Gender roles are a range of behaviors and expectations associated with the man or woman, such as the assumption that the woman will take care of the children while her husband works, or that a woman is meant to be kind and gentle, whereas their counterpart is desired to be assertive and wealthy.
There is a common trope in movies, books, and shows when there is a woman narrative, that her love interest is a popular, rich, famous, and powerful man, and she pales in comparison to his influence. It is the woman that “humbles” the man and teaches him not to flirt with every woman and shows him how to be loyal. On the other hand, the woman typically feels like she is not conventionally pretty, favored, or trendy, apparently nothing compared to his status and impact in society. This differentiating power dynamic also translates into real life and in history, women were and are pushed to marry wealthy men to maintain a comfortable lifestyle, security, and to bear many children. This ideal has only slightly evolved into modern society as the media we surround ourselves with only encourages this idea further that weaker women must surround themselves with a stronger man to protect them.
Not only does this promote hurtful standards in men that they should always be strong, intelligent, courageous, and witty, while the women fall into the box of being unnoticed, quiet, and unassuming. These gender roles are greatly influenced by the internet, family, the environment, and are seen every day all around us, no matter which country we are born in. Men should not always be expected to be “stronger”, and women should be allowed to be more powerful than their male counterparts.
Among popular movies, tv shows, and books, it is a popular trope in the romance genre to display these tropes such as: “Cinderella”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “Twilight”, “Fifty Shades of Grey”, “Divergent”, any high school teen drama or James Bond film, and many, many more. In most cases, the narrator is a woman or girl who is interested in a male of a higher status. The main character might find relatable qualities to the man, and they will fall in love, however, it is clear that there is a clear unbalance of power dynamic. Usually, in these series with a love triangle, the fans choose the man who is more powerful, athletic, and dominant.
As an example of one of many problematic characterizations of women, in the movie “Sleeping Beauty”, Aurora’s two-dimensional personality is proved only to become “whole” when she is met with her prince. This promotes the idea that a woman is not a full person until she has a husband, pushing this goal that girls should only have the goal of attempting to attract male attention for validation. A woman’s value is only placed on her ability to appeal to men, and when she is not able to woo a lover, or chooses not to, it is seen as a negative thing. One is often afraid to be a spinster or to live alone in an empty house. In the media, it is often seen as pitiful, worrisome, or in some cases scary as they are written as ‘villainesque’ and unlikeable, because if you cannot attract men, then you are not valuable to society. It is typical for our culture to expect women to crave male attention, and when women show that they are individual people who do not need a man to live life, people demonize her actions and believe her to be cruel and unloving– almost incapable to love.
When a woman displays herself as strong and capable, some men feel threatened, especially when female characters act in ways that are typically more ‘masculine’. Her character is always criticized since it does not appeal to the male gaze, she is not humble, quiet, or innocent. For example, the character Captain Marvel in “Avengers: Endgame” and “Captain Marvel”, critics complained that she was ‘cold’, ‘arrogant’, and ‘stiff’, whereas Captain Marvel share the same traits and is praised for his ‘wit’, ‘courage’, and ‘conviction’.
On the other hand, what happens when there is a very powerful woman? Many times when women are portrayed as being intelligent, cunning, witty, authoritative, and dynamic her love interest is expected to compete and outperform her in that talent. When women are strong, they need to find someone who is their “equal”, and in most cases, stronger, but when the man is characterized in the same way, he is fully capable of choosing from a wider variety of women. Many times, the man is greatly older than his partner (sometimes by a few hundred years but is masked by the face of youth in immortality), and is almost seen as a mentor or father figure to take care of and nurture the woman. While none of these qualities are bad — one would expect a lover to love and care for their partner as an equal — it is sometimes concerning that the men always need to be seen as equal or more powerful than their woman counterparts. These gender roles are rarely reversed, and when they are, people criticize the man for not living up to the impossible standards and expectations that they should be the ‘Knight in Shining Armor’.
I am not ridiculing people’s preferences, and I even believe that we should all find our own intellectual equals in both romantic partners as well as just friends, whether it be in separate socio-economic classes or other differences, but bringing to light the popular gender roles that are in our society today helps us break down ones that are hurtful. Where it is good to know your own expectations in a relationship, it is also important to acknowledge some societal roles that are placed onto people subconsciously. These ideas have been enforced for centuries and will be difficult to eliminating completely, but acknowledging the faults will help the community to change our perspective on the world that we live in.