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Gender Norms

Updated: Feb 1

What are Gender Norms?

Gender norms are social roles that define was is considered acceptable for a person based on their biological or perceived sex. (Image Source: PRISM FL, Inc / Nikhil Kanda)

A gender norm, also known as a sex role, is a social role encompassing a range of behaviors and attitudes that are generally considered acceptable, appropriate, or desirable for a person based on that person's biological or perceived sex.

These expectations rely on assumptions of someone’s perceived identity and are often built on centuries of discrimination.

Examples of Common Gender Norms

It is important to note that many of these common gender norms are particular to Western culture and are not universal.

When someone judges that you are masculine, a male, or “the man in the relationship,” they may say or assume that:

  • You are the “breadwinner” or moneymaker of a relationship

  • You only wear “masculine” clothing (shorts, pants, etc.)

  • You are strong-willed

  • You are expected to be dominant in your relationship

  • You are expected not to express emotions

When someone judges that you are feminine, a female, or “the girl in the relationship,” they may say or assume that:

  • You stay at home cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the kids

  • You are submissive and fully obedient to your spouse

  • You are promiscuous or deserving of mistreatment if you let someone advance on you too quickly

  • You only wear “feminine” clothing (dresses, skirts, etc.)

  • You are weak and unable to stand up for yourself

How They're Harmful

All of these prejudiced assumptions create countless problems worldwide.

In many countries, women who even try to express their right to vote are threatened. Under Shi’a Family Law, women are required to ask for permission to leave the home unless it is an emergency. In western Kenya, pregnant women are prohibited by cultural norms to be seen in public. If they do so they are often shunned and attacked.

In many places in the world, men are deemed greater and stronger than women. To this day, only men can hold The Chrysanthemum Throne in Japan. A majority of peerages can only be held or inherited by men in the United Kingdom. In many countries, such as the United States and South Korea, men are required to serve in the military or sign up for the draft, while women do not.

The viewpoint that men are emotionally stronger or distant also inhibits men from expressing emotion for fear of seeming "weak." According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, men are 3.56 times more likely to commit suicide than women, which could be explained by the societal pressures preventing men from talking about their feelings.

Combating Gender Norms

We often forget that each person is raised differently.

Everyone is exposed to a unique range of beliefs. This may be a combination of religious ideologies, taught prejudices, and cultural opinions. In many instances, these beliefs include assumptions or expectations for what it means to be a man or a woman.

You cannot blame an individual for a prejudice they grew up with. However, you can take the chance to educate a prejudiced person so they can try to understand the topic.

It is important to keep in mind that our experiences and relationships to gender are each unique. A good place to start is within. Take note of the unchecked expectations you might have surrounding sex or gender. Tying these identities to assumptions and attributes only perpetuates the problem.



Levesque R.J.R. (2011) Sex Roles and Gender Roles. In: Levesque R.J.R. (eds) Encyclopedia of Adolescence. Springer, New York, NY.

Aspinall, G. (2021, March 8). Here Are The Countries Where It’s Still Really Difficult For Women To Vote. Grazia.


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