Many women, and men, encounter daily interactions in which gender role stereotypes and “typical” gender behaviours are manifested. Sometimes we behave in gender stereotypical ways without even reflecting over it. Often these behaviours are simply habits. If a person however strays from gendered expectations there are sometimes consequences. Often other people acknowledge that a person is straying and attempt to correct this “error” by saying something or by acting in a way that makes it clear that you are straying too far from what is comfortably considered feminine or masculine. Other times, non-stereotypical gender behaviour is punished with violence or harassment.
A person does not have to stray very far from gender stereotypical expectations in order to be corrected by others. We want to share with you some of our own experiences in which we felt that our behaviour was corrected or given attention by a third party, sometimes perhaps even unconsciously.
Gender role assumptions are often based on stereotypical notions of how men and women should act, what is “proper” for one’s gender, and what one is capable of or good at. One example of this was experienced by one of the authors. “On two different occasions, while mowing the front lawn, I have had men come up to me (one who was walking by with his dog, the other was driving and then stopped his car in front of my house) to give me advice on how to properly mow a lawn. For example, these men suggested that I wear other more suitable shoes and the second one suggested I wear goggles to protect my eyes from rocks that could be propelled by the blade underneath the lawn mower. There are no rocks in my front yard and my tennis shoes were fine to wear. I felt that these men wanted to give me advice solely because I was a female performing “typically masculine duties”. Their advice made me feel infantilised, especially as their paternal advice was of no use to me”.
A second example of gender stereotypes of women as less knowledgeable in regards to “typical masculine duties” was experienced by one of the authors. “When calling the landlord to discuss maintenance of my rental apartment and providing the landlord with the measurements I took of a window, he refused to acknowledge me and instead called my partner, assuming that he would be the more competent and reliable source. My partner gave him the exact same measurements, without actually measuring the window himself since I had already done so. After talking to my partner the landlord was pleased with the results. I was furious that my competence was not taken seriously and that my partner was assumed more knowledgeable”.
The above mentioned examples took place in or around our homes. When out in public similar gendered assumptions also take place. Often gender stereotypical assumptions imply, that when a woman is out having dinner with a man, the man should be paying for the meal. “Often times when my partner and I are eating out they put the bill in front of him rather than me, as if he is always the one who (should) pay. When we order food to go, and I hand over my credit card, it is common for the staff to hand my card back to my partner rather than me, implying that he is in charge of my finances and the money exchanged. I make my own money and I can certainly pay for my partner and myself”.
Other examples again illustrate this notion: “I was out having dinner with a male friend of mine. I ordered a beer, while he ordered a cocktail. The same server who took our orders brought us the drinks and handed me the cocktail and him the beer. I felt that the underlying assumption was that men drink beer, not cocktails, and women drink cocktails and certainly not beer”. Another example happened just a few weeks ago. “Recently, I had dinner with a male friend. When it was time to pay I put my credit card down. When the server returned she put the card and the receipt in front of my friend, assuming that he was the one paying”.
Another common stereotype of women is that they should be calm, quiet, happy and non-aggressive. They should always walk around with smiles on their faces, even when they have had a crappy day and do not feel like smiling. “It has happened a handful of times, when I am out walking, that random men on the street have felt like they have the right to tell me to “smile”. This angers me because I do not know these people and they are taking their gendered assumptions of women as always happy and smiley out on me. Leave me alone and I would be much happier”.
These common and sometimes daily interactions display examples of larger societal expectations placed on women and men. In the above mentioned examples, however, we have focused on our own experiences as heterosexual cis women. We are equally interested in hearing about heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, queer and trans* (or any other way you identify yourself) experiences in which you have felt corrected because you might not neatly fit into, or act according to stereotypical gender behavior.
Hennie Weiss has recently earned her Master’s degree in Sociology. Elin Weiss has a Master’s degree in Women’s Studies. Their interests include feminism, gender, the sexualisation of women and the portrayal of women in media.
The image in the text Gendered assumptions was made by Helen and is based on the copyright-free image Aiga_toilets downloaded from Wikimedia Commons. If you re-use this image elsewhere, please include a link back to the URI of this post (/blog/2012/05/gendered_assump).