Gender norms

Normative practices determine the decisions made by individuals and which path is laid out for them. These are determined by the ideal of citizenship. Autonomy, self-reliance and being able to function fully in the labor market are examples of capabilities that our society requires in order to uphold economic interests. Based on these capabilities, our society determines the privileged norm. In the West, these economic interests were aligned with masculinity, which automatically caused femininity to fall short. This constellation creates a gap in the share of men and women in, among others, the labor market, and a separation between the public and private spheres.

Ideas around ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity’ are socially and culturally determined and are constantly evolving. Expectations about what it means to be a boy or girl transcend gender differences between the two. Biological differences translate through the gender concept into social inequality. (In)visible roles and norms cause one group to be pushed into a subordinate position compared to another group. Personality traits, behavior, studies, occupations, clothing, toys… are ordered as male or female. In addition, these are assigned a value based on this ordering. In Western cultures, masculinity is still valued differently from femininity. This valuation creeps unconsciously into our language, habits, customs and even regulations. By adding a value judgement to this biological dichotomy, gender creates a pattern of power between the biological sexes.

Gender bias exist in both directions, despite the number of historical examples and evidence suggesting that bias typically exists towards women. If the notion of masculinity is examined and the meaning of "being a man" is scrutinized, language such as "real guys" is latently present. This statement would indicate that there would be only one correct way of masculinity. This is called hegemonic masculinity. This dominant discourse on masculinity also causes men to conform to prejudices that men must be self-reliant, tough, rational, strong, and heterosexual. These gender norms not only have severe consequences for women, but men and their relational, psychological, sexual, and physical well-being can suffer as well.

Talk about your own experiences.

  • What does femininity mean? What does masculinity mean?
  • What social valuation belongs to femininity? To masculinity?
  • Are behaviors and attitudes as a woman aligned with this valuation?
  • What expectation does one feel as a woman regarding interests? Clothing? Toys? 
  • Choice of study? Are these expectations the same for men?
In addition to gender norms, other cultural norms also count for each individual. Gender is part of a broad socio-cultural context, which makes it impossible to see it independently from other criteria that also determine our social position in a society. Ethnicity, socio-economic origin, age, level of education, etc. are aspects of our identity that influence and reinforce each other. These also bring with them social expectations and norms to which our behavior is subject. To analyze these, one must take an intersectional perspective.

Redefining norms and roles for yourself is an important reflection to undertake. Ask yourself what input you want to add to your environment, to society, ...  Define your individual role based on your intrinsic interests and concerns without placing them in the framework of social expectations influenced by gender. Each individual can make the choice to help build a social system that is no longer clothed in a dichotomous way based on the variable gender.


About gender

The concept of gender should be clearly understood as a socio-cultural, transversal, and overarching variable. Gender is a mechanism that cannot be known merely by perceiving the observable.