As we grow, many of us learn a set of "rules" our culture require us to abide by in order to "properly fit in" with the role prescribed to us by our gender — whether or not those narrowly defined boxes are even boundaries we're interested in existing within. You might not even realize the ways in which they might be controlling your life. As such, I would argue that there are a number of gender stereotypes to try breaking at least once. You may discover that habits and thoughts you've taken on over the years are a result of the way you've been socialized.
Breaking barriers and pushing boundaries is about more than finding yourself, although that's obviously a huge part. It's also about questioning and deconstructing the ways we've been taught to think about and value the people around us. Men, for instance, are "supposed" to be tough. They're not "supposed" to be sensitive or emotional. They should be great with tools and know how to work a grill. But these? Are all gender stereotypes. They're expectations our culture has placed on men, telling us that they should be considered the norm. Anything that strays outside of them is portrayed as a deviation from the "standard."
So, what other gender stereotypes follow us around? Here are just a handful, and why they're worth breaking at least once in your life.
1. Keeping A Perfectly Clean House
Domestic responsibilities very often fall within women's purview; our culture can easily make us feel like a poorly kept house reflects poorly on us. It's about having a home that's not only neat and tidy, but decorated and Instagram-ready. Are you adamant that the house must be cleaned before anyone comes over? Maybe you just like a clean house (I sure do!). Maybe you also think it's simply polite (ditto). But if we're being honest, many of us will likely admit that there's a part of us nervous about what people will think of us if our home isn't immaculate — even though men are given a pass for having a "bachelor pad" that isn't perfectly tidied up.
But what if we forget about the dirty dishes in the sink for now, and go about our days? What if we don't worry about doing all the laundry this weekend? What if the carpeting goes another week without being vacuumed? Feels weird, right? As in, almost impossible? But you know what's going to happen if your home gets a little messy? Nothing.
Do you live with another adult, maybe a roommate or partner? If the responsibilities still largely fall on you, here's another challenge: Ask for help. Your life will change when you're not the one trying to keep an entire home spotless all by yourself.
2. Keeping Your Emotions In Check
Are you upset? Irate? Stressed? That's fine; but keep it all inside, society says. This is especially the case when you're at work, grouped with men who you're likely compared to because you're emotional and they're logical. You're led by your heart, our culture tells us, while they're led by their brains. It's almost as if you don't have a brain. And whatever you do, whatever you do, don't cry.
Sound familiar? While I honestly can't argue that it's in anyone's best interest to let your emotions run free in the workplace, I can still suggest that you let 'em fly elsewhere. If you feel like crying, go ahead and have a good cry. I bet you'll feel better after. Just once, don't try to hold it all in. This doesn't give you a free pass to go out and say hurtful things to other people; but if you feel hurt, you have every right to express it. Everyone does, no matter what their gender identity is. Emotions do not equal weakness. We are all allowed to feel things.
3. Feeling Like You Have To Have A Thick Skin
We're not supposed to let things bother us easily; doing so could make us appear too sensitive or vulnerable. Not only are we supposed to keep our emotions in check, but in certain cases, it's considered better if we don't experience any emotions... at all. Things simply shouldn't get on our nerves. Our culture is currently caught in between two perspectives: wanting people to be nicer to others, and wanting people to have a thicker skin. Thick skin is good, because you can't expect everyone to be nice to you forever at all times. But let's not make excuses for people who say or do hurtful things — you're allowed to feel hurt.
You're a living, breathing creature with thoughts, opinions, feelings, and a heartbeat. You know what I say? I say be bothered sometimes. Get annoyed. Flip out. It means you have opinions and a mind of your own.
4. Always Feeling Like You Need To Be "Put Together"
I admit it: I almost never leave the house without at least a little makeup because I'm worried I'll scare people. Sound familiar? Do you feel the need to have a perfectly coordinating outfit even if you're just going to the grocery store? If you're doing this because you enjoy it, then fantastic. If you're doing it out of fear of your character being judged, then cut yourself some slack.
