by Rey Jose Marie I. Urbiztondo | November 14, 2021
Growing up, I devised a set of rules I decided to follow at all times when I was around other people to appear more masculine.
- Men do not inspect their fingernails with their fingers stretched out in front of them. Instead, they curl their fingers and look at their nails with their palms facing up;
- Men do not lift their feet and check their soles from the outer side. They check them inwards with one leg in front of the other;
- Men do not sit with their legs crossed or together. They sit with their legs open; and
- When men walk, they lead with their shoulders, not hips; and
- When men grab something, they do not raise their pinky. Instead, they grasp it with all of their fingers firmly.
In an attempt to avoid any “complications”, I tried to adhere to these rules constantly, especially around my own family — “tried” being a keyword.
However, over the years, I have come to grips with my wimpy behavior which was perceived by others to be rather “unmanly” more than that of said rules. And every now and then, I still get told on by people to adjust my poise, toughen my movements and, more often than not, act more like a man. In a lower incidence, I even come across questions regarding my sexuality which, time after time, catch me off guard. In an environment where being queer is still frowned upon by many, the younger me constantly felt that he had to fix something within himself.
Here’s the thing: I had never questioned my own sexuality. But, when people started questioning my behavior, I started doubting who I was. Before I knew it, I was at a crossroads and torn between two narratives: whether their assumptions were right all along, or if their ideas were merely influenced by generalizations.
At some point, I chanced upon TED talks on redefining masculinity. They raised the question of whether people actually had to adjust their presentation to conform to societal norms, or if such societal norms should adjust instead. For instance, when an unborn baby’s sex is to be revealed, family members would ready blue balloons if it’s a boy and pink if it’s a girl, and nobody ever questioned why such colors represented either sex. On the same note, parents would buy their sons superhero action figures and their daughters Easy-Bake Ovens, but never consider that both sexes can be interested in either. These are just some of the notions that people accept in society — the respectively ascribed characteristics of males and females and what interests they are supposed to engage in, otherwise termed as gender stereotypes.
Gender norms and stereotypes are so ingrained in our society that even children already display signs of having a basic understanding of activities and interests associated with each sex. As a consequence, issues such as sexism, gender inequality, and homophobia are given rise to over the years. However, in order to break the chain of stigma and criticism around gender-variant individuals, more people in society should have a higher regard for gender nonconformity, rather than gender norms and stereotypic attributes and social roles that just shackle sexes from genuine self-expression.
In regard to gender variance, circumscriptions on honest self-expression and exhibition of talents of gender non-conforming people also come about from the standards set by society that entails desirable behaviors and social roles for a person’s specific biological or perceived sex. Although we have made progress in broadening those circumscriptions, men have yet to paint half the canvas that women have already embraced in a much larger proportion through feminism and their ongoing mission for equality. However, I believe we cannot truly procure such a goal with misconceptions, like women being “inferior” to men, which negatively redound to effeminate men who fall short on people’s perceptions of what it means to be a man.
By acknowledging and heavily taking into account the inevitable gender variance in society, as well as toning down the generalizations regarding how sexes should behave and approach social roles, people can have an unprejudiced environment wherein women will no longer feel the need to address gender inequality and sexism, and gender non-conforming individuals will no longer be enchained from showing their true selves due to the fear of rejection and criticism brought about by people’s homophobia. In this way, diversity in gender expression can be standardized in society, upon which people who don’t quite adhere to traditional notions socially attributed to their gender won’t immediately be called out as queer, but rather, be respected by how they convey their gender to everyone.
In the end, we can either continue to live with these gender stereotypes today or start a more tolerant society for future generations many, including myself, want to live in.