Living in contemporary society, we are not strangers to the many roles we often need to play. Some roles we learn vicariously through watching the people around us; others have been thrust upon us. However, one of the major roles that we are made to play is the gender role.
Most of our knowledge about these roles primarily comes from the environment. Multiple stereotypes also act as a huge factor in how we interact with others. In one of my previous blogs about machismo, we lightly touched upon the notions of gender influencing connection. The thing about stereotypes is that sometimes, they can be very contradictory. For example, women are emotional and communicative but at the same time, we’re also told that women should be seen and not heard. Men, on the other hand, are conventionally not considered emotional, but at the same time, are seen as aggressive (some, even see them as great bosses!)
Now, let’s hit pause and think about how these stereotypes have influenced our behaviour. Stereotypes can put us in a box and thus, take away from who we are as people. Which means, stereotypes make us perform rather than just be. Have you felt exhausted after a family gathering versus when you are hanging out with a group of close friends?
The boxes that we sit with can be quite restrictive and also create unnecessary confusion about what certain interactions could mean (especially from a third person’s lens). For example: a friendly male colleague can be perceived as making a move. A professional assertive woman can be perceived as being an uptight b****!
When stereotypes predict how we should anticipate a relationship - say, you share something very personal with a friend to the point that you feel vulnerable around them - one could maybe self-interpret it as having romantic feelings for said friend. After all, don’t we just need an emotional bond to help meet our basic needs?
In a society that’s hyperfocused on romantic relationships, it only gets worse; which shouldn’t surprise anyone, since the idea of romantic relationships are also highly heteronormative, making all other kinds of relationships fall at the bottom of the totem pole. Who amongst us hasn’t heard the classic one-liner (often from a nagging aunt or a nosy neighbour): “once you find your person, all your problems will be sorted”?
Because till today, only romantic relationships are regarded as ones that are allowed to hold intimacy. This contributes to indirectly pushing the age-old myth that men and women can only be close if they’re in a romantic relationship.
A myth that television does nothing to dispel. Notice how female friendships on TV are always perceived as close, intimate and bonded. They’ll always be portrayed as thick and emotional: like Meredith and Christina from Grey’s Anatomy. But male friendships don’t get the same treatment - most male duos have an unspoken bond where they don’t talk, but still manage to get each other (mostly, through grunts). So what happens when you mix the two?
Sadly, men and women friendships on television always end up being portrayed as romantic or on the verge of romance ... which is as weird as it is depressing.
Take a typical Hallmark movie - a brooding man who has shut himself off finally opens up to a woman and boom, they’re in love! This instils an idea that men are not capable of deep female friendships like women; and if they do end up having a deep connection with a female character, it simply has to be romantic!
Hence, the question: Can men and women be friends? The idea that is out there is that women are used to making more emotional bonds, rather than just make do with the chest bumps that men seem to get by with.
Does this mean that men do not connect or the connection they make through experiences aren't real? Not at all! I think everyone is capable of forming connections, regardless of gender. But in a society that holds role stereotypes as a standard, it may be restrictive; if experiences are not as frequent, it can cause social disconnection and lead to feelings of isolation.
We all know people who feel more connected and comfortable about being vulnerable when they’re in relationships. Imagine if we all build relationships that we feel emotionally connected in, regardless of gender norms/stereotypes?
Let’s be the most authentic version of ourselves when we interact with people. We are not meant to be in a box - stereotypes limit how we express ourselves and the kind of deeper relationships we can have.
Gender need not define us, the relationships and our role in our world.