Good progress has been made in breaking down women’s stereotypes. However, the stereotypes that still exist for men are just as damaging, and not just for the men themselves.
Over the last decade society has finally begun to realise the incredibly harmful effects gender stereotypes have. We’ve begun to work to reverse the results of many years of impossible expectations for women, an oppression which over the last century has begun to lift, to the extent that gender equality has become a realistic goal which we should strive for. But there is a lot more that needs to be done in order to reach this goal within our lifetimes. One such thing is the need to counter and remove such stereotypes for men.
However I feel there is one stereotype in particular that is hugely detrimental to this cause. This is the imaginary rule that to be a “man,” someone must be an emotionless giant of stoic bravery and steadfastness. A man must never show weakness or emotion, for to do so would be unmanly, and to be unmanly is the cardinal sin of, well, being a man. And this image has been bolstered by the media which consistently shows us men built like the Great Wall of China, who would make even Attila the Hun quake with fear if he accidently insulted their mother in a darkened pub.
Now I’ll admit this stereotype does seem rather measly compared to the intolerable levels of pressure placed on woman by the media and the marketing departments of the fashion and beauty industry, but it does have an effect, and not just on men. No, this monster of the modern age that vociferously consumes self-esteem, mangling self-confidence and leaving nothing but worry, is deeply entwined with certain female stereotypes, and exacerbates them by dictating men’s behaviour.
You see, this stereotype tells men and boys that a woman needs their protection, that she is weak and that he should be strong. So they go through life thinking that all women need and want their protection, and this only works to strengthen female stereotypes that are fed to many children and young people. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that to slay the hydra of gender inequality, we have to cut off all of its heads, and whilst it is certainly necessary to counter the stereotypes presented to our girls, we can only do that by defeating those we present to our boys.
And I use the term girls and boys very deliberately here; for whilst these stereotypes seem to have the most visible impact on young people, it is those in their teenage years who have become increasingly vulnerable to such external influence, (that’s for a whole other article/incoherent rant). The only reason this age group is so affected is because the stereotypes started so young. Children are routinely exposed to intensive marketing of products that are divided clearly into “boys’” and “girls’” toys. Lego’s (above) “Friends” range (despite their denials) is a deliberate attempt to transform the other ranges into an exclusively “boys’” toy. So it’s undeniable that this must have an effect.
One of the only reasons it’s possible for these stereotypes to hold such a tight and toxic grip on so many young people is because the exposure to them has been so long, constant and enduring. We’ve allowed these images to intertwine themselves with society, to become in a way, a part of the society itself, another head on my tenuous allegorical hydra. It’s almost as though the images are a kind of radiation, permeating our culture, disseminated from our TV sets, from our newspapers and from online, harmless at first but taking a toll as the Geiger counter ticks ever higher.
This is where the “hydra” really comes to the fore. You see, tackling one of these issues takes a great deal of effort, and the dedicated work of thousands of activists must be credited with redressing some of them. However when one stereotype is removed another takes its place, just like the heads of a hydra. Therefore we must tackle all elements of this beast to achieve, or at least make progress towards, equality. Once we start to do this, we can finally realistically aim for a society that doesn’t favour those with a particular anatomy, because why should it?