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Gender Roles: How they are misunderstood

Updated on May 1, 2015

What is a Gender Role?

When you are born, you are born with a sex: you are a male or a female, girl or boy. You have specific body parts that identify you as such; this does not necessarily make you male or female. You can have the sex of a male but the gender of a female. In the Little Mermaid, which is a promoted American classic, contains a scene in which Ursula explains the female gender construct to Ariel. In Laura Sells “Where do the Mermaids Stand” she examines Ursula’s connection with drag: “In Ursula’s drag scene, Ariel learns that gender is performance; Ursula doesn’t simply symbolize a woman, she performs a woman...Ariel learns gender, not as a natural category, but as a performed construct” (Sells 175). Gender roles are promoted and assigned to individuals in American society and are expected to be upheld.

The gender role of an American woman is to be innocent, kind, nurturing and a housewife. That is what women are known to do. The gender role of an American man is to be tough, strong and a hard working breadwinner. That is what they are known to do. In Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, April Wheeler is the typical example of a female gender role. She takes care of her two kids, she is kind and respectful, and she stays at home and cleans the house. Frank Wheeler, her husband, is the typical example of the male gender role. The roles were built on the basis of how men and women should act all the time; women were the weak, so they had the “lightweight” job, while the men were strong and did everything else.


This ideal that women were weak and just a “man’s accessory” is promoted to the entire American public, from childhood. It is mainly directed towards “educating” and “informing” the younger minds of the proper gender roles. In past Disney cartoons, such as Donald Duck, he does a lot of things for his nephews and his family. He is the star of the show. Then there is Daisy, his wife. She only appears when she is doing something for him. She is never the point of focus, she is just a side character. This sends the message that women are supposed to support their husbands/mates/partners/etc. and forget about their desires. Although, there are many women and men who do not wish to conform to these standards. The Powerpuff Girls are now veritable lesbian icons. Although there is some controversy as to if they all were lesbians. Blossom and Bubbles were conformed to the standards of women. They kept clean and they were neat and polite. Buttercup, on the other hand, was more of a tomboy who was messy and rude, but strong and powerful. She didn’t conform to the role of a female, she performed the gender of a male.

In The Bell Jar by Synthia Plath, Esther Greenwood, a young woman in the city, is looking for a job-not a relationship or family like her friends, a job-one that will make her happy. As the role goes, women are not even supposed to consider looking for a job, they are to worry about finding a good husband that will bring in money that can marry provide for a family. She did not share the ideal of marriage or relationships.

By this time in the article, you can tell I like to use examples. That being said, In the show Friends, there is a male nanny. Nannies are very popular and known to be females, because they are the more nurturing and sensitive gender. This man chose the gender of a female and chose a common female occupation. Naturally, it was frowned upon by other men, because they did not see it fit that a man act like a woman unless he was homosexual. That was not the way that the world worked. While on the other hand, women found it perfectly normal that a man act that way. This feeds into the role that women are supportive and understanding. For a man to perform the roles of a woman, is to prove that gender is not based on your sex.

Gender can be a choice, it does not have to be assigned. Men and women do not have to conform to it, although many people still do. Even Cameron Russell, a present day model, talks about how people do not have to conform to any standards set for their gender if they do not want to. Your sex does not have to determine your gender role, because gender roles can change. So people need to back off of every one. Maybe you saw a guy at Starbucks, who had a higher pitched voice and friendly personality. That does NOT make him gay. That is your assumption based on a stereotype. He very well could be straight and very feminine, there is nothing wrong with that at all. Let people be who they are, let the have their personalities, and leave them be, because in the end; that girl you saw in the mall with the sweats and hair all messed up, or that guy wearing the skinny jeans and scarf, they are going to keep dressing like that whether you agree with it or not because they are comfortable with how they look and feel about themselves.






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