Role Call

Role Call

photo credit to Sam Howitz

sam boatright, co-editor-in-chief

If men actually thought about sex one time every seven seconds, then, unsurprisingly, they would never be able to get anything done as they would be inundated with invasive innuendo over 12,000 times a day.

Everybody has heard that misquoted study before, and, most likely, believed it at first. This is because our culture has reinforced the idea that men are sexually-driven, dominant creatures; this is an example of a cultural gender role.

Gender roles are expectations placed on a certain sex to behave according to particular criteria.

“We have very strong gender roles for men that are damaging, in a lot of ways, from early on,” said Dr. Marciana Vequist of Lawrence’s Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. “We teach our boys…to be tough, to be independent, to not show emotion…We teach boys to be homophobic, too. That’s kind of implicit in the culture.”

Society conjures up these male social expectations–not smiling in football pictures, not crying in front of other men, not acting femininely, not valuing women–from ideas practiced for hundreds of thousands of years generally regarded as proverb.

“I think [men] definitely do get the reputation that they don’t care as much as women do [in relationships],” junior Katie Davis said. “They are more the side of sex and stuff like that. So I feel like they have that image; then, I feel like some guys [think that they] have to act like that.”

These societal expectations progress the ideas that men are strong and that women are weak, that men can treat women like sexual objects and that men must never be emotional