Gendered assumptions in daily life

// 19 May 2012

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This is a guest post by Hennie Weiss & Elin Weiss

Gendered assumptions

Many women, and men, encounter daily interactions in which gender role stereotypes and “typical” gender behaviours are manifested. Sometimes we behave in gender stereotypical ways without even reflecting over it. Often these behaviours are simply habits. If a person however strays from gendered expectations there are sometimes consequences. Often other people acknowledge that a person is straying and attempt to correct this “error” by saying something or by acting in a way that makes it clear that you are straying too far from what is comfortably considered feminine or masculine. Other times, non-stereotypical gender behaviour is punished with violence or harassment.

A person does not have to stray very far from gender stereotypical expectations in order to be corrected by others. We want to share with you some of our own experiences in which we felt that our behaviour was corrected or given attention by a third party, sometimes perhaps even unconsciously.

Gender role assumptions are often based on stereotypical notions of how men and women should act, what is “proper” for one’s gender, and what one is capable of or good at. One example of this was experienced by one of the authors. “On two different occasions, while mowing the front lawn, I have had men come up to me (one who was walking by with his dog, the other was driving and then stopped his car in front of my house) to give me advice on how to properly mow a lawn. For example, these men suggested that I wear other more suitable shoes and the second one suggested I wear goggles to protect my eyes from rocks that could be propelled by the blade underneath the lawn mower. There are no rocks in my front yard and my tennis shoes were fine to wear. I felt that these men wanted to give me advice solely because I was a female performing “typically masculine duties”. Their advice made me feel infantilised, especially as their paternal advice was of no use to me”.

A second example of gender stereotypes of women as less knowledgeable in regards to “typical masculine duties” was experienced by one of the authors. “When calling the landlord to discuss maintenance of my rental apartment and providing the landlord with the measurements I took of a window, he refused to acknowledge me and instead called my partner, assuming that he would be the more competent and reliable source. My partner gave him the exact same measurements, without actually measuring the window himself since I had already done so. After talking to my partner the landlord was pleased with the results. I was furious that my competence was not taken seriously and that my partner was assumed more knowledgeable”.

The above mentioned examples took place in or around our homes. When out in public similar gendered assumptions also take place. Often gender stereotypical assumptions imply, that when a woman is out having dinner with a man, the man should be paying for the meal. “Often times when my partner and I are eating out they put the bill in front of him rather than me, as if he is always the one who (should) pay. When we order food to go, and I hand over my credit card, it is common for the staff to hand my card back to my partner rather than me, implying that he is in charge of my finances and the money exchanged. I make my own money and I can certainly pay for my partner and myself”.

Other examples again illustrate this notion: “I was out having dinner with a male friend of mine. I ordered a beer, while he ordered a cocktail. The same server who took our orders brought us the drinks and handed me the cocktail and him the beer. I felt that the underlying assumption was that men drink beer, not cocktails, and women drink cocktails and certainly not beer”. Another example happened just a few weeks ago. “Recently, I had dinner with a male friend. When it was time to pay I put my credit card down. When the server returned she put the card and the receipt in front of my friend, assuming that he was the one paying”.

Another common stereotype of women is that they should be calm, quiet, happy and non-aggressive. They should always walk around with smiles on their faces, even when they have had a crappy day and do not feel like smiling. “It has happened a handful of times, when I am out walking, that random men on the street have felt like they have the right to tell me to “smile”. This angers me because I do not know these people and they are taking their gendered assumptions of women as always happy and smiley out on me. Leave me alone and I would be much happier”.

These common and sometimes daily interactions display examples of larger societal expectations placed on women and men. In the above mentioned examples, however, we have focused on our own experiences as heterosexual cis women. We are equally interested in hearing about heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, queer and trans* (or any other way you identify yourself) experiences in which you have felt corrected because you might not neatly fit into, or act according to stereotypical gender behavior.

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Hennie Weiss has recently earned her Master’s degree in Sociology. Elin Weiss has a Master’s degree in Women’s Studies. Their interests include feminism, gender, the sexualisation of women and the portrayal of women in media.

The image Gendered assumptions was made by Helen and is based on the copyright-free image Aiga_toilets downloaded from Wikimedia Commons. If you re-use this image elsewhere, please include a link back to the URI of this post (/blog/2012/05/gendered_assump).

Comments From You

Adventures and Japes // Posted 19 May 2012 at 4:56 pm

In Denmark, if you are a foreign woman, the banks feel no compunction about running everything about your finances by your husband. They treat your personal account like a joint account.

I know women in a total panic because they are starting divorce proceedings and are afraid that the bank will hand their escape savings over to their ex. They are not “supposed” to do it but they do it anyway.

