Let’s talk gender stereotypes.

It’s a daring concept to admit the possibility that men and women aren’t that different after all. Yes, boys get to stand up to pee but could men and women be more similar than we first assume?

It’s pure stereotype to say that men don’t want to cuddle after sex as much as women do.  It’s stereotype to assume that women don’t want to walk out of an awkward one night stand the next morning independently and content with their bachelorette status. Could these ideas of gender roles be something that not one gender expects of the other, but rather a reflection of what men and women really expect from themselves? There will always be a hard side to women and a soft side to men, and the stereotypes that surround us become imprisoning to our sense of self and to how we understand the opposite gender.

Recent studies show that men and women’s brains are primarily identical. It’s situational events that decipher the difference between gender attitudes, not our brain programming. Surprisingly, our brain programming works more or less the same. Which surprises me. It’s hard not to assume that men have some missing part that makes them so different, but apparently that isn’t the case.

gender_stereotypes_05So why is it so socially unacceptable for men to cry? Why can’t they cry when they fight? Or sob when they watch Titanic? The same behavioral expectations are applied to women. Take the common example of the judgment women receive when they sleep with men. The word slut was intended for our behavior, and Shakespeare’s description of a ‘cuckhold’ describes a man whose wife has cheated on him. Even if our male counterparts are more promiscuous, us women still cop the flak. It’s an age-old parallel.

In contrast, our growing ideas of bisexuality and an awareness of different sexual categories such as A-sexual, gay, lesbian, transsexual and femme contribute to a breakdown of what we consider normal and what we don’t. In a world that’s changing to embrace diversity, why do these stereotypes still exist? This paradox is noted by Askmen magazine, who identify a change in what we understand as masculinity. Askmen notesthat ‘modern-day manhood is made up of a range of discernible characteristics… “the new masculinity” is a combination of, on the one hand, “old-school” values such as honour, loyalty and hard work and, on the other hand, a more contemporary set of beliefs about gender roles at a time when they are changing both at home and on the job.’ * Forty years ago it was very different story.

My dad painfully described his experiences in school during the sixties. He recalled the way males treated each other in the volatile  atmosphere of the all-boys schoolyard. Spring days caked in testosterone would see the development of anti-gay gangs. Poofter bashers, as they were known to themselves and the schoolyard community, would hang around curbs and corners in the playground scouting out peers they thought were ‘fags’. Following them home and tormenting them at school, they would fight anyone they assumed were ‘poofters’ – even if they weren’t.

My father, for example, was a boy of Polish decent. His long, thick hair, salami sandwiches, love for classical music, and eccentric ‘get-fucked’ personality was a prime target for their eager discrimination. Whipping out his mirror and comb in front of them was part of his ‘get-fucked’ antics, and luckily his toughness kept the poofter-bashers intimidated enough to stay away.

The same can’t be said for my father’s gay friend, who was often held victim at the hands of these naïve boys. I asked my dad if it was ever ok to tell people you were gay. He just laughed at me. It wasn’t even an option for these boys, who became men. Men who then grew up confused and embarrassed, maybe even ashamed, of their sexual preference. This indicated that being a man in those days was one thing: being a successful man of the house. It tells us that being a man isn’t about anything that goes beyond this image such as compassion, humbleness or acknowledging failure. We assume that if men are feminine or ‘different’ in any way, they break the classical, Western understanding of masculinity.

kdq-prideSuch behavior is completely dismissed today. The LGBT community is, in the larger part of western society, welcomed with open arms. We celebrate this love with Mardi Gras and even in international recognition such as recent controversy surround Russia’s controversial anti-gay propaganda, which saw athletes and community members from around the world speaking out at  the Sochi Winter Olympics. That’s not to marginalize the very real struggle that people continue to go through. It’s simply to say that these are realities that are changing very rapidly. What interests me is how the stereotypes about men and women continue effect such ideas of LGBT acceptance.

My boyfriend is still hassled at the pub for having a neat haircut. Homophobic slurs are now behavior that is shunned by fellow drunks in the smoker’s room. But why, if as acceptance grows, do straight males still cop heat for being feminine, for caring about their appearance and for not drinking beer?

My dad’s story reveals an interesting complex of the changes experienced at the turn of the 21st century. It says that we are more accepting, and sexually more diverse. Which is a good thing, right? Anyone would agree (except for sexists), yet I still remain skeptical towards the way in which society reacts when the barriers between the reserved particularities of masculinity and femininity are defied by the interchange of male/female behavior.

Speaking to guys about this, I asked them what made them feel like a man. My boyfriend suggested that some males may feel vulnerable to the idea of bisexuality and homosexuality; that they might believe that gay people are removing the ‘true’ masculinity of men. To me, ‘the poofter bashers’ are threatened. Intimidated by their feminine influences ultimately reaping males of what defines ‘man’, and destroying the whole succession of masculinity together.

It might seem dramatic, but it does appear as though people feel that way. Men I spoke to were  dumbfounded by the question, all answering with similar responses, that what makes them male is their physicality. They responded in a way that they were almost confused why they wouldn’t feel like a man. These men aren’t sexist in their views, rather confounded as to why gay men would threaten them. Unfortunately I don’t believe that every man would feel this way, especially old mate in the pub who keeps calling my boyfriend a cocksucker because he has a better haircut than him. Unfortunately, such beliefs have to exist somewhere.

Interesting ideals about who we see as someone we will take home after a night of drunken fondling carry far into the future. I remain hopeful that eventually labels won’t need to exist to justify who people are attracted to. Maybe one day we can meet somebody and fall in love with them for who they are, no matter their gender. Maybe men won’t be labeled gay when they express their compassion, style and femininity. Maybe men will even be able to wear make-up, and the stigma around gender-associated trends won’t exist, nor will males feel threatened by it.

So much has changed in recent decades – so maybe my hopes project a near future. For now let’s keep loving, hugging and aspiring.

Words by SAVANNA SZELSKI. Don’t forget to follow BULLSH!T on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Further reading: http://au.askmen.com/entertainment/austin_500/510b_the-new-masculinity.html

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