Fighting the Norm

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(Photo by Preston Zubal)

(Photo by Preston Zubal)
(Photo by Preston Zubal)

 
Melyssa Parry never felt her ambitions would have to be put on hold because of her gender. Now a senior, Parry returned to the U for a second degree in nursing.
“It’s not like it was before,” she said. “It is more accepted for women to get their education.”
Parry said there’s a social norm for women to go into nursing, her chosen career, but “that doesn’t mean a man couldn’t do that same job.”
Gender roles, or what a society deems “appropriate” behavior for each sex, rule over Parry’s life. But she doesn’t plan to give in to them, especially when it comes to raising children.
“I feel like there is a bit of a pressure to settle down and have a family,” she said. “But not without having an education first to raise them right.”
Other norms include expecting men to be overly masculine or casting women as sensitive. However, the expectations are not static, and each person does not fit perfectly into one gender stereotype. But the roles do carry weight in society.
 
Cultural Norms
Jongkor Mayol, a junior in political science, said he sees cultural differences between Sudan, his native country, and the United States in terms of gender roles.
“When living in Sudan, women stay home and tend to the children. It is not accepted if they also had a job,” he said. “In coming to America, I had to learn to become accustomed to women in the workplace or in school.”
With a pregnant wife, Mayol said the future will be different for his kids.
“If my wife wants to get a job after she has the baby, it is ok for me,” he said. “The way I see it, if my wife is also bringing in an income, that will make our family more happy and have more money to spend.”
As far as the upbringing of his children, Mayol hopes to keep an open mind.
“The world is changing, and we must change with it,” Mayol said. “For example, if my daughter wants to study science or engineering, I would support her. It doesn’t matter to me if it is a boy or girl job, I only want a better life for them where they are financially stable and happy.”
 
Gendered Careers
Becca West, a senior in English and French, said she doesn’t understand why more women don’t follow their passion if it lies in science or math.
“If I were interested in engineering, I would without any hesitation take those classes,” she said. “It does not matter to me if it is a class of all boys or girls, it would not hold me back. It just so happens that my interests fall in the humanities instead.”
When West hears phrases to describe men as tough and headstrong and women as soft and pretty, she said she is disgusted.
“I hate those types of stereotypes. I can be girly and I can be a tomboy, why shouldn’t I be able to act like both?” she asked. “I think it’s stupid to try and only be either a boy or girl … my characteristics are not polar opposites.”
 
Safety Concerns
Debra Daniels, director of the Women’s Resource Center, said safety is often brought up in relation to gender, with concerns for all sexes, including abuse and hate crimes. She hopes when students become more informed, they will also become more safe.
“We have learned that incidents typically arise out of ignorance that result in harmful behaviors,” Daniels said.
She said U officials work to make the campus safe for everyone. West isn’t convinced.
“I don’t think I should feel bad about what I wear and the attention it gets,” she said. “If I walk out naked, no one has the right to act on what I am doing. However, I’m still conscious of where I am and who I am with.”
 
Campus Resources
The Women’s Resource Center offers counseling and scholarships, as well as a safe space for all students.
“We do not discriminate based on gender and are always open to helping U students,” Daniels said. “Though we are called the Women’s Center, we will never turn away men.”
The Women’s Resource Center has scholarships for single parents, both mothers and fathers, so as not to discriminate based on gender.
The gender studies department on campus also caters to all sexes. Kim Hackford-Peer, associate director of the department, hopes to include all students in studying the discipline.
“The focus of gender studies is to educate and create an equal playing field for men and women,” she said.
 
Raising Children
Hackford-Peer said one of the places she feels gender roles the most is in raising her two sons.
“I don’t want them to feel as if they should act a certain way or behave in some manner if that is not what they want,” she said. “I dislike the notion that if my son falls and scrapes his knee he would not be able to cry simply because he is a boy.”
Hackford-Peer said gender equality is attainable, but not until stereotypical phrases are eliminated and the intersections with class structure, race and gender are clearly identified.
“‘You hit like a girl’ and other demeaning phrases like that bring down girls and make them seem weak,” she said. “That obviously is not the case.”
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