Ever since the dawn of civilization, perception of gender has been an issue of utmost importance in nearly every aspect of life, from day-to-day activities and decisions made by individuals to the politics of entire nations. It plays a subtle yet inescapable role in our interactions with others, and colors many peoples’ most basic assumptions about the world and society.
But is this the way it should be? Since the end of the 19th century, when women started fighting for suffrage and for their equal rights, the traditional patriarchal model of society started to lose its edge. Until brave women began to challenge the cultural conception of their place in society, it was more or less universally assumed, in Western societies at least, that men were the dominant members of the household and of broader society in general.
It took a long time, a lot of argument and dissent, and even some bloodshed to grant women suffrage in America, Britain, and elsewhere. Now, it seems obvious to us now that women should have full and equal rights, especially for voting purposes. But the fact that this has been such a huge issue for such a long time raises a very important question for us as human beings: Why is it that a person’s sex has always been such an important way of judging their place in society? Moreover, why is it that a person’s behavior, or at least the way we expect them to behave, is so strongly judged by their gender?
To me, this is a question that demands a new look at the very core of our ideas of sexuality. Now, I realize that this is a huge question, and one that’s far too large for me to cover in one short little blog post. So, seeing as this is a Seeking the Spiritual article, I’m going to choose to focus on the spiritual and emotional aspect of gender and sexuality.
Throughout my teenage years (which I’m just getting to the end of), I tried to understand what it means to be male, or from the perspective of a woman, what it means to be female. In today’s society, there seem to be very stringent definitions of masculinity and femininity. Adolescent girls are told daily by fashion magazines, movies, and all kinds of other media that there is an ever-rising standard of beauty that they need to conform to if they want to be appealing to men. I know some people who struggle with this quite a bit. To add to this, men are told by these same influences that they should play sports, lift weights, and “go out with the guys” to really fit into society and its norms.
Okay, I have to admit at this point that I’m writing this from the undoubtably biased perspective of a young college student. I want to say, up front, that most of my observations apply to people around my age.
These powerful cultural influences create a stark dichotomy between young men and women, and between their actions and conduct. While there are some prominent people and groups that fight against these biases, the majority of the population, at least the population that are around my age, find it comes more easily and naturally to simply listen to what we’ve been told to be like. This helps to explain why so many gay, lesbian, or bisexual youth can have so much difficulty coming out: They’re told that there’s a certain way they should look and behave, and they’re told that if they don’t, they’re going to suffer emotionally and socially, perhaps even physically, in the future.
So maybe it’s time for a rethinking of the way we view gender and sexuality. Instead of expecting young men and women to conform to any exact pattern of “suitable behavior,” society, particularly mass media such as fashion magazines and movies, should work to broaden the public’s perspectives of a normal young adult. We’ve come a long way in the last 100 or so years in opening up new doors for successive generations in society to feel more comfortable being who they are. But, as with so many other things, there’s still a long way to go.
PS – I apologize for posting this somewhat later than ‘Seeking the Spiritual’ posts usually come. I hope you enjoy, and any and all feedback is appreciated! Thanks! -Connor