Dear sexist men, your privileged gender is not an outcome of your “biological” qualities, but of social conditioning

Published: July 24, 2017
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The social construction of gender merely internalises the belief that men and women are essentially different due to biology and therefore gender imbalance in the society is merely a ‘natural’ phenomenon. PHOTO: TUMBLR

Recently, I wrote an article based on two recent videos which went viral. The main idea behind the article was to showcase two outstanding individuals who challenged gender stereotypes instead of conforming to society’s prescribed gender roles, going on to live their individual dreams.

For me, these individuals are heroes and, in fact, trailblazers as they have challenged socially constructed stereotypes. These stereotypes play a large role in determining what is expected of men and women from society. By spelling out these expectations and enforcing them through upbringing and cultural norms, men and women are often regimented into different roles and hence, destinies. These different roles also largely account for the gender imbalance, giving men an advantage and power that cannot be attributed to biological traits alone.

The reaction to the article on social media, particularly Facebook, was interesting. Considering the great schism between the views when it comes to gender equality and a woman’s rightful place in society, I was expecting a lot of heterogeneity in the reaction. The central premise that socially-constructed gender roles hamper women resonated with many women – understandably, as they experience limitations because of such roles. Men predictably gave a diverse reaction. Some agreed, while others disagreed. Those who disagreed used either religion or biology to justify themselves.

The reactions which drew upon biology tried to explain the existing gender role differences through biological differences. One comment touted as to how men are more aggressive and have greater upper body strength and this idea of not recognising the difference can be a dangerous one. Likewise, it was also argued that a woman’s brain is more emotional and therefore more expressive, whereas a man is said to have a more ‘logical’ brain. One commentator further extended this logic and argued that existing gender roles are merely an outcome of our biology and society’s assessment of what ‘works’.

Photo: Screenshot

Photo: Screenshot

Most of these comments were from men who think that their superior position in life is not because of the way society prioritises men over women but because men are somehow born that way. They think that gender roles are based on biology and our genitals have ultimately determined the power imbalance and the kind of roles we play in our lives.

I would like to clarify a few things here. First of all, this attitude reeks of crude sexism which is trying to find refuge in biology. Many privileged men think their privileged position in life is not because of a cultural set up they were born into, but because of their ‘in born’ qualities.

Second, I am not throwing biology out as there is no doubt that men and women are not identical. On average, both the genders are different. No one is contesting the differences. However, such differences are merely average and do not map well to individual level and therefore should not become the basis for adopting across the board discriminatory rules.

Third, not all of these differences are merely an outcome of biology. In reality, nature and nurture both combine together to shape us. Here, I would like to further point out that no two men are identical or for that matter equal in every respect of the way. Irrespective of our gender, we are all unique in some way or the other.

However the kind of roles we are expected to play in our lives are not dependent on our ‘uniqueness’, but largely what, on average, society has already determined for us. Men are expected to be breadwinners, aggressive and dominant. Women, in contrast, are expected to be submissive and docile. These roles are largely an outcome of social conditioning, not our biology. The social construction of gender merely internalises the belief that men and women are essentially different due to biology and therefore gender imbalance in society is merely a ‘natural’ phenomenon.

Yes, obviously there are biological differences, but both genders face different constraints and incentives based largely on social set ups and conditioning. Biological differences may explain why men, on average, may be potentially better in some professions and women better in others, but social constraints and expectations determine whether women will even be allowed to do a particular job.

In our part of society, a working and independent woman is largely frowned upon, a fact which deters many women to even want to pursue a profession, particularly professions considered appropriate for men.

If biology was the sole determinant, there should not have been so many differences in gender parity across various societies as the biological differences in men and women are the same everywhere. For example, in advanced societies, gender expectations and roles are not as radically different as they are in our society, and consequently there you see women in literally every field of life. Yes, in some jobs women are better than men and in some men are better, but nevertheless, women get a fair chance and they have not only capitalised on it but shown that they can be equal and even excel men.

Over the last 30 years, the female to male ratio of college students has changed dramatically and now more females have begun to enrol in colleges. This ratio has changed because of the evolution of the notion that women do not solely need to be housewives. Women have also consistently outperformed men in academics. Even the traditional gap in science subjects is gradually decreasing. Besides academics, due to more balanced gender roles and expectations, the schism between the genders has decreased as we even see some women embracing “masculine” traits.

We should be striving for a society where both men and women should be allowed to develop according to their natural potential. The existing social conditioning by regimenting men and women into starkly different roles is hampering that. Instead of crudely reducing everything to biology and trying to normalise power imbalances, we need to take a more nuanced and thoughtful approach.

raza.habib

Raza Habib Raja

The author is a recent Cornell graduate and currently pursuing his PhD in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. He has also worked for a leading development finance institution in Pakistan. He is a freelance journalist whose works have been published at Huffington Post, Dawn (Pakistan), Express Tribune (Pakistan) and Pak Tea House. He tweets @razaraja (twitter.com/razaraja?lang=en)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.