The bottom line is that we all need to give ourselves a break every now and then. Is your hair a little greasy? That's all right — you can still go to the bank. It's all right to go to the gym even though you haven't shaved your legs (and it's all right not to shave your legs at all if that's not your jam). And don't worry — it really doesn't matter that your button-down sweater doesn't match the shirt underneath. Honestly, you do you. If people are going to judge you for such insignificant details, then you don't want them around anyway.
Why not have more concern for other parts of yourself? Have you said something nice to someone (or yourself!) today? Have you done a good deed? Have you been honest in your actions and language? Yes? Then that's terrific.
5. Doing Things "Like A Man" Or "Like A Girl"
I still don't understand this "like a man"/"like a woman" business. We're all people; why do we need to gender everything? When we do, women and gender nonconforming people frequently get the shorter end of the stick. Doing things "like a girl" is used as a criticism. Think about it: Telling a woman she does something like a man is meant to be a compliment; tell a man he doesn't something like a woman? Those are fightin' words.
I think we all understand the meaning behind it. Yes, this has long been a man's world, and saying we do something "like a man" means we're keeping up with them — which, I guess, is a good thing... but why did anyone think we couldn't in the first place? The problem is that we're still being compared and measured up to men, instead of being looked at as unique individuals. The cultural default is still "man," and that's an issue.
But we're all just here to be ourselves and be amazing. Don't stress about trying to work like a man, play sports like a man, negotiate like a man; or, conversely, don't worry about throwing like a girl (in fact, go ahead and proudly throw like a girl). You can do just fine as you are, without any of this unnecessary gendering.
6. Playing Hard To Get (Or Not)
This one is challenging, I admit. Women are taught not to be too available, which often equates to desperation. We're supposed to play hard to get because men like the challenge, the hunt, the chase. If we don't play hard to get, we take the fun out of it, they get bored, and they move on to another woman more mysterious. In other words, if you like someone, and you think they like you, pretend that you don't really like them — because the best way to find love is to meet someone you're into and then pretend you don't really care.
I'm sorry — what?
If you like someone, and you think they like you, what's so wrong about saying or doing something that shows you like them? Isn't that how relationships move forward? I'm not saying you should propose after you've just told them your name; but think about how much time you've spent calculating your next move with a potential mate because our culture told you you'd come across as Debbie Desperate if you were too forward.
Instead, if you've been dating someone and are bursting to tell them you really like being with them, why not say so? If that turns a person off or scares them away, honestly... did they appreciate your company all that much to begin with?
7. Manipulating Your Own Sexuality
Don't be too sexual! It's desperate and slutty and guys don't want to marry those women! NO, WAIT. Flirt like your life depends on it and make suggestive comments so he'll like you more. Quick — bite your bottom lip! Bat your eyes! Whip your hair!
Cue the biggest eye rolls of all eye rolls. Sweet mother, this is exhausting. There are too many rules to follow; and when they require you to be someone you're not, shouldn't we pause and think for a minute? Much of this unwarranted gender stereotype goes back to how our culture has so frequently attached a woman's value and morality to her sexual habits, when in reality, how many people you sleep with really only defines one thing: How many people you've slept with.
Much like your body shape, the price tag on your clothes, the car you drive, and the house you own, your sexual activity does not assign your value as a human being.
8. Being The Girly Girl (Or Not)
Men like girly girls — that's what I've always known to be true. They love long hair, soft faces, dainty bodies, and quiet voices. You can imagine that I — all 145 pounds and 5'9" of me with my shorter hair, weightlifting obsession, and oftentimes very passionate opinions — was originally rather concerned about this. Who would want me? *sobs*
There are many fish in the sea, and they're all unique with their own personalities. (By the way, saying that people only like a certain kind of partner is also insulting to them.) Some love loud people. Some love quiet people. Some are turned on by someone taller than them, or shorter than them. Some people don't really give a rat's patootie what you look like. None of these things are wrong. A potential partner caring about your looks isn't bad, and caring how you look to them isn't bad. Trying to fit into a certain ideal because you want to please someone else? Bad.
If you're a girly girl by nature, more power to you. I love dresses, I love playing with make-up (even if I'm not that great at it), and I'm a sucker for romcoms and chick flicks. I'm also stronger than my boyfriend (his words!) and feel more comfortable at my gym than most other places. The point is this: Be yourself, whatever that means to you. The right people will appreciate you for you.