Gender Roles and Degrading Women in America

Sociology is the study of cultures, and tries to understand how people act in a societal sense, rather than on an individual level. No culture is perfect, and each has both good and bad spots in its social structures and forces. The American culture honors and takes pride in the notions of democracy and justice for all, but it is not always applicable to everyone. Though throughout the ages racism has been substantially curbed and class structure is now nothing like the middle ages of Europe, there are still significant and extensive improvements to be achieved. Currently, the one of the most troublesome problems of this day is the modern gender, which is probably most famously epitomized in the post-war years of the 1950’s. Though women are no longer seen as being only capable of a homemaker, modern gender is still a problem because it has very rigid and specific gender roles the one must conform to, and also is extremely degrading to the majority of the population – women.

There have been vast changes in women’s rights in the last century. After fighting for years and years, endless picketing and jail sentences, women were finally given the right to vote on a national level. The later 1800’s showed women exactly how lowly valued they were out of the home in the public sphere by granting the newly freed male slaves the right to vote, while women’s efforts of political power were stifled and suppressed. For the entire history of this country women have found that rights which were automatically granted for men required an exhaustingly large amount of fighting to obtain for themselves. It is preposterous that the role of women had be devalued so much that they were not allowed to do what we now consider “basic” things such as receiving an education, holding jobs that did not involve children, or even own property. Though now women are able to earn college degrees, have careers, own property, vote, or even run for political positions themselves, there are still countless gender inequalities.

Children are submitted to gender roles pretty much from the moment they are born. Baby showers involve a sea of pastel blues for boys and soft, delicate pink for girls. Female children are given dolls and doll houses and other cute toys, and are expected to “play house,” nurture and take care of their dolls, and play “dress-up,” while male children are typically given things such as G.I. Joes, sports equipment, and toy cars. In our beloved fairy tales women (unless evil) are increasingly beautiful, youthful, probably of royal blood, and often in need of help-which is usually because she is either oppressed by a man, or needs a man to save her. It is never another woman who saves the beautiful princess. Although there are female heroines in fairy tales, they compose almost an invisible minority of the stories. Different social messages are sent through these simple things of clothing colors, toys, and stories: For girls it’s to be delicate, beautiful, and nurturing, while boys learn the need to be tough and athletic. As a result of this constant reinforcement of the modern gender, by age five children have a fairly comprehensive understanding of the modern gender and the roles which they are expected to conform.

The mass media often objectifies women and in turn devaluates them. The women of Hollywood, catwalks, magazines, screens, and billboards are more often than not extremely thin, young, and beautiful, with a perfectly sculpted curvaceous frame. They are objectified for not only their bodies, but for parts of their bodies. They are often silenced by their hands over their mouths, passive positions, or composed as sexual objects. They are photographed in studios, with hours of makeup and hair styling by an army of cosmeticians and hairdressers, while the lighting specialists and camera crew set up their fancy equipment. During the shooting session they are endlessly retouched, and after the shoot is done they are touched up and again and again digitally. Pores and imperfections disappear, and all that is left is a perfection that is impossible to achieve. As former Supermodel Cindy Crawford said, “Even I don’t wake up looking like Cindy Crawford.” Nonetheless, women strive endlessly to achieve the impossible ideal of beauty personified by the silver screens and glossy pages. Teenage girls’ esteem plummets about when they turn 13, in part from these impossibly perfect images of beauty with surrounds them. Those feelings of inadequacy almost always lead to depression, and an alarming rate of girls develop eating disorders sometime in their lives. That number is also getting higher as the age of onset slides lower and lower. Though it may be a bit harsh to blame it solely on the media, they do definitely play a role. And although the aesthetic ideal for mean consists of fitness, muscles, and athletic ability, it seems that women are obliged to compromise their health and naturalness for beauty with layers of makeup, hair gel, tanning, surgical procedure, never-ending-diets, designer clothes and a plethora of many more things. Unfortunately, it is very hard to avoid the media, as it is everywhere: from the TV even if watching the news, to the airwaves, the magazine racks on the checkout line, or the billboards on the way to work. It is almost as if it is an inescapable omniscient force. Unfortunately, the omniscient force has a tendency to send messages to women about how they are never good enough.

Though there are more women in higher education than males, and more and more women pursuing careers than ever before, the work place is still largely male dominated. There is an inverse relationship between the number of women in a field of work, and the amount of compensation for it. In other words, as the ratio of women in a field increases, the average paycheck decreases. A few decades ago most secretaries were men, but now that they are predominately women the salary has declined rapidly. Men in a predominately female field are usually promoted faster, while the opposite is true of women in male dominated fields. These things send women another message of inadequacy as it implies that her work is not as good as a man’s, solely because she was born of the “wrong gender.” Women who have full time careers also do most of the housework, also known as “the second shift,” such as the typical modern culture chores of cooking, cleaning, laundry and childrearing. If a couple decides to raise a family, it is almost always the woman who sacrifices some or even all of her career to take care of the child. It is almost expected for the woman to sacrifice her own career goals, at least temporarily, to raise a child if there is a plan to start a family while men usually continue their working lives as usual.

These inequalities are very hard to just “fix,” as they’ve been taught to us since we were born, and there are constant reminders of social expectations of modern gender everywhere. From a sociological mindful view, though, there are ways to make these inequalities more just, and perhaps eventually be in perfect balance. Children should not be enforced so much of gender roles. Parents should buy them both male and female oriented toys, read them stories with an equal number of heroes and heroines, and try to reinforce as much as possible that the child does not have to conform to the modern gender, but can be anything they want. If all parents started doing this with their children, the next generation would be substantially more gender-balanced. As for the mass media and the workplace, it’s even trickier, but there may be a couple things done. The mass media could stop or reduce the amount of objectification of women, or the general public could ignore it and stop responding to it. Either way, the media industry will change, and hopefully become less degrading to women. Along with ignoring or not responding to the media, there needs to be a development of confidence and self-acceptance with acts as a shield against messages of negative worth. In the workplace, women need to push for equal wages, and be paid the same as the others in their job status regardless of gender. Also, the glass ceiling is in need of a good shattering. Couples also should share the responsibility of raising a child; Each of them should sacrifice an equal amount of time from their careers for the sake of their family. Household chores should also be shared between the two partners equally. If only society would adhere to changes like these, it could be a lot more equal for the future.

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