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It was once believed that one’s gender determined what was expected, allowed and valued in us. To be a boy or a girl meant behaving in a certain way and possessing certain qualities. But society today is in transition, and people have now begun to question these age-old assumptions. Such a paradigm shift in gender ideology and family structures can seem daunting at first – it takes us away from what is predictable and maybe even comfortable. It can also give rise to conflicts in roles and expectations. But at the same time, this is a change that needs to be accepted and embraced, and it requires each of us to think about gender ideology in the microcosm of our own day to day life.
Don’t stereotype: We all have a tendency to stereotype in order to simplify our social world and make it seem more predictable. But these stereotypes often lead to errors of judgement. Treat people as individuals rather than as stereotypes.
Be open to new ideas: Stereotypes narrow our perceptions and prevent us from genuinely thinking about new ideas. Keep an open mind when thinking about gender roles and don’t be afraid of thinking out of the box.
Respect individuality: We ourselves are often the most critical of our peers who don’t ‘fit in’ with our idea of what it is to be normal. Identify your own pre-conceived notions and respect the individual expression of your peers. Try to understand their perspective and learn to empathise.
Question unsaid conventions: Gender roles aren’t determined biologically; we learn them from our family, the media and the community at large. Think critically about unsaid social norms and rules; questions your beliefs, and those of others around you.
Do your part in the family: The family is often the setting where gender roles and expectations are most clearly defined. Rather than perpetuating that cycle, it’s important for each of us to pitch in in whatever ways possible to help out our family members.
The author is director, mental health and behavioural sciences, Fortis Healthcare