Gender Stereotypes and the Lasting Impact for Generations

Tanya Shehab

Gender in the Arab region, functioning the way it does in today’s society, is particularly iron-fisted yet versatile. It is present in almost every aspect of existence from performance expectations to performance enforcement through laws, societal backlash, and more. In the said region, such behaviors expected or prescribed of females manifests in both public and private spheres, in political and social interactions between the sexes.

Since women are perceived to hold honor within their bodies and reputations, they try to avoid negative social consequences by restricting themselves and their interactions, such as behaving timidly, avoiding eye contact, or wearing a hijab, abaya, or niqab, regardless of religious contexts. This often leads to the male presence and ideology that their daughter’s, wife’s, or sister’s honor is their responsibility, and any action in response to a female’s behavior, such as violence, murder, isolation, and more, is the male’s right to correct or reinstate the family’s honor.

An important characteristic of the Arab region when investigating social behaviors is that it is of a collectivist nature. Therefore, informal and formal norms or customs play an essential and impactful role in the way people function. Norms are equated to culture and traditions which are equated to reputation and protecting one’s name. Any incongruity with the hegemonic societal build of the Arab society leads to negative feedback and consequences from those perpetuating the patriarchy that promotes the stereotypes of how females and males act. All that has been mentioned plays a magnanimous role in parental roles and their impact on children. This can manifest differently based on class and location.

Crabtree (2007) examined the perceptions of gender roles and norms in the context of United Arab Emirates (UAE) families with a comparative generational aspect. The families included mothers, daughters, and extended female relatives, such as cousins and in-laws. The families were chosen based on female graduates with varying norms, personalities, financial statuses, and revenues. There were differences between the prescriptive stereotypes associated with females and males, with females carrying the burden of protecting the family’s virtue by limiting all interaction with external male individuals, focusing on marriage, and housework, barring sons, requesting permission from their parental figures for any outing, and males carrying the burden of providing for their family financially, with no external expressions of “weak” emotions.

One of the interviewed mothers elucidated the gap in the skills of females, stating that, nowadays, a girl can educate herself but does not gain the rudimentary skills of taking care of a household, stating, “Today a girl can become educated, but they don’t learn to cook or care for babies.” This was supported by her daughter recalling the disdain received from her parents for focusing on her education and not cooking. Having wed at the age of 13, the mother’s life varied greatly from that of her daughter’s, with her education solely focused on caretaking and ‘serving her husband’.

Overall, there are explicit differences between the method in which gender stereotypes in parent-children relationships are being perpetuated in the UAE, with generational division, education, and political globalization playing a role in the barrier between mothers and their daughters, as the study finds that the education that daughters are gaining has offered a different perspective and the “liberal” upbringing conforming sons to take the role of a man early past-puberty, giving them responsibility over their elder sisters only perpetuates toxic masculinity through the generations.

Another study investigating prescriptive gender stereotypes presents a framework of four categories intended to characterize the contents of the stereotypes distinguishing between social standards and the impact of deviating from them on males and females surveying Princeton undergraduates. While this was not reiterated in an Arab context, the results and findings can be reflected upon generalized male-female expectations and interactions. This study found that for individuals who violate or move away from societal standards, any external reaction is dependent upon the “nature of the traits involved”.

It is found and can be related to the Arab context, that women who are uninterested or dislike children or the concept of bearing children, or express arrogance, confidence, or controlling nature, are ostracized or criticized in society. Furthermore, it was revealed by the study that the females from Princeton are held to higher standards to meet the gendered stereotypes but are not held to the same standards when it comes to the standards of academic achievement and agentic behavior, perpetuating the concept that women are not expected to succeed as far as men.

The impact of such stereotypes can be seen in the above studies as well as in everyday life with different consequences. For women, mental consequences could be the internalization of negative emotions that lead to accepting negative treatment, limitations in freedom and independence, as well as the ability to succeed or achieve one’s aspirations in the workplace. Physical consequences can include gender-based violence and self-harm to conform to societal standards and maintain honor or reputation in one’s family. Moreover, the consequences for males can manifest in the internalizing of emotions, such as sadness, depression, and more, leading to higher suicide rates, as well as conforming to societal standards that do not match one’s own aspirations.

A study investigating the impact that gender bias has on the treatment of men’s emotional health needs finding the participants of the study, mental health professionals and social workers, hold both negative and positive stereotypical beliefs about men. In analysis, the study made connections between belief and implementations stating that ambivalent, hostile, implicit, or explicit, sexism impacts the ability of professionals to accurately assess the individual requesting help or assistance. Furthermore, this can be reflected in the female experience in the medical field, with most interactions leading toward the menstrual cycle, menopause, and more, when clear signs indicate there is more to be investigated.

A limitation to this field of inquiry is that not much has been researched into the experiences of gendered stereotypes on a generation and their impact on the following generations. However, as indicated above, gendered stereotypes can clearly be identified as well as the impact they hold on individuals of all generations. However, a study investigating the trans-generational transmission of trauma across three generations of Alevi Kurds, while unrelated to the topic at hand can mark some indication of the transmission of trauma-related incidents from generation to generation.

It was found that the experienced trauma of one generation had substantial, negative impacts on the following generations. Therefore, it was inferred that the significant traumatic events experienced by one generation can have significant effects on the following generations, as well as in the following generations’ reactions and processing of trauma. However, a varying difference between the study and the experience of gender stereotypes within society is that gendered stereotypes are present and experienced daily. Therefore, it is quite difficult to pinpoint whether a mother is parenting based on societal standards she faces daily, based on gendered stereotypes she faced from her own childhood, and the impact this holds in the new generation.

However, this speaks to the needed research into the impact of the gendered experiences of one generation on subsequent generations, and what this means for the following generations. While it can be argued, based on the above, that gendered stereotypes in the Arab region are alive and well and creating daily barriers for individuals in regards to general existence, it can also be argued that the experiences of one generation can create a lasting impact on their parenting methods, which, in turn, can cause lasting impacts on the subsequent generation, creating a cyclical transmission of trauma or breaking the cycle with awareness and rewiring. Although, there is a clear gap in research that can be filled to better understand the transmission of experience and the lasting impact on generations to come.

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