Breaking the NormsWhen each of us was conceived, we did not have anything influencing our perception of the world. While we were growing up and still do this day, our surroundings influenced the way we think and the how we behave in our daily lives. We get ideas about gender roles from our parents, our teachers, television, books and even subconsciously. As part of a project to break the norms of society and push past peoples thresholds, I needed to figure out what made people feel uncomfortable. I thought for a moment and decided to tackle homophobia. I choose this topic because very few men are comfortable talking about the subject of gay men. It is my objective to better understand why men think the way we do. In order to get started I needed to brainstorm.
After a little bit of deliberation, Juan and some other male classmates decided to hold hands and walk through the student union. Picture four grown men holding each others hands, walking through the middle of campus. As you can imagine, we received a lot of looks. We walked around for about five minutes as if nothing was going on. People seemed to be staring at us for a moment saying to themselves “what are they doing?” This is something that never happens in society. You hardly ever see men holding hands, much less four grown men swinging each others arms. Honestly, my first thought was that we would look so gay if we did this. Others in the group were skeptical at first to do this as well. When we walked into class, the students seem to cringe when they saw us take our seats.
After that day I decided to take my project one step farther and push past everyone’s threshold. In order to break the norms of society and truly make people uncomfortable, I decided to wear the color pink for the entire day of school. I went to the local Savers and purchased several items that were very feminine. I bought a pair of pink and yellow striped bellbottoms and a tight pink collared shirt. I wore the clothes to school in the hopes to witness the students reactions to me wearing clothes completely out of the ordinary. After attending two classes that day, I decided to talk to some friends of mine. They all told me that I looked like a “fag.” I finally had broke the norms of society and at the same time caught my friends stereotyping. Other people said I looked ridiculous and others called me a “sissy.” After hearing the comments, I felt it was time to dive into this question more deeply and find why pink is not normal for men.
When my friend told me I looked like a sissy, I thought more about it. The terms “sissy” is sometimes used when referring to a boy who is feminine. According to our notes, femininity and masculinity are tightly bound to our gender roles. Men are expected to be strong, rough, and have stamina. We are not supposed to wear tight fitting bellbottoms and we should avoid colors like pink and purple. These are feminine colors. The man in the family is usually the person who should provide money and build a career. On the other hand, women traditionally are supposed to be tender and loving mothers and wives, to wear skirts and to walk on high heels. They should not have careers, but should take care of the kids and the house. It seems that these perceptions have been existing forever, and one reason is because from early childhood we are taught by our parents that pink is for girls, and blue is for boys.
Even before the children are born, parents begin choosing clothing and decorations by color based on the sex of the baby. The stereotype of pink, pastels, yellow and white for girls and bright or dark colors like green, blue and red for boys has long been a part of culture. How many times have you heard kids argue over toys because girls don’t want that icky boy color or the boys don’t want the gross girl color? This issue of color may go deeper than toys.
Television programs further fuel this stereotype, again by showing children how they are “supposed” to act. For starters, there are more men than women in children’s programs and the women are portrayed most often in family roles. In general, males on TV are shown as knowledgeable, independent and aggressive. Females usually are shown as romantic, submissive, emotional and timid. In addition, commercials geared toward boys tend to be fast paced and action filled; for girls, quiet and feminine with soft background music. Even movies are becoming sensitive to this issue, making toady’s generation feel this concept is normal. As adults, we are prone to pass our perceptions to anyone who will watch.
On a past 60 minutes episode dedicated entirely to “tomboys” and “sissies”, they tackled the question facing how children grow up. In it, light was shed on how they grew up and the anxiety their parents faced. A girl at an age of three was shown, dressed with a skirt and playing with dolls. The next shot was at an age of four, revealing dramatic changes in her attitude towards dolls. Now she preferred jeans rather than pink dresses. When questioned, she replied “pink sucks” and “I’m your little boy, mommy.” The parents were scared because they were not pleased with the possibility of raising a gay. This underlines an important tendency in our society. Most of the people are still uncomfortable with gays. They tend to associate gays only the negative aspects like AIDS. Gays are not allowed to serve in the army and they do not occupy high political positions. That’s why, it is not surprising that parents are concerned with the problem. They are trying to protect their kids from society, a large portion of which does not tolerate “deviation” from the established norms of behavior.
The majority of parents in our society have brought their children up believing that a relationship consists of man and a women, and that there is not deviation from this norm. When I asked a number of heterosexual men, ranging from the ages of 18 to 24, why they feel homosexuality is wrong, they came up with basically the same answer. In one way or another they all said, “That it is just wrong, and they take it in the rear!” Some of the men I asked even said they felt “homosexuality is like a disease that you might rub off on you if you get too close.” Many of these men felt like their families would disown them. My feeling is that if you are not gay then you have no reason to be afraid of someone who is. I feel that if you have no doubt in your sexuality then you wouldn’t feel threatened by someone who is.
I don’t feel that men are truly independent or confident enough to let go and feel as comfortable as females do. I feel that the social construction of our society needs to be modified. Men need to be taught that it is okay to show emotion and that whatever their sexuality is, it doesn’t matter. To be more masculine we should learn to cope with our sexuality, and not be afraid. Masculinity does not mean without feeling, it means being strong and coming to terms with who you are. Wearing a pink shirt or holding hands with someone doesn’t mean anything then just that. With so many influences changing our perception of the world, its hard to make the right choices. You should not be so quick to judge someone, and in this case, why does it matter?