Before a newborn has a chance to utter his or her first word or take a first step, gender norms are already present.
Male or female gender norms are embedded into our surroundings. They are blended in our institutions, toys, and the way mothers, fathers or prime caretakers raise children.
Perhaps even the mystery behind the differing values of commitment within the genders can be traced down to early childhood.
Gender norms embody the appropriate behaviors, rules and guidelines that are ascribed to each gender. While boys are allowed to run around like crazy maniacs, screaming at the top of their lungs, girls are taught to stay close and quiet.
Barbie is making dinner at home or is out shopping, while G.I. Joe is busy fighting the bad guys and flexing his muscles. Over the years, the makers of G.I Joe seem to keep insisting on larger and bulkier muscles and a head that keeps shrinking in size.
Boys are praised for their masculinity, and are encouraged to get involved in sports and activities that reinforce society’s positive values of machismo. Not that there is anything wrong with a male ballerina, but lets face it, it isn’t exactly a father’s dream to see his son prancing around in tights. Unless of course there is a helmet on his head and a football between his arms, in which case the tights are a sign of manhood, and in some cases, bring tears of joy to the father’s eyes.
Girls, on the other hand, are praised for their passiveness and get pats on the head for their good behavior. What better role model for girls than a doll like Barbie. She is ideal when it comes to features viewed as feminine. She’s tall, skinny and beautiful, primarily concerned with keeping house and luring Ken with her delicate features.
Realistically, it seems that a pudgy version of Barbie, in a business suit and glasses, would not have a chance at winning the popularity contest among other Barbies on Wal-Mart’s shelves. And perhaps the creation of a Barbie with bulging muscles might intimidate G.I Joe and make him question his masculinity.
Unlike boys, girls are able to venture out and play with toys that are considered masculine. While a girl playing with a Batman toy will be seen as cute, a boy wouldn’t get caught dead with a Barbie or a Cabbage Patch Kid in his hands. If he does get caught, he would probably escape the humility by pretending to be cleaning up after his sister, which might make him realize that the annoying brat he always found her to be just saved him from a world of embarrassment.
Although dolls are one of many instruments that reinforce gender norms, mothers play a much bigger role than Barbie. Many mothers encourage their sons to be independent from an early age, pushing them away and giving them more freedom to venture out. By doing so, mothers blend traits of masculinity with independence and individualization.
Boys view dependency as feminine and, therefore, it’s a negative quality. It is rare that you might see a group of boys playing house, so rare that a group of psychologists or sociologists might have to be called in to witness the phenomena.
On the contrary, femininity is not intertwined with individualization and independence, and therefore it is no surprise that women view commitment much differently than men. Hence when it comes to dating, a lot of men view commitment as a horrific disability, while women paint a picture of their wedding day.
Men have been taught to be independent since day one. Commitment was left out of the masculine criteria. So, while Barbie might have the long legs and a big bust to stop G.I Joe in his tracks, it is not enough to stop him from flexing his muscles at the other dolls on the shelf.
Tatiana Galadjev is a junior communications major.