A “gender role” is defined as an “overt public presentation of one’s gender. Gender roles are the most conspicuous and easily accessible example not only of how gender has traditional existed in a male/female dichotomy but how it is toxic to the individual regardless of gender. While women suffer most notably from gender roles in the workplace, the household, and in society, the gender norms also thrust upon men unfortunate circumstances and injustice.
Gender norms reinforce notions of women being nurturing, weak, and emotional especially in comparison to their male counterparts. Although these attributes are not inherently negative, the implications that they have and that shape women’s lives are. For example, it’s not inherently bad to be nurturing, many would deem this to be a positive personality trait, but when the idea of women as nurturers results in things like women being forced to choose between being a mother and having a career or needing to cater to their “less capable” husbands with unpaid household labor, it becomes clear that gender norms are not harmless, imagined things°. On the contrary, they are very real in society and cause genuine problems for women.
However, men suffer the consequences of society’s gender norms as well. They reinforce the idea that men are callous, tough, and primitive. Men are raised from birth with celebrations of their toughness and shamed for displays of emotion, their bad behavior is dismissed as simply “boys being boys.” This societal conditioning towards the masculine ideal glorified for and by men can have drastic negative consequences, though°. For example, men are often unable to express their emotions in healthy ways, and their mental health and interpersonal relationships suffer as a result of this.
People who are androgynous whether it is a deliberate choice or a result of circumstance frequently suffer as a result of their divergence from the norms whether their androgyny is behavioral or physical. Masculine women and feminine men and people who self-identify as being agendered are often deemed by society to be “marked” for not adhering to the gender dichotomy and as a result experience insecurity and ostracization.
Gender norms are in many ways a game no one can win, and modern feminism has not let this go unnoticed. Feminist work to dispels the myth that toxic masculinity is normal and acceptable and rejects the notion that women and men have naturally and generalizable differences and aptitude and ability. Examples of social justice initiatives to fight gender norms include things that calling for an end to different toy aisles and encouraging people to raise boys and girls in the same manner. It includes things like fighting for women to be able to have children without jeopardizing their careers and acknowledging the depth and breadth of emotions experienced by men and encouraging them to accept and express them.
Efforts to fight toxic masculinity and hyper-femininity has served to blur the behavioral dichotomy of gender. Taking the good out of what is believed to be “feminine" and the good from that which we ascribe as “masculine” to foster behavior and social androgyny that is inclusive of everyone and does not leave someone disadvantaged because of their gender. This has been a staple of modern feminism that has been relatively successful in getting people to question the “realness” and validity of gender as a concept and its consequences for society.
Another aspect of this has been looking at the material and addressing unnecessarily gendered products like razors, pens, and hair care products and the subsequent “pink tax” which refers not to a literal tax but to the tendency of companies to price products made for women higher than those sold to men. This highlights the sameness of men and women and rejects the dichotomy of gender as it exists in consumerism. Some businesses have capitalized on people’s new found awareness of unnecessary gendering like the dollar shave club and androgynous clothing lines which sell the same products (at the same price) to men and women.