Shadow // Posted 19 May 2012 at 8:09 pm

‘Gendered assumptions’ are core to the Male Supremacist System whereby all males are supposedly innately superior to females. This is why women are supposedly incapable of undertaking certain roles or work which are labelled ‘male traits’ but are in fact merely certain traits/abilities which Male Supremacist System accords to males but not to females.

One classic example is the widespread belief that males are overwhelmingly sports orientated whereas females are not. Any boy who expresses no interest in sport is commonly deemed to be ‘effeminate’ because he is not adhering to the male sex role. Likewise the spurious claim that females have supposedly different brains to males is increasingly accepted as truth but if one reads Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine one will discover human brains are not ‘pink or blue’ but that in fact vary according to the person’s intelligence and the person’s social experiences.

The reason why ‘gendered assumptions/gender stereotypes’ persist is because Male Supremacy and men have to justify their spurious claim that default human is male and females are always seen/viewed as being in relation to default male. Male is the standard and females can never, ever measure up to the mythical male standard. According females negative assumptions concerning their supposed ‘lack of capabilities’ ensures Male Supremacy reigns supreme and men continue to retain their pseudo right to dominate and tell women how they should live their lives.

Radical feminists believe gender must be eliminated because women are not identical and neither are men – claiming ‘only males can undertake certain physical work because it is too intricate for those inferior females’ is not only misogynistic it also perpetuates the lie males are default humans and superior to females. Reality check: not all men are physically stronger than women because research consistently shows women and men are very similar but that with the male group there are more differences than between women and men. But male supremacy doesn’t want to hear this so instead we have gender stereotypes and gendered assumptions because women mustn’t challenge Male Supremacy and male domination over women must we? See The Psychology of Gender: Advances Through Meta Analysis by Janet Shibley Hyde because this book debunks common misogynistic claims concerning women’s supposed lack of skills/abilities compared to supposed ‘default male!’

Iris // Posted 19 May 2012 at 8:12 pm

Thank you! It’s so great to remind people that gender stereotyping is more common than we think… It’s not only “women should be in the kitchen”, but also “women should be patient and happy all the time”

Same for men, I find it so offensive that people think men are unable to care for babies or to have a mature relationship or conversation! They’re expected to be wild funny frat boy stereotypes for life or what?

I always die a little but inside when I see women politicians, boxers, scientists on tv and the first comment from whoever is watching next to me is “oh god, she’s such an ugly, masculine bitch” or something of that kind. ‘Cause women’s only purpose in life is to be nice and delicate, kindda dumb and most importantly always pretty!

UGH!

Nice piece :)

Amber // Posted 20 May 2012 at 3:15 pm

“”On two different occasions, while mowing the

front lawn, I have had men come up to me (one who was walking by with

his dog, the other was driving and then stopped his car in front of my

house) to give me advice on how to properly mow a lawn. For example,

these men suggested that I wear other more suitable shoes and the

second one suggested I wear goggles to protect my eyes from rocks that

could be propelled by the blade underneath the lawn mower. ”

That’s just common sense safety, what if someone had thrown rocks in your lawn. Or you accidentally, got one of your sneakers c aught under the mower.

Robyn // Posted 21 May 2012 at 12:09 pm

Was on a car journey recently with 2 blokes. They obviously knew the way but got lost. Would they listen to my suggestion of looking at the map?

Who gets to taste the wine? Who gets the bill? My son has absolutely no interest in sports – he can make his own choice and I hope he does not get mocked for it as he gets older. It is hard for people who do not conform to a gender stereotype and both genders can be equally harsh as gender stereotyping is engrained in both genders.

Look what happens if a bloke wants to start taking care of himself, shaves his legs or does his eyebrows. Real men don’t do that is a comment made by some females.

IronFly // Posted 21 May 2012 at 2:53 pm

I find it a bit of a vicious circle: people make gendered assumptions about you and your social group, which then serve to reinforce gender expectations even more, further putting you off.

Having said that, the more hyper aware I am of my gender, the more I take assumptions about me as gendered ones. I’ve noticed this after talking with male friends after someone makes an odd comment towards me: we analyse it together and it often seems similar comments had been made to my male friends too (gendered ones as well as general weird, snide, or negative assumptions). Stupid people are stupid to everyone!

Sometimes a gentle correction of the assumption difuses an akward situation. I met a man recently who was yapping away about his classic sports car to my male friend, then turned to me and with a saddened look on his face said “…but you wouldn’t be interested in this sort of thing would you?” I was a little stung by the assumption, because of course being female doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the beauty of a well designed machine, so I gently corrected him. Then his face lit up and he continued yapping away. He just wanted people that were equally as into cars as he was. There was no malice behind his assumption, I think. :)

But that’s not to undermine the assumptions that are clearly sexist and malicious. The frenzied bitchiness towards female politicians is disgusting. As a shy person I am already put off entering the political realm, but the coverage of female politicians puts me off completely!

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