Leadership education requires us to really take a deep dive into gender stereotyping.
It does not matter if we think we are above the fray; it is vital for us to have a handle on what goes on inside the heads and hearts of our employees, our teams.
Gender stereotyping has us all by the “throat” (…or you can fill in any other word you prefer here.)
We need to look at both what was learned in our families and our culture to have the broad view and know how to handle this gender stuff so it doesn’t turn into class action suits (it has) or health related work issues (it does).
Ahhhh, Our Families…
Our families don’t intentionally set out to put us in little boxes, yet, somehow we all end up in one at some point in our lives. While eating disorders, anorexia and bulimia, were the province of girls, there is a trend for boys to become overly concerned with body image.
Think about these tags that get placed on people while within their families:
- The pretty one
- The handsome one
- The strong one
- The shy one
- The special one
These are all rolls we end up playing at home and bring with us to work. This type of gender stereotyping percolates in families and is reinforced in literature, film, television and the internet.
- The good girl
- The wild rebel
- The gorgeous jock
- The strong silent type
- The over-giving martyr
These characteristics and many others like them intersect in our minds and end up being acted out in our work and home lives.
A Closer Look
Let’s take a closer look at what can cause us to freeze in our emotional and relationship connections if we don’t pay attention.
Here are two character rolls that are front and center on the home, school, and work stage at this time:
The Strong Silent type and the Woman Warrior
Masculinity in our culture has traditionally been seen in terms of physical and emotional strength.
The manly hero is one who is in charge, acts decisively and succeeds in everything he does, at work and in romance.
Think Superman or Batman and you have it nailed.
Women can be in charge, have perfect bodies and won’t decompose into mush the minute trouble arises.
Who’s To Blame?
Should we point the finger of blame at picture perfect actors and that bendable Barbie doll? Well, as impressionable kids and pre-teens we absorbed the hype we were fed along with our multi-vitamins.
Then without realizing it, the way we were taught about gender follows us invisibly until it is brought to the forefront and knocked on its rump.
Research at The University of Arizona asked teenaged girls to describe their own bodies as well as what the perfect girl would look like. Their ideal was a girl about 5’7” weighing 100 pounds, with long hair. Sounds like Barbie to me.
Next is a study in the Journal of Research about Sex Roles. It involved male subjects and Ken dolls along with action figures like the Hulk. The males in the study reported a more negative self-image after connecting with the hyper-masculine action figures.
Ken was safer to them than the big guys on steroids.
Gender stereotypes can kill if we let them get out of hand. We starve ourselves, or vomit to be beautiful, we bulk up to be super strong or we end up on antidepressants because we are not able to live up to the image of how we think we should be.
One of the keys to leadership is transforming stereotypes to their healthy opposites. It will take gutsy women and bold men to help the changes occur.
It’s about you, it’s about me, and it’s about time.
Sylvia Lafair, PhD. is President, Creative Energy Options, Inc.
She does Workplace Relationships, Conflict Resolution, Exec Coaching & Consulting
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Image Sources: fc09.deviantart.net, candragonart.com, fanboy.com
- Life Sized Barbie Draws Attention to Body Image Issues and Eating Disorders (brainz.org)
- Eve Ensler’s ‘I Am an Emotional Creature’ Is All About Eve (Re:Print) (popmatters.com)
- Barbie Commercials Across the Decades and the Implications on Female Identity and Objectification (lawmindscience.wordpress.com)