The sexual stereotyping of men and women has a profound impact on our society. From sex stereotypes about men in relationship to stereotypes of women’s sexuality, these prejudicial attitudes affect us all.
Due to the advances made in recent years to establish equality between the sexes, society reflects fewer attitudes that support discrimination and inequality between men and women. Most of us espouse a point of view that is liberated from old sexual prejudices that once bordered on racial bigotry. However, even though we are liberated in our beliefs and attitudes, many of our actions are still influenced by sex stereotyping and misconceptions about men and women that have been passed down through the generations. In spite of their stated values, a surprising number of people today relate to each other based on a sexual stereotype.
We learn prejudicial attitudes at an early age from observing the stereotypical roles that people in our families assume. As we progress through school, these attitudes are reinforced by our classmates and peers. They are also supported by the unspoken biases of our teachers and by the arrangement of educational programs.
The media is guilty of exploiting the differences between men and women and of exaggerating sex stereotypes of men and women to sell products. Sex is treated as a commodity to be exploited for profit.
The residuals of these sexist prejudices in our lives today portray men as masterful, powerful, paternalistic and uncommunicative, and women as emotionally responsive and communicative, yet childlike, helpless and incompetent. These distortions of the sexes are divisive, and interfere with our being intimate and loving in our close relationships. The social pressure exerted by these attitudes is as damaging to couple relationships as racial prejudice is to relations between people of different ethnic backgrounds.
Each sexual stereotype confuses people’s thinking about the differences between men and women. These timeworn attitudes overstate the qualities that distinguish men and women, and place the two sexes in artificial categories.
Common Sexual Stereotypes of Men:
Men are tough and powerful.
Men are unfeeling and insensitive.
Men are logical, sensible and rational.
Men are afraid to commit in a relationship and form an attachment.
Men are primarily interested in their careers or vocations.
Men do not have a primary interest in marriage and parenthood.
Common Sexual Stereotypes of Women:
Women are helpless and childish.
Women are sensitive and intuitive.
Women are scatterbrained, unstable and irrational.
Women can easily form deep emotional attachments.
Women do not have a primary interest in their careers or vocations.
Women are primarily interested in a long term relationship and parenthood.
When we look at the way society sees men and then at how it views women, we can see that society actually pits men and women against each other.
Watch American feminist, ethicist, and psychologist Dr. Carol Gilligan describe cultural stereotypes of men and women:
Some sexual stereotypes that pit men and women against each other include:
Men are tough and powerful, not helpless and childish like women.
Women are sensitive and intuitive, not unfeeling and insensitive like men.
Men are logical, sensible and rational, not scatterbrained, unstable and irrational like women.
Women easily form deep emotional attachments, they aren’t afraid to commit in a relationship and form an attachment like men are.
Men are primarily interested in their careers or vocations; these are not secondary interests as they are with women.
Women are primarily interested in a long term relationship and parenthood; these are not secondary interests as they are with men.
How does a sexual stereotype impact sexuality?
There are stereotypes about women and men that specifically pertain to sexuality. Society views a man who does not comply with these stereotypes with suspicion. “What’s wrong with this guy? He has no balls.” A woman who does not comply with these stereotypes gets chastised. “Get a load of this slut! She’s a nymphomaniac.”
Sexual stereotypes about men and women that pertain to sexuality include:
Men are more sexual than women.
Women are not that interested in sex.
Men have more sexual experiences and fantasies than women do.
Women are not as sexually active and don’t think about sex as much as men do.
Men are more sexually aggressive and more sexually oriented than women.
Women are more passive sexually and don’t want sex as much as men do.
Men are more random and want variety more than women do.
Women are basically monogamous.
Men are impersonal in their sexual encounters; they relate to women as sex objects.
Women are not interested in a casual sexual encounter. They only want to be sexual if they are in love with the guy.
Debunking a Sex Stereotype
In truth, men and women are more alike than they are different. Both men and women have essentially the same desires in life and seek the same kinds of satisfactions with each other. Both want sex, love, affection, success, dignity and self-fulfillment. They want to be acknowledged first as unique individuals, then as men and women.
Some truths about men and women are:
Most men and women are feelingful and emotionally expressive. Most also struggle with their defenses against feeling.
Most women and men are interested in business, finance, scientific ideas, mechanical matters, politics and abstract ideas.
Most men and women are interested in domestic activities such as design, cooking, childrearing and fashion.
Most women and men find satisfaction in having a career or vocation.
Most men and women place importance on their identity as a sexual person.
Most women and men desire a sexual relationship that includes emotional and physical intimacy.
Most men and women have a strong desire for a lasting affiliation with the opposite sex.
Most women and men have a strong interest in procreation and parenthood.
Most men and women have a very strong desire to be in love with each other.
Do you have a sexual stereotype of yourself?
Sadly, men and women buy into the stereotypic views of themselves. As a result they are not only the victims of these prejudices but they are co-conspirators in perpetuating the very attitudes that are destructive to them and limit them in their lives and their relationships. Men buy into the belief that they are stronger, bigger and better while women buy into the belief that they are weaker, frailer and less. They bring these distortions into their relationship so that the man gets to be the hero and the woman gets to be saved.
Unfortunately for all parties concerned, men and women must then conduct their lives to preserve these illusions. He must be the best all of the time. He cannot falter, be fearful or insecure. She must be submissive and less. She cannot be powerful, self-sufficient or independent. Men and women must manipulate each other in order to preserve these illusions.
Men develop vanity to maintain their superiority. Thus they demand an unrealistic build up from their partners of being better than all other men and preferred at all times. Women develop a victimized approach to life in order to maintain their powerlessness. Therefore rather than assert themselves to achieve their goals, they manipulate their mates with indirect maneuvers such as weakness, helplessness and emotionality.
Men and women are betraying themselves when they adopt these defensive approaches in their relationship. The more a man relies on the build-up of vanity, the more he rejects the part of himself that is sensitive and vulnerable. As the split within him becomes greater, he becomes more and more alienated within himself. The more a woman relies on indirect manipulations to achieve her goals, the more she rejects the part of herself that is strong and powerful. As the split within her becomes greater, she becomes more and more alienated within herself.