Stop pretending: gender stereotypes still exist!

Living in Western European countries, I have observed a puzzling behaviour – the attempt to pretend that gender roles don’t exist anymore. Some even dare to talk about a post-gender society and how old-fashioned the perspective on the topic is. Without being normative about how a person should be or behave, the reality shows that yet no society has overcome stereotypes, pressure and expectations regarding the genders and this has an impact on almost all dimensions of the private and professional life. By claiming that the differences between the sexes have almost vanished, more challenges are reinforced than solved, since the equality talk mostly is a hypocritical lie.

From gender pay gaps to disastrous dates – we are driven by a gender dichotomy

After growing up in Germany and currently living in Denmark, I have heard the sentence very often, that women can have it all nowadays. Nevertheless, all Nordic countries have a gender pay gap of more than 14%, in Germany the differences between the salaries of men and women for the same work is even more than 22%. Moreover, men are better integrated into the labour force – the unemployment rates for men are lower all over Europe, women work more often in a part-time position and have a lower pension. On the other hand, men are marginalized from classic female jobs like nursing or in the education sector and make the greatest share in physically demanding sectors­ like mining­. The reasons for this are complex and often led by personal decisions, but by simply repeating that men and women are equal, these facts are already being accepted instead of questioned.

A more entertaining field to observe gender stereotypes is dating. How many stories have I heard from friends, that independent and confident women are perceived as intimidating, pushy or not interesting enough because they don’t play the cat-and-mouse-game, while many men are caught in the balancing act between expectations on sensitivity, masculinity and their own commitment issues!
Nevertheless, regularly women transform themselves into what they consider as pretty to appear attractive, feminine and girly-cheerful and men let their bushy beards grow or work on their V-shaped torso in the gym to be as manly as possible when listening to the emotional thoughts of their date. Of course, people don’t modify their outer appearance only to impress the other gender, but since we are social beings, a slight sense of competition or comparison among peer groups is common.

­Traditions and customs are stronger than we think

In spite of the individual and independent life many young people have in Western countries, striving for sex, love and marriage is still a present pattern that determines our behaviour. A study revealed that highly educated women are not interested in finding a spouse, who has a lower career level than themselves – still many women are searching for somebody who can provide security and make a living. If this is not the case, educated women prefer to stay single. On the other hand, men are likely to be interested in women who are “difficult to get” when it comes to relationships.

What sounds like a pattern from the Middle Ages, is according to psychologists still stuck in our heads, especially because many people have grown up with their parents sticking to classic gender roles. This framework therefore provides the belief of security and orientation – we have witnessed ourselves how classic relationships function. The lacking honesty about changing societal values and the perpetuation of old ones, only leads to great disappointment and economic limitations, when going back to the employment and wage patterns. Nevertheless, it feels a little uncomfortable to picture alternative models for ourselves, therefore it will probably stay more comforting to say that things are going well between the genders, instead of risking a change for the personal benefit and freedom.

Further reading:

European Commission: Tackling the Gender Pay Gap in the EU (will open as PDF)

International Labour Organization: Global Employment Trends 2013 (will open as PDF)

Nordic Information on Gender: Part-time work, gender and economic distribution in Nordic countries (will open as PDF)

Spiegel Online: Interview „Flasches Beuteschema“ (German)

World Bank Data: Labour Force Paricipation Rates and more
Photo: flickr.com; User: Alyona Lobanova