Rigid gender roles and stereotypes

Thursday 6 August 2020

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Gender inequality creates the social conditions for violence against women to occur. There are four key expressions of gender inequality that have been found to predict or drive this violence. To prevent violence against women, we must focus our efforts on addressing these drivers. Rigid gender roles and stereotypes are one of these drivers.

What are rigid gender roles and stereotyped constructions of masculinity and feminity?

Rigid gender roles and stereotypes are fixed beliefs and assumptions that men and women are naturally suited to different tasks and responsibilities or have likes, dislikes, desires, interests and abilities that aren’t based on their individual personalities but their gender. Examples of rigid gender roles and stereotypes include:

  • assuming women will do the cleaning, cooking or administrative tasks at work or community events.
  • viewing men as the primary breadwinner, and women as the primary homekeeper / child carer.
  • thinking men are ‘naturally’ more violent or driven by uncontrollable sexual urges.

We are all gender socialised from the time we are born. Messages received from family, friends, advertising and the media influence children to take up limited and stereotyped gender roles and identities. These gender norms become internalised and established as part of the ‘natural order’ of life. For example, the belief that men should be tough and dominant often means that boys and men feel like they shouldn’t cry, show emotions or demonstrate abilities to play caring roles; and the belief that women should be nurturing, ‘lady-like’ or sexually appealing means women and girls often feel pressure to behave in certain ways to meet these expectations.

People who support rigid gender roles and stereotypes are more likely to approve and uphold attitudes that justify, excuse, minimise or trivialise violence against women.

The socio-ecological model

Looking at how rigid gender roles and stereotypes manifest within different settings where people live, learn, work, socialise and play can help you to plan your approach to addressing them. The socio-ecological model comes from the public health field and is used to help explain how violence is a product of multiple, interacting factors at the individual, organisational, systemic and societal levels.

The four gendered drivers exist at all of these levels and are the social conditions which predict, or ‘drive’, higher levels of violence against women.

Reinforcing factors interact with the gendered drivers at the individual and relationship level to increase the probability, frequency and severity of this violence.

Rigid gender roles and stereotypes take many shapes and forms

At an individual or relationship level rigid gender roles and stereotypes can look like:

At an organisational or community level, rigid gender roles and stereotypes can look like:

At an institutional or systemic level, rigid gender roles and stereotypes can look like:

At a societal level, rigid gender roles and stereotypes can look like:

What are some actions that you can take to challenge gender stereotypes?

To address stereotyped constructions of masculinity and femininity it’s important to foster positive personal identities and challenge gender stereotypes and roles. This means supporting people to critique and reject rigid gender roles, and to develop personal identities that are not constrained or limited by gender stereotypes. For example:

  • undertaking activities that promote and encourage women and girls’ participation in sport and STEM subjects,
  • using the arts to raise awareness of gender stereotypes and explore alternative forms of masculinity and femininity,
  • promoting gender equitable parenting and domestic practices,
  • promoting flexible employment conditions for working fathers,
  • implementing workplace policies that tackle biases in recruitment and training.

What you can do


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