Generally, a person is referred to as “weak” if they are unable to cope or handle a particular situation well – like if they are “easily offended” then they are “weak”, or if they lack physical prowess, then they are “wimps”.
Once upon a time before colours had genders, boys could wear pink and it was totally fine – in fact, the colour pink was favoured for boys because it was considered a relative of the colour red. The fiery hue was said to be aggressive and therefore it connotated masculinity. All genders could wear dresses and skirts, with only subtle differences to differentiate between genders.
But today, give a boy a pink shirt and you get weird looks, tell a boy to wear a skirt and it will be acknowledged as a joke, or possibly an insult. It simply does not do to have a boy like skirts or the colour pink. If you ever ask anyone who enforces these rules why, they will only be able to answer with “Because they’re boys”, or as my friend and I like to say, “Because.”
The power of conformity is not to be underestimated. The Asch Conformity Experiments showed that 75% of the participants had gone along with the other members of their group, despite their answer being obviously incorrect. There is an underlying weakness that humanity tends to have, and that is if everyone says it is so, then it must be so – tell a boy that pink is a “girl colour” and I’m sure he will grow up to believe it as truth, unless he meets another person who challenges this view.
The problem with generalisation is that it makes no distinction between “all” and “most”. Accuracy is key – a statement like “All girls prefer pastel colours” is very different from “Most girls prefer pastel colours”. The first statement is written in such a way that it purports to convey an accepted truth, biological, even, whereas the second statement sounds more like an observed fact, you are not making it sound like it is an unwritten law.
So I’m arguing semantics here, and you’re probably wondering why this even matters – so I will tell you why. There is a stereotype that goes, “Girls are easily frightened.” When a person says something like this, they are presenting an idea or observation as a truth. The listener either accepts this truth (if they agree with it), or rejects it. The danger is only there if the purported truth is accepted – once this happens, the listener will carry this accepted truth with them, and is likely to bring up this piece of information again later, to present it to a new listener. And this chain of accepted truths continues, until you eventually have a whole big group of people who believe in a vague (frightened by what, exactly?), inaccurate statement tainted by personal prejudice.
It’s very easy to pass this off as “unimportant” and assume that words are, after all, only words. So let’s take another, more controversial example : “Men don’t get raped” or “Men are never abuse victims in relationships.” While statistically (note the word), men are indeed less likely to be rape/abuse victims, that doesn’t mean they don’t get raped or abused at all – they can, and they are. What these accepted truths do is that they perpetuate this idea that it’s impossible, shameful, even, for a male to be subject to such treatment, and it makes them reluctant to report such incidents if they happen, because they fear losing the dignity that society’s perceived idea of “masculinity” has placed the onus of responsibility on them to maintain.
Accepted truths tend to culture injustice and prejudice. It’s difficult to find huge fault with the existence of quotas that, for example, make it compulsory to have at least 25% of leadership positions in corporations occupied by women when without this quota in place, they might not even have a chance because men are assumed to be naturally better leaders. While I think quotas like this are certainly not a good way to improve gender equality in the workplace (they have the unfortunate effect of patronising women and they “patch” the problem, they don’t fix the core of it), they are implemented not without reason.
Attributing specific traits or behaviours to gender is a dangerous game to play that undermines how boundless these traits really are because they exist in humanity. It’s often easy to forget just how much society’s views are tainted by age-old stereotypes and a long history of oft-repeated accepted truths until you notice that most world leaders happen to be male (in fact in countries like Malaysia, being male is a requirement for the Prime Minister post), or that the President post in school sports house elections tend to be reserved for males only.
Let us next consider the double standards that people play when it comes to gender. Note the fact that there is no social rule that deems it inappropriate for girls to wear “masculine” colours, only one that deems it so for boys to wear “feminine” ones. It is admirable for a woman to acquire “male traits”, like being tough, but for a man to show emotion is demeaning because “being emotional” is associated with being “female”. You are merely labeled a “tomboy” if you are a girl and you dress/behave in a masculine way, but if you are a boy and you dress/behave femininely, you are called a “faggot”.
We can see that the message being sent in cases like these is that it is an insult to be female. Why is it so? It is because society in all its glory of patriarchy, subconsciously categorises women as second-best, the weaker sex. This does not only affect women – simultaneously, such use of language creates a restriction for men and limits their freedom of expression and individuality – they are not allowed to show emotion, not allowed to wear skirts, ridiculed for enjoying traditionally “feminine” pursuits like sewing or cooking.
While discussing gender issues with my psychology lecturer, he brought up good examples of how affixing gender roles is harmful for all genders – for example, the belief that males in the family have the responsibility of being the breadwinners, while the females should be consigned to domestic chores like cooking the meals. What happens when you make this into a rule, is that a man will always be pressured into finding a job to support the family, while the woman would instead be pressured to stay at home and look after the children, etc.
The opinion that roles like these are fixed to ensure that women are not burdened with work alongside the exertion of maternity and labour make sense, but (bringing back the earlier statement about accepted truths), making this a recommendation and making this a rule are two very different things. Gender roles like this are indeed generalizations, thus they fail.
So where do we draw the line? Nowhere. What we need to start with is inculcating universality. People aren’t weak because they’re female, they’re weak because they’re human. People aren’t better leaders because they’re male, they’re good leaders because they are. It is not an insult to be female, neither is it an insult to be male, or any other gender for that matter. Set no boundaries and people will be free to be who they are.
KKA is obsessed with gender issues, and often tries to remind people not to perpetuate stereotypes.