Nobody wants to be labeled. At least in the negative connotation, they do not. Most men would like to be thought of as strong and hardworking; many women would like to be perceived as beautiful and nurturing. Labeling a whole gender based on the qualities of a few is not something people are growing fond of, however. These labels are often referred to as stereotypes. Gender stereotypes are generalizations about attributes, roles, and differences between the different genders (Cliffnotes). Most generalizations are neither positive nor negative, but the effects can go strongly in either direction. The outcomes may be harsh, but they would lessen if more people were educated about the basics of them. To help with educating others, three main stereotypical roles of women are listed out. These roles are the caretaker, the damsel, and the pageant queen. They have similarities, as well as differences. What they have in common with all stereotypes, though, is that they are significantly impacting modern life.
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One of the largest and most accepted stereotypes is the caretaker. According to society, the woman is supposed to be the watcher of her house and family. The caretaker must marry and be submissive toward her husband. She is also expected to have children and do most of the raising on her own. If she has any troubles, she should not dare complain to her husband; taking advice from other caretakers would be the best way to solve any issues in the household. Besides dealing with her children, she must also do all of the house work, including cleaning and cooking. Her husband should always come home to a clean house with quiet children and a hot dinner ready for him on the table. In today’s civilization, this stereotype is widely accepted by men. A common instance of this is telling a woman she belongs in the kitchen. If she is not in there, she is useless and does not belong at all.
The caretaker stereotype has a few different causes; many of them have to do with how girls are taught at a very young age. Young girls who are privileged to have toys to play with are normally associated with doll houses and Barbie dolls. Many girls like these toys and parents do not see any issues with buying them. Behind the fun is a deeper meaning, though. When girls play with dolls, their minds associate the act with playing with real babies. Dressing, holding, and feeding dolls actually leads to the thoughts that women must take care of children (Brasted). Another cause at a young age would be the game ‘house’ that children play. When playing, there should be a mother, father, and a baby. The father goes to ‘work’, while the mother cares for the baby, cooks, and cleans. The game seems harmless since it is all pretend, but in actuality it asserts the idea that women should do all the housework and nurturing while the men leave for work. The media also does a part in causing this stereotype. Reality shows depict women as being submissive to men. They also portray women raising children alone; young, vulnerable women are normally the stars of these shows.
Most stereotypes have effects, but the caretaker role has a few specific ones of its own. After being a caretaker for a few years, ten for example, the woman may begin to feel as if she missed out on her life. Being a stay-at-home mother, she never got to work, travel, or accomplish any of her hopes. By this time, her hopes are shattered and she may begin to develop depression because of her lack in meaningful activities. Child-bearing and raising are meaningful, but most women in modern culture want to experience more in their lifetimes, which the caretaker is finally realizing. She may also develop awareness of her submissive tendencies. If she does, she may perhaps grow to resent herself. She could continue as she was, though, depending on how she decides to handle her specific situation; however, continuing on this path is not a good substitute for resenting herself.
A different stereotype commonly portrayed is the damsel. This ‘damsel in distress’ is thought to be weak and helpless. (Brewer) She is not good at most things, including sports, the sciences, driving, and technology. The only things she may be useful for are cooking and cleaning. This woman is expected to listen and follow directions. She should never share any of her own opinions or take on any role in which she would be in charge; that would show that she has a mind of her own, which would not be good for the people trying to use her as a means.
The main cause of this stereotype is the media. Television shows tend to show women at their most vulnerable moments, exposing emotions and actions which are not usually present with the women. In many shows, male characters mock women’s emotions, saying how it is because they are weak and succumb to PMS. Another portrayal in the media is that men are much stronger than women. There are countless occurrences in movies and television where women need saved and men are always there to rescue them. This is problematic, as it enhances the belief that women are unable to care for themselves. This stereotype could also be brought out by self-conscious males who do not feel good about themselves unless they bring everyone else down. Egotistical males may also spread this stereotype after seeing a couple instances of women in these moments; if they are egotistical, they will assume all women are like that.
After being labeled a damsel, a woman may lose her ambition. She is not supposed to be good at most things, so she believes she is not good and stops trying. With all the thoughts of being incapable, she does not know what to do with her life, which may lead to different mental disorders; these could include depression and general anxiety. This stereotype could also end in two different extreme paths. The damsel may start forgetting about herself and worship the men in her life, or she may begin to resent all men and begin on the track of feminism. Either way, the damsel is likely to bunch all men in a group together, creating a stereotype of her own.
One last stereotype that is widely used is the pageant queen. This pageant queen has two sides she must be at all times, which are feminine and sexual. Her feminine side loves anything pink and does not leave the house without caking on makeup. She is normally tall, blonde, and skinny, with perfect curves in her chest and hips. If someone does not fit into the norm, they are unlikely to be accepted by the general public. She always wears dresses and heels; if clothes are not feminine, they are not acceptable for a woman. This woman must always feel and present herself as a beautiful lady, dressed well and using manners. Her femininity must shine the brightest, but her sexuality must be strong as well. The woman must always be ready for sexual activity. This pageant queen is thought of as a mere sexual object who will always abide to the desires of men. She is expected to like being sexual, so the men around her may not think before trying to start sensual activities with her. In today’s society, the pageant queen is the mother of some smaller stereotypes, including the widely used, “blondes are dumb.” This phrase is often used in public by young males, but could be used by anyone, including other women. The statement implies that all pretty blonde girls spend so much time making themselves look good that they do not spend any time learning.
The pageant queen stereotype is caused partially by childhood traditions, such as the decor in the girls’ rooms, the activities they are involved with, and the clothes the girls’ parents dress them in. Society and the media are the primary reason, though. Most television shows portray women as sexual objects. Sexualization is a big issue in modern society. A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that of the average 14,000 references to sex that a teen will see each year in the media, only 165 of them will spread positive messages such as abstinence, the use of protection, and awareness for sexually transmitted diseases.
The effects of this stereotype are numerous. Because of sexualization in the media, more teenagers than ever are expressing interest in sexual activities. There are numerous shows with pregnant teenagers, such as Sixteen and Pregnant, Teen Mom, and The Secret Life of the American Teenager. These shows are popular, and with teenagers watching them, they believe it is okay to have a baby at a young age. The teen birth rate has spiked for the first time in over a decade (Tanner). Some teenagers and young adults fake pregnancies for the attention of peers and the media, which is another issue. As mentioned by the study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, most television shows with sexual activity do not show the use of protection or the consequences involved. Because of this, there has also been a spike in contracted STDs (Tanner). Because of sexualization, as well as the aggressive behavior towards women in movies and television, sexual harassment is arising as an issue. Men, especially young adults, believe that they are in charge of women. Each year, women are becoming more submissive and more likely to abide to the commands of men. Whether they abide or not, women are subject to sexual harassment and sexual abuse because of how they are portrayed. Also, because of the way ladies are portrayed on screen, tall and skinny, women are developing poor body images. With the media and the intense pressure from peers, women strive to look perfect. Because of the poor body image, between five and ten million Americans have eating disorders. Another seven million have plastic surgery or cosmetic surgery every year (World Savvy Monitor). Though there are other causes for eating disorders and cosmetic surgery, they are majorly affected by stereotypical behavior.
From what has been mentioned, it seems obvious that gender stereotypes are causing issues. With depression, teen pregnancies, and sexual harassment taking place as a result, stereotypes have taken a turn for the worst. It seems that a logical solution would be androgyny. An androgynous person is somebody who does not fit into specific gender roles; they lie somewhere on the spectrum besides masculine and feminine (Cliffnotes). If parents taught children to be androgynous, the issue of stereotypes would begin to decrease; this would have a positive effect on all of the effects mentioned. Since we cannot expect most people to steer away from stereotypical behavior, educating people about the issue may be the most effective way to start correcting the problem. Nonetheless, today’s culture has been modified immensely simply because of labels.
Brasted, Dr. Monica. “Care Bears vs. Transformers: Gender Stereotypes in Advertisements. “The Socjournal. 7 Feb. 2010. Web. 02 July 2012.
Brewer, Holly. “List of Gender Stereotypes.” Healthguidance.org. Web. 30 June 2012.
“Effects of Gender Stereotyping in the Media.” World Savvy Monitor. Worldsavvy.org, May 2009. Web. 02 July 2012.
“Sociology: Gender Stereotypes.” Cliffnotes.com. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Web. 30 June 2012.
Tanner, Lindsey. “Study Finds 1 in 4 US Teens Has a STD.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 11 Mar. 2008. Web. 02 July 2012.