Gender identity is a key part of our sexuality and understanding how it works will make your life easier and will also help you get the most out of your sexual life. It may be a delicate subject, but in order to begin with, it’s important to understand what gender means; it’s certainly a bit more complicated than just “I’m a man” and “I’m a woman”, wink*. Gender can be defined as our social and legal status in culture and society, so gender identity is how one feels about expressing your gender. And this is a lot more than sexual organs because it involves how you act, talk and behave. So, what defines this? Basically culture defines what is feminine and what is masculine. While our sex (not the one you are thinking! Wink*) is biological as it includes sexual organs and hormones, gender is a lot more complex, as it deals with society’s expectation and beliefs on how an specific sex should look and act like. Our gender identity conveys how exactly we present our gender and gender role; how we dress, look and behave. For example, when someone finds their biological sex doesn’t match their gender identity, they can be identified as a transgender.
So, by now you are probably wondering, “what is masculine and what is feminine?” and those are valued questions. Basically culture and society determine what goes on those labels (so don’t blame me! Wink*), for example, characteristics that can be described as feminine may include: innocent, flirtatious, sensitive, passive, emotional, dependent, graceful, soft, sexually submissive and accepting. On the other hand, words used to describe masculine include: aggressive, competitive, strong, sexually aggressive, independent, non emotional and clumsy. Seeing as no one in the world is a robot (that we know wink*), chances are no man or woman fits perfectly in each category associated with their sex so those associations are quite unrealistic. Obviously personality also has to be taken into account and that usually results in mixed characteristics with a couple ones from some side dominating a bit. Now, if someone relates equally with both genders, they may be called androgynous. That means they feel neither masculine nor feminine traits are dominating.
Those gender roles can change from culture to culture or from different societies. Because, for instance, in a particular culture a woman has to act and express in a certain way, and in another society those views may change. Even social classes play a big part in how we are shaped, so there are a lot of things to consider here. The thing here is that every nucleus will have expectations on how women and men should dress, act, look and behave and what their interests should be.
And this leads me to gender stereotypes. And yes, you can rant all you want here about typecasts. Because they are unfair and can cause unequal treatment to someone when they don’t deserve it (it can also be sexist). The most common types of gender stereotypes are these:
- Appearance: “Women have to be tiny, graceful and pretty. Men have to be big, strong and rough”
- Personality: “Women should be passive, soft and submissive. Men have to take the lead and be aggressive and dominant”
- Interests: “Women like dolls, decorating and shopping. Men like sports, cars and mechanics”
- Domestic behavior: “Women have to take care of the children, cook and do house chores. Men have to fix things around the house”
- Occupations: “Women have to be secretaries and nurses. Men have to be doctors and engineers”
Now, it’s important to notice some people can manifest Hyperfemininity or Hypermasculinity (“oh no, no more scientific terms” I hear you sigh wink*). Hyperfemininity basically means someone (usually women, gay men, cross-dressers or trans genders) who exaggerate the feminine qualities in order for the men to boost their ego and just to feel more like “a woman”. On the other hand, Hypermasculinity is the opposite, the exaggeration of masculine traits. It goes without saying those overstressed stereotypes can cause relationship troubles and unhealthy relationships.
So, what can you do to change all those gender stereotypes? It’s no secret plenty of people feel ashamed if they feel they don’t fit in their biological gender qualities or they identify with the opposite a bit more or just want to experiment with the other side (its not dark wink*). In order to help them (and ourselves!), we can challenge those stereotypes… which can be easier said than done, but it’s never too late to start.
They often say you can’t change something you are not aware of, so point it out when you see it! Clichés and sexism are all around us. If you see something, talk with your closed ones about it and help them see it. If you feel or see someone making sexist remarks, point it out and talk to them about it; make them see why those comments may be wrong and how it can affect some people.
The other thing you can do is to preach what you teach, of course. So respect people and let them express themselves wink*. And while we are at this, try it out! If you want to dress or make something not commonly associated with your gender, challenge it and do it! Deep inside, men are women are more alike that we think of and gender roles are only supported by society. As long as it makes you happy and you are not hurting anybody, by all means go ahead and experiment. You may be surprised to inspire or help someone along the way wink*
And lastly, remember you are not alone if you are struggling with your gender identity. It’s normal for people to question themselves at some point, so don’t be scared or ashamed! Experiment all you like. But if you are not feeling all that great about it, keep in mind you can always talk to a loved one about it or you can seek professional counseling. Now, let’s unite and defeat those stereotypes!