expected to be tall and muscular. Men and women are also expected to dress and groom in ways that are stereotypical to their gender (men wearing pants and short hairstyles, women wearing dresses and make-up.

Hyperfemininity is the exaggeration of stereotyped behavior that’s believed to be feminine. Hyperfeminine folks exaggerate the qualities they believe to be feminine. This may include being passive, naive, sexually inexperienced, soft, flirtatious, graceful, nurturing, and accepting.

Hypermasculinity is the exaggeration of stereotyped behavior that’s believed to be masculine. Hypermasculine folks exaggerate the qualities they believe to be masculine. They believe they’re supposed to compete with other men and dominate feminine folks by being aggressive, worldly, sexually experienced, insensitive, physically imposing, ambitious, and demanding.

These exaggerated gender stereotypes can make relationships between people difficult. Hyperfeminine folks are more likely to endure physical and emotional abuse from their partners. Hypermasculine folks are more likely to be physically and emotionally abusive to their partners.

Extreme gender stereotypes are harmful because they don’t allow people to fully express themselves and their emotions. For example, it’s harmful to masculine folks to feel that they’re not allowed to cry or express sensitive emotions. And it’s harmful to feminine folks to feel that they’re not allowed to be independent, smart or assertive. Breaking down gender stereotypes allows everyone to be their best selves.

How can I fight gender stereotypes?

You probably see gender stereotypes all around you. You might also have seen or experienced sexism, or discrimination based on gender. There are ways to challenge these stereotypes to help everyone — no matter their gender or gender identity — feel equal and valued as people.

  • Point it out — Magazines, TV, film, and the Internet are full of negative gender stereotypes. Sometimes these stereotypes are hard for people to see unless they’re pointed out. Be that person! Talk with friends and family members about the stereotypes you see and help others understand how sexism and gender stereotypes can be hurtful.
  • Speak up — If someone is making sexist jokes and comments, whether online or in person, challenge them.
  • Give it a try — If you want to do something that’s not normally associated with your gender, think about whether you’ll be safe doing it. If you think you will, give it a try. People will learn from your example.

If you’ve been struggling with gender or gender identity and expectations, you’re not alone. It may help you to talk to a trusted parent, friend, family member, teacher, or counselor.

Gender Stereotypes

A gender stereotype is a generalized view or preconception about attributes or characteristics, or the roles that are or ought to be possessed by, or performed by, women and men.A gender stereotype is harmful when it limits women’s and men’s capacity to develop their personal abilities, pursue their professional careers and/or make choices about their lives.

Whether overtly hostile (such as “women are irrational”) or seemingly benign (“women are nurturing”), harmful stereotypes perpetuate inequalities. For example, the traditional view of women as care givers means that child care responsibilities often fall exclusively on women.

Further, gender stereotypes compounded and intersecting with other stereotypes have a disproportionate negative impact on certain groups of women, such as women from minority or indigenous groups, women with disabilities, women from lower caste groups or with lower economic status, migrant women, etc.

Gender stereotyping refers to the practice of ascribing to an individual woman or man specific attributes, characteristics, or roles by reason only of her or his membership in the social group of women or men. Gender stereotyping is wrongful when it results in a violation or violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

  • Not criminalizing marital rape, perceiving that women are the sexual property of men; and
  • Failing to investigate, prosecute and sentence sexual violence against women, believing that victims of sexual violence agreed to sexual acts, as they were not dressing and behaving “modestly”.

Wrongful gender stereotyping is a frequent cause of discrimination against women. It is a contributing factor in violations of a vast array of rights such as the right to health, adequate standard of living, education, marriage and family relations, work, freedom of expression, freedom of movement, political participation and representation, effective remedy, and freedom from gender-based violence.

Example of Gender Stereotypes

Early Years:

  • Girls should play with dolls and boys should play with trucks
  • Boys should be directed to like blue and green; girls toward red and pink
  • Boys should not wear dresses or other clothes typically associated with “girl’s clothes”

During Youth:

  • Girls are better at reading and boys are better at math
  • Girls should be well behaved; boys are expected to act out
  • Girls and are not as interested as boys in STEM subjects;
  • Boys should engage in sports and refrain from more creative pursuits;
  • Boys and men are expected to use violence and aggression to prove their manliness;
  • A boy that doesn’t use violence or aggression is an understandable target for bullying;
  • Girls should be thin and beautiful to make them appealing to men;

As Adults:

  • Victims of intimate partner violence are weak because they stay in the relationship
  • There is something wrong with a woman who doesn’t want children
  • Assertive women are unfeminine and are “bossy,” “bitches” or “whores”
  • Women are natural nurturers; men are natural leaders
  • Women don’t need equal pay because they are supported by their husbands
  • Women who appear less feminine or reject advances from men are lesbians
  • Women with children are less devoted to their jobs
  • Men who spend time with family are less masculine and poor breadwinners
  • In heterosexual couples, women should take time off to care for children or elders
  • Men who are not aggressive and/or assertive are unmanly and likely gay
  • Same-sex couples cannot make good parents
  • A transgender or gender non-confirming person is profoundly wrong
  • Women are too emotional to undertake certain kinds of work, especially while pregnant
  • Men are too impersonal and not emotionally apt to take on tasks “better done by women”





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