Before discussing gender stereotypes, it is pertinent to know as to what exactly stereotypes are. Stereotypes are beliefs, positive or negative, that people hold about a particular group and its members. Stereotyping is supposed to be a normal cognitive process. Individuals come across a high volume of information on daily basis when they interact with other individuals of diverse backgrounds. As a result of this interaction and information, individuals form a particular set of beliefs/opinions about a particular group. Stereotyping is, therefore, a cognitive tool for organizing information and thus more efficiently processing information.
Stereotypes assist in social categorization to help people judge other individuals. Sometimes, this judgement comes at the expense of accuracy because stereotypes can be true or false. For instance, it is a commonly held belief in Pakistan that a man with beard must be religious and pious where as reality, at times, is the other way round. Similarly, a woman wearing modern dress is supposed to be liberal and Western in thoughts, but this is often not true. These examples are indicative of the fact that stereotypes can be wrong and misleading.
Stereotypes of men and women
The origin of the current stereotypes of women dates back to the 19th century. This was the era of Industrial Revolution. The revolution shifted the economy from agriculture to factories ergo forcing men to work while the women stayed at home perform the domestic chores. This divide was instrumental in creating or enhancing the stereotypes.
These different activities represent same internal aspects of a person or group of persons. Women are viewed as mothers; providing assistance and support to others. Due to the traditionality of their role, women are stereotyped as vulnerable, dependent and weak. They are also stereotyped as sex objects who pay special attention to their physical appearance.
Boys, unlike girls, are socialized to be in charge and assertive. So, men are stereotyped as being rational and strong. They can be stereotyped in a variety of roles such as breadwinners and heroic fighters. As more and more women are joining the workforce, the stereotypes of men as breadwinner may weaken.
The heroic fighter stereotype suggests that men are active, courageous, strong, aggressive and even violent. This stereotypical thinking suggests that men cannot experience fear and doubt. If a man does not work, he would be less masculine.
Stereotypes and socialization
It is interesting to note that children, even at the age of two years, can distinguish males from females. At the age of three years, they establish a gender identity and can hold gender stereotypes. Children understand their own gender roles and stereotypes before learning about the other gender. Before school-going age, these stereotypes are fully developed. With increased interaction with the other gender, this rigidity decreases considerably. In middle school, gender stereotypes can become rigid again. This flexibility increases with the age as young adults gain a critical understanding of the influences of stereotypes.
Gender stereotypical behaviour is reinforced by the parents in the form of selection of the toys for their children. Girls receive the toys that focus of mothering behaviours, attractive appearance and grooming, and domestic tasks like cooking. Boys on the other hand, receive toys that encourage aggressive play, construction and destruction such as trucks, balls, blocks, guns and swords.
Social groups, institutions and people on the whole play a significant role in passing gender stereotypes. An individual learns what majority of the people in a particular society do; then he or she repeats what is seen. Albert Bundaraâ€™s social learning theory narrates that children learn gender stereotypes from sources in addition to their parents. Children learn gender from their teachers, peers, siblings and the media. Media create and mould stereotypes through portrayal of genders that perpetuate stereotypes. Advertising rely heavily on gender stereotypes. Children who watch a lot of television tend to hold more rigid gender stereotypes.
Gender roles are obviously culture-specific. Within Pakistani culture, there are different views of gender. These are influenced by a variety of factors such as the geographical location, population density, racial makeup and socioeconomic status. The gender stereotypes seem to be deep-rooted and more aggregated in northern rural as well as agriculture-based areas of Pakistan.
What is wrong with stereotypes?
Stereotypes have some negatives too. They can represent a particular group but when it comes to non-stereotypical qualities that each individual possesses, stereotypes are often misleading. Irrespective of oneâ€™s gender identity, each individual possesses some qualities that are not in tandem with particular gender stereotypes. For example not all the women show lack of interest for politics.
Affixing peoplesâ€™ behaviours
Stereotypes are often not accurate but they can affect the individuals in a variety of ways. They, even when inaccurate, influence oneâ€™s representation of individual qualities, peopleâ€™s behaviours and perceptions.
It constrains opportunities
There are some exciting opportunities and experiences which men and women both have equal access to but gender stereotypes often constrain such opportunities. Some activities like cooking, are considered womenâ€™s domains and men are not supposed to go for them.
Another negative attached with gender stereotyping is the concept known as stereotype threats. Under this threat, a person feels anxiety that his or her behaviour will confirm negativity attached with his or her group. Stereotype threat is detrimental to a personâ€™s performance. For example, it is one of the stereotypes that women perform poorly in math test. If women are reminded of the stereotype or they themselves are under its influence, it will badly affect their performance if they take the test.
The fast-paced globalization and flow of cultures have in many ways resulted into unification, to a greater extent, of gender stereotypes and marginalization of culture-specific gender characteristics. Social trends and movements such as womenâ€™s emancipation, feminism and human rights movements, etc., have brought about considerable change in the mindset of the people vis-Ã -vis gender across the globe. Globalization of politics, economy and culture has been instrumental in the creation of similarity of gender stereotypes in most parts of the world.