Sex and Gender Roles 183
When gender roles cause harm
Fulfilling the roles expected by the community can be satisfying and can give a woman
a sense of belonging and success. But these roles can also limit a woman’s choices, and
sometimes make her feel less valued than a man. When this happens, everyone—the
woman herself, her family, and her community—suffers.
In most communities, women are expected to be wives and mothers.
Many women like this role because it can be very satisfying and it gives
them status in the community. Other women would prefer to follow
their own interests but their families and communities do not give
them this choice. If she is expected to have many children, a
woman may have less chance to learn new skills or go to
school. Most of her time and energy will be spent taking care
of others’ needs. Or, if a woman is unable to have children, her
community may value her less than other women.
Most communities value men’s work more
than women’s work. For example, a woman
may work all day—and then cook, clean, and
care for her children at night. But because her
husband’s work is considered more impor tant,
she is careful about his rest—not her own.
Her children will grow up thinking men’s work
is more important, and value women less.
Women are often considered more emotional than men, and they
are freer to express these emotions with others. Men, however, are
often taught that showing emotions like fear, sadness, or tenderness is
‘unmanly’, so they hide these feelings. Or they express their feelings
in angry or violent ways that are more acceptable for men. When
men are unable to show their feelings, children may feel more distant
from their fathers, and men are less able to get support from others
for their problems.
Women are often discouraged from speaking—or
forbidden to attend or speak—at community
meetings. This means the community only hears
about what men think—for example, how they
view a problem and their solutions for it. Since
women have much knowledge and experience,
the whole community suffers when they cannot
discuss problems and offer suggestions for change.
Women and men who have sexual relations with people of the same sex (homosexuals)
are sometimes made to feel like outcasts in their own communities. Even if they are
respected in other ways, they may be forced to live and love in secrecy and shame. In
some communities, fear or lack of understanding of people in same sex relationships has
even led to physical violence against them. Any time a person is made to feel afraid or
ashamed about who he or she is, it harms the person’s mental and sexual health.
Where Women Have No Doctor 2012