Gender liberated?

How many aspects of our lives are gendered, tailored towards one sex or another, without our even realising it? What makes me think that Chris’ shaving gel smells masculine while mine is ‘girly’. What told the young girl we saw in WH Smiths that she wanted a globe in various shades of pink (wrong I tell you, so very wrong) rather than a ‘normal’ one?

While this question itself wasn’t one asked at this weekend’s SCM conference on ‘Liberating Gender’, we thought a lot about how the ways in which we are categorised and stereotyped based on gender extend into pretty much every aspect of our lives. Whatever your interest or personal perspective of gender, from feminine ideas of God to exploring Queer theology, there was something to inspire and make you think. For me, the roles of masculine and feminine resonated most with my own experiences.

In exploring ‘masculinity, men and violence’, I realised that, to start with, whenever we think of ‘gender issues’ or ‘gender inequality’, the immediate focus is on women, but that the same things apply to men also. We looked at the roles we push men and boys into, which force them to conform to the ‘tough macho man’ image, and leave no room for individuality or vulnerability. Society has forced ideal body images, attitudes and personalities on men just as much as it has on women, and they are no less difficult to ignore or stand against.
Scanning the BBC news website as I do, an article prompted by Barbie’s 50th birthday on Monday, caught my attention, looking at whether the Barbie figure is possible if scaled-up to life-size, and the possible effects of having this kind of ‘role model’ for young girls. I imagine it goes without saying that such toys create unattainble standards for young girls, but the responses from women and girls who honestly can’t see the damage this causes, and think that “there’s nothing wrong in using her as a role model when it comes to looks, as well as attitude to life. it’s empowering for women”. This from the woman who has had plastic surgery to make herself look like Barbie. The mind boggles.
We need to ask ourselves where these gender stereotypes come from, what tells us that conforming to these ideals is necessary. We need to realise how damaging they can be, how easily they are perpetuated, and how important it is that we challenge them.