I) Noticing Normative Narratives:
Gender, according to West and Zimmerman, is not a personal trait; it is “an emergent feature of social situations: both as an outcome of and a rationale for various social arrangements, and as a means of legitimating one of the most fundamental divisions of society.” (West & Zimmerman, 1977, p. 126). Gender roles have been in our society since stone age where feminine characters are only for girls and masculine for boys. The girls are considered a beautiful, nice, obedient, caring and sensitive gender who takes care of the home, kitchen, and kids. Whereas the boys are supposed to do outside tasks i.e. working to earn money, paying bills, taking kids to and from school, taking care of vehicles and doing grocery for the family. I also learned from Sensory and DiAngelo textbook is that we tend to hold on to these worldviews and resistance in breaking these rules is common.
I found this normative narrative in Debra’s story where she wrote, “We weren’t really tied to finding husbands, getting married and having children. At least my parents were more progressive than that. But we didn’t talk back, we did as we were told. We helped with the cooking and cleaning, while the boys did outside work. I once wanted to apply for a job as a bush firefighter for the summer. My brother John put an end to that. Instead, my first summer job in university was as a receptionist in an accountant’ s office.”
The 2nd story I found was of Yvette and she explained girlish qualities as told by her mom, “Make sure you don’t speak much to him. Make sure you do not ask too many questions to him. Make sure you laugh less and listen more. In short, she meant please do not be too LOUD! In addition, the final statement she made left me speechless! She said, “Please behave like a girl!” and the next question I blurted out was, “How does a girl behave?” Prompt came to her reply, I should be shy, somber, quiet, soft spoken, gentle etc. etc.”
If I conclude that all our stories have that same normative narrative about girls being obedient, shy, caring, gentle, soft spoken etc. whereas boys are the main source of income of the family, doing outside tasks etc., will not be wrong. We have been socialized into a limited view which does not let us think broadly. This social construct is nothing but just a mindset towards this gender division which operates in nearly every society. We, ourselves, start to create these roles for kids and then as a whole, it becomes social and ultimately for many become a rule of thumb that girls should behave like girls and boys should be acting like boys. I would also say that, as compared to the past, the stereotypical gender roles are meshing up with each other in the current century and it is also being better accepted in today’s society. There is a change in our upbringings which is allowing us to feel that our actions are acceptable.
II) Creating counter-stories: Disrupting normative narratives
After reading stories of my classmates, I have not only found pretty good examples of normative narratives about gender but also stories that disrupt these normative narratives. I have observed that many of us agree with the gender roles and we don’t want to break those so-called rules constructed by our own society. But on the other hand, many of us want to challenge these gender tags. They want to show the world that their gender is not specific to only one domain, they can do anything if given a chance or opportunity.
I saw a disruptive normative narrative in Brooke’s story “Let’s change the Gender Rules”. I am quoting few of her sentences here:
“When people look at me they probably see a twenty-year-old, female. However, I may not always look like what the ideal woman should look like. Growing up on a farm, I have always been someone who is never afraid to get her hands dirty. I can clearly remember a time when all my friends saw me not following these “gender rules” and they were absolutely appalled.”
“He saw us all standing there watching and motioned for me to come over and help him pull the calf the rest of the way. I slowly walked over to my Dad to make sure that I would not startle the cow. He then helped me grab and pull the calf the rest of the way out.”
“One of the girls said, “That’s gross, are you half boy or something?” Another girl then replied and said, “Yeah, that something boys only do.”
Brooke had challenged the norms of society to show that girls can do anything, just like my story where I said that I wanted to go on mountaineering to remove that expression of society which tells us that girls can’t do climbing or mountaineering. I would say that although we should not let our gender impede us instead we should give values to the roles within a relationship. It should rather matter that how well we are performing our role than what role we are in. In today’s world, we have more choices. People can personalize these choices with respect to their needs and we, as a society, should accept these personal choices.