Norms Limit Us
A society that discourages behaviors based on notions of gender appropriateness is one that is restrictive. It is antithetical to the idea of freedom, and contradictory to the belief in the value of the individual. When there are certain behaviors and norms that are assigned to and appropriate for only one gender, it significantly narrows the avenues of life one has available to them. So if, for instance, a woman desired to study and pursue a path that did not involve finding a husband and having children she might be seen as misguided by her family and society.
Can Women Have It All?
Masculinity, on the other hand, has been tied to the opposite ideal; in contrast, men have traditionally been considered the ‘breadwinners,’ tasked with the responsibility of establishing a career and providing for the family. Perceptions such as these are woven into the fabric of everyday life and have subsequently been ingrained into people’s minds from an early age. Children see these stereotypes being played out at home. Kids are bombarded with media characterizations reinforcing these notions, and by the time they reach adolescence, they have already absorbed the negative messages contained within.
The 20th century saw a great deal of upheaval and progress in terms of challenging traditional gender stereotypes. During the 1950s, as televisions entered the homes and programming revolved around family life, many shows portrayed women and men in the roles that had come to be associated with them. Mothers were a “June Cleaver Type” who did the housework in a dress, high heels and a string of pearls, while the father of the “Ward Cleaver School” came home after his long day at the office and was doted on by his devoted wife. But society changed rapidly in the 1960s, and with those changes came the Women’s Liberation Movement. Women were no longer content to play the role of “Happy Housewife” and demanded equal opportunities in the world of education and career. Feminist thinkers such as Simone de Beauvoir and Laura Mulvey wrote extensively about the roles of women in society and the complicated reality of how men perceive them, forcing the public consciousness to really examine the implications of this thought process.
By the 1980s and 1990s, however, the situation remained unideal. While the options available to women had expanded considerably, it did not ensure that they were totally equal in society. Men did not necessarily embrace taking on the work they were cutting back on; they did not want to be the “homemakers.” To them, doing a job of a typical housewife undermined their masculinity. So women often found that they now had two careers going simultaneously. While they worked outside the home during the day, many were still expected to come home to cook dinner, take care of the kids and keep the house clean. Because of this women were exhausted, and the question arose, “Can women have it all?” And what did “having it all” even really mean?
Gender Roles in Media
Changing norms were addressed in the media. Movies like “Mr. Mom” portrayed gender role reversal in a humorous light. When the husband was laid off from his job and stayed home to care for the kids, his wife began climbing the corporate ladder and they both stepped out of their comfort zone and had to address what they really wanted for their lives. Even though it addresses these issues, the title “Mr. Mom” itself is still implying that the role of a father cannot possibly involve performing the duties that a mother does. But it was through films like this that society was able to work through the discomfort of changing gender roles. In the 2000s, it is much more readily accepted that a dad can be the stay-at-home parent without it stripping him of his masculinity. Women can be the primary breadwinners and still maintain their femininity. And, husbands and wives can be partners in the whole process. If both parents can work outside the home while sharing the responsibilities of family life, then neither will have to sacrifice their careers or their identities.