5 Ways Gender Norms Can Damage Sibling Relationships

When it comes to our relationships with our siblings, there are a whole lot of ways we impact one another. Interestingly, there's been a lot of data on how gender roles damage sibling relationships, and the research on the subject is pretty fascinating. According to a 2006 article published by the Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development, the sibling relationship is where many kids first learn how to interact with others, and how to "regulate both positive and negative emotions in socially acceptable ways." Basically, this means you can thank your siblings for helping you learn how to, you know, conduct yourself in society. On the flip side, studies also show that it's common for siblings to experience feelings of jealousy, bitterness, and resentment when favoritism becomes evident from parents or other life figures. And when traditional gender norms come into play, too? Well, it can certainly affect siblings' relationships with one another.

Of course, lots of people have awesome relationships with their siblings, and many of us develop healthy and functional bonds with the family we grow up with. However, I think there's something to be said for the role traditional gender norms and roles may play in the more deep-seeded issues that sometimes arise between siblings. Gender norms can impact us in various ways throughout life, from the way we see our bodies to the value we place on romantic relationships. It's no wonder, then, that gender norms may bleed into even the way we interact with and understand our siblings.

1. Double Standards Can Lead To Jealousy

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Jealousy is a big deal when it comes to siblings in general, but when you add gender norms to the mix, it can be a recipe for disaster — especially when it comes to things like dating. For instance, if male siblings are allowed to date whomever they want whenever they want, but female siblings are criticized for having "too many" significant others, or have to wait to be a certain age before they're allowed to date, this can create a double standard of expectations based on the way society views men and women that can drive a wedge between siblings.

This can happen in same-sex sibling relationships, too. Take, for example, a scenario where an older sister takes on the traditional "mother" role in the home, whether it's by helping to raise younger siblings, or taking on more responsibility around the house. (This could also occur if the eldest sibling is male and takes on the traditional "father" role by implementing order around the house, reprimanding younger siblings, or doling out discipline.) These dynamics may lead to jealousy on both ends: Older siblings who take on the "parent" role may feel envious and bitter that their younger siblings have less responsibility, while younger siblings may feel frustrated that they're being "parented" by a sibling.

2. Different Expectations Can Cause Resentment

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It's pretty much universal that no one wants to do more chores than everybody else. Still, the responsibility of doing housework unfortunately tends to fall largely on women. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that in 2014, only 63 percent of men reported doing some degree of housework, while 84 percent of women did. This statistic becomes even more concerning when you consider that, also according to the BLS, women make up almost half of the U.S. labor force. This dynamic may start when kids are young, if parents are influenced by gender norms when setting up structural rules in the home. If families expect girls to participate more in household chores than boys, it can potentially cause a great deal of resentment between children.

The idea that girls should learn how to cook and clean plays into the notion that girls are (essentially) growing up to fit traditional, domestic roles, regardless of whether or not they actually want to. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with staying home, it's certainly not the only path for women to take. This idea also exempts boys from participating in home life, which damages men by excluding them from the opportunity to grow and develop in all areas, including home maintenance and cooking, which are pretty fundamental to adult life.

3. Unequal Support Can Damage Self-Esteem

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If children receive more support from family members in what they're encouraged to pursue based on traditional gender norms, it can be super damaging to the sibling relationship. For example, if boys are encouraged to pursue math and science more than girls, this can cause daughters to feel worse about themselves and suffer from low self-esteem in academics. If only girls are encouraged to pursue "feminine" activities like theater, dance, or art, it may make boys feel abnormal or ashamed of their true interests. If anyone is quick to pick up on favoritism and bias, it's siblings, so this one is sure to cause ill feelings over time.

4. Norms Can Make It Difficult To Express Affection

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That's right: When we follow expectations rooted in gender norms, we may be cultivating environments which make it difficult for women and men to express themselves to one another. For instance, if we grow up telling our sons that they can't cry or express feelings of fear, sadness, or shame, this may result in a rift between siblings who feel that they aren't connecting on an honest or genuine level. The same goes for our culture surrounding girls' emotions; if we tell our daughters that they are innately more emotional and dramatic than boys, it sets the stage for girls' emotions to be taken less seriously when they're shared with others.

5. Gender Norms Can Make Siblings Feel Innately Different

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Many of us remember what it was like to be a teenager thinking that no one understood you. However, if you're raised in an environment where people believe in antiquated and traditional gender roles, that can possibly make siblings of the opposite sex feel even more distanced from each other. For instance, if you're struggling with a personal issue, it's possible you wouldn't feel comfortable going to a sibling of the opposite sex or gender because you believe they wouldn't be able to relate, since they might have a different system of values. This idea may damage sibling relationships, because it creates barriers and obstacles between people who could be bonding and sharing their true selves.

All in all, the way we interact with our siblings can have a huge influence on the people we become, and how we interact with others in society. While every family dynamic is different, it's important to be cognizant of the role gender norms may have played in our upbringing, and how to identify and combat gender-based norms in our daily lives.

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