Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Gender by the Book: Why Can't Men and Women Work Together?

By Jessica Fischer

Women are from Venus and men are from Mars. Or at least that’s what John Gray states in his book titled just that, about how to improve the communication between the two genders. We are clearly different, and learning more about the opposite sex and seeing their understanding of things can only strengthen the relationships we have with others.

A very long time ago, when we were hunters and gathers, men and women had different strengths of what they could do and how they could provide for their family. Men are more apt to be colorblind than women, so that made them better at hunting. They also have better vision looking straight on. Women, on the other hand, have better peripheral vision, which allowed us to be better gatherers, according to www.wikipedia.com.

Before the Industrial Revolution, women still had an equal part of working with men. Usually husbands and wives worked interdependently on their farm together. After factories emerged, more men went to work outside the home. Men’s working environment and separateness led to an impersonal, public, and utilitarian attitude. Women remained at home and became more directly associated with the personal, the private, the nurturing, and the emotional. References to women as weak and decorative, inferior, negative, and trivial emerged at that time. After the Industrial Revolution, women were wanted in the factories to work, because they were cheaper and more obedient than men. This was the first time women started working on their own. Though women’s work was greatly needed during World War II, when the war ended, women were fired from their jobs because the men returned home. They were told to be housewives and the caretakers for the family. This stereotype of what women were in the 1950s still follows us to this day.

Women are the nurturers of the family. When it comes to cleaning, cooking, and taking care of the children, it’s considered the “woman’s job.” Now why is it that after advancing so far in our culture, that we still think this way? Why can’t a man clean the bathroom? Why can’t a man cook dinner? Why can’t a man change a baby’s diaper? What it all comes down to is gender stereotypes and what society expects men and women to be. A diligent housewife had dinner on the table precisely at the moment her husband arrived from work. Associated Content reported that a wife was a "good" wife only if she carried out her man's every order and agreed with him on everything.

The stereotypical woman is soft-spoken, emotional, subjective, self-effacing by reflecting uncertainty and humbleness, and complaint through submissiveness. The stereotypical man is an ineffective listener, emotionally inexpressive, categorical and certain in his language use, and dominating in discussions.

We are brought up to be the stereotypical women and men from the day we are born. How “girly” or “manly” we are is how we were taught to be. I feel children grow up following the Social Learning theory the most. The Social Learning Theory is the theory that people learn new behavior through overt reinforcement or punishment, or via observational learning of the social factors in their environment. We see our parents, friends, and everyone else around us, and since they are the closest people to us, that’s who we learn from. Boys play with toy guns, cars, and anything that causes destruction. Girls play with dolls, play house, or school. We don’t even realize how we conform to society. I played house all the time when I was young. No wonder the boys don’t play house. The house is considered the “woman’s place,” so why would they find that enjoyable. Even playing school is another gender related activity of fun because women are primarily considered as school teachers, so of course, us girls love to play it. Little girls are told to be ladylike and dainty. Little boys are expected to make messes.

Neither women nor men have it easy. We all have to conform to what society tells us to be. Unfortunately in our society a lot of the times we represent the Cultivation theory. Everything we see on television, movies, and magazines is fantasy, but is portrayed as if it was our real lives and that’s the way we are supposed to live. In the media alone, we are told what the norm is and what’s not. In every magazine, there are advertisements that are degrading to women. Women are reduced to mere body parts and it’s scary. Little girls see these advertisements and this is what they think they have to look like. Little boys see these advertisements and these are the only people they want to date when they get older.

Jean Kilbourne, author of the award-winning book Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel, states that advertisements make women think that if we aren’t beautiful, it’s because we aren’t trying hard enough. What it all comes down to is that sex sells. Companies are willing to put women in passive and sexual positions, just to sell their product. Whether it’s just certain women’s body parts being shown, or their mouths being covered, it’s a way of saying how women don’t have a say in society. They are passive and their words are not important. The media also makes it seem that men are the reason for women’s existence. Women are portrayed as not worthy if they aren’t attractive and don’t have a man. We live to pleasure men and without them we’d be nothing. We are ready for sex all the time, whenever a man wants it. That’s a far cry from what the truth is, but that’s what advertisements portray.

Men also have it hard trying to comply with what society tells them to be. Men have to be masculine and not wimps. If men see other men crying, it’s a sign of weakness. Men show dominance, control, power and status. If a man is seen doing anything that’s not manly, they may be considered gay, which is a big deal for heterosexual men. Men get respect and admiration from others through violence. They wear a mask of masculinity to intimidate others. To be a respected man, you have to be tough, strong and independent.

My perception of my own gender has changed a little bit. The media does portray women in a not so desirable way, but I do think that some women are to blame. With all the music videos and the way women are perceived as sex objects for the men, it’s the women’s faults for jumping into that position to be treated like that. Maybe if more women stood up for themselves and said that we are not going to be perceived in this manner anymore, maybe something can get done.

My perception of the opposite gender has changed. Instead of getting mad at certain things someone of the opposite sex does, I realize that’s the way a majority of them are. Even just learning the fact that men and women communicate for different reasons is enough in itself to understand why we are so different. According to Deborah Tannen, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, women do rapport talking and communicate to form relationships with others. Men do report talking and communicate to exchange information. The reason why a man may not be listening to a woman’s twenty minute story about how her best friend did something wrong, is because they listen for the facts and the big picture.

If men and women can meet somewhere in the middle, we would all have better relationships with each other. If more men and women were subjected to this knowledge about how we can better communicate with one another, who knows how many relationships would be more successful. If we all communicate better, we will eventually get what we want, whether it’s compromising or just understanding that our jobs as men and women should be equal. No one person should do the cooking, cleaning, or taking care of the baby. It’s an equal responsibility. We, as a society, really need to reevaluate the stereotypes we have for women and men, because for women it’s a chore, but for men it seems to be a crutch.

Jessica Fischer is a senior at St. Thomas Aquinas College, where she is getting her Bachelor’s Degree in Communications. She will be graduating in May 2011. While attending school, Jessica works as a freelance teleprompter operator.

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