Philosophy Corner: Gender Roles

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Temmel Opinions
Brandon Temmel is a senior majoring in Music Performance.

We live in an age of pluralism where it’s impossible to say anything without being met with cynicism. This thoroughly skeptical nature leads us to doubt everything and believe in nothing.  That is why it pains me to, in this vacuum of truth, stand for pluralism in gender roles.

The idea of gender roles is that men and women have inherently different natures—not physiologies, but natures. Like Charles Darwin observing birds in the Galapagos, society has certain theories about the distinctions between men and women. We observe men and women as representatives of the entire gender. When we see the NFL, we think that football is a masculine activity and that women aren’t interested in playing. When we see all female nurses, we think that nursing is a feminine activity and that men aren’t interested in doing it.

But we don’t stop there. Our minds take it a step further as we decide that our observations perfectly reflect reality.  No longer are men interested in football and women aren’t; all men should be interested in football and women shouldn’t.  No longer are women interested in nursing and men aren’t; women should be interested in nursing and men shouldn’t. This is how we create gender roles. We observe our experiences, and whatever we perceive becomes the reality we think exists. In doing so, we stereotype entire genders.

Today, we are generally good at understanding that even in unity there is diversity. If you meet one chess player that likes sushi, you don’t assume that all chess players like sushi. Even if most chess players like sushi, it would be wrong to assume that I like it—because I don’t and I think it’s gross. We understand that people of the same group are still individuals that can be very different than others: even within their same group. And yet the notion of gender roles claims that there is some unifying nature that encompasses half of all humanity.

Not only is this a bold claim, the consequences are harsh. To assign gender roles is to define masculinity and femininity.  To define masculinity and femininity is to say, “men do this and women do that.” If any man does not do “this,” then he is not a man.  If any woman does not do “that,” then she is not a woman.  If we had decided that chess players like sushi, suddenly I am no longer a chess player because of the desires of my stomach.  This is the fatal flaw of gender roles.

If we say that men are strong and a woman beats me at something (revealing my weakness), then I am not a man. If we say that women should raise children, then a working mother is not a woman. The consequence of gender roles is two-fold: we arbitrarily strip people of a very personal identity and we corral each gender into a box that limits their potential and often forces them to deny their own nature.

Defining gender is like trying to catch water with a net. As close as we can get will never be close enough because there is a plurality to gender. And all things considered, I think not having a definition is better than having half of one. I would rather be a man not knowing what that means than not be a man, thinking that it means everything.