Erving Goffman claims that a man is only completely at peace with himself when he fits an extremely exact mould of ‘what is acceptable’, whilst Mary Pipher claims that girls also suffer from experiencing a demand for impossibly high standards. In today’s society, it is increasingly the case that individualism allows for men and women to look and behave how they choose to, but arguably, those ‘sub-cultures’ are still heavily loaded with high expectations and standards with which men and women feel the need to conform (Aronson & Kimmel, 2004, p350). Whilst many may claim that they do not feel this pressure, it is there in even the most anarchic individuals of society and so in this instance, I agree with Goffman and Pipher. These ‘perfect’ images are perpetuated through the media – films, magazines, adverts etc. and cause young men and women to feel as though they are ‘failing’ for not meeting society’s standards.
In the West, gender roles have become quite ambiguous with the increase of liberal thinking (De Paulo et al. 2005, p192). However, in other cultures, gender roles take on a more traditional essence, even today. For instance, in Asian culture, gender roles are mostly defined by traditional roles in society: girls are taught how to perform household tasks from a young age, so that they can help their mothers whilst young boys are taught to “emulate their father’s role as much as possible.” (Vang, 2010, p171).Even Asian immigrant cultures in America still place a lot of value on these traditional expectations of men and women. In comparison to Goffman and Pipher’s views on gender roles, the more traditional gender roles allow for more clearly defined expectations whereas in the West, gender roles have become less clear cut which leads to more insecurity in young people concerning whether they are successfully fulfilling their correct gender roles, or not.
In western culture, a common narrative which addresses gender roles is the one seen in a succession of Disney films. Although they have now moved away from the more traditional fairy tales; for generations, little girls were presented with the image of women as either being haggard old witches or beautiful princesses. Disney perpetuated the idea of women as being either ugly or beautiful and never presented any grey area between the two. However, the majority of women, whilst attractive, cannot be described as being either ugly or beautiful and so, Disney perpetuated an unfair image of female gender roles. Also, female characters rarely play characters who hold power unless they are evil which helps to perpetuate an image of women as having a specific, ‘domestic’ role within society (Giroux, 2001, p98). Equally, their presentation of male characters is the handsome prince. Both of these presentations of gender roles create an impossibly high standard for young people to live up to, and what’s worse is that these are films which are specifically targeted at young children, meaning that they will grow up with unfair expectations of themselves.
Narratives often perpetuate gender roles more subliminally than a set of rules would. This is due to it being presented in a fun, imaginative way which engages young people and children whereas a set of rules is often perceived as being boring. In the case of Disney films, such as Cinderella, young girls are presented with the idea that if they are quiet, unintelligent, domestic, sweet-natured and beautiful (a beauty which is only revealed through a pretty dress, nicely done hair and make-up, and all magically conceived by a fairy godmother and therefore totally unrealistic), then they will marry a prince. However, the anti-message here is that if they do not fulfil this gender role, they will end up as one of ‘ugly stepsisters.’ Shockingly, this is an image which we regularly invite into our lives and show our younger generations as entertainment and as such, the narrative’s message is not only heard but is sub-consciously planted into the mind of every young girl alive.
Vang, C.T. (2010).An Educational Psychology of Methods in Multicultural Education. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.
De Paulo, C.J.N. et al. (2005). Ambiguity in the Western Mind. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.
Aronson, A. & Kimmel, M.S. (2004).Men and masculinities: a social, cultural, and historical encyclopedia, Volume 1. California: ABC-CLIO Ltd.
Giroux, H.A. (1999). The Mouse That Roared. Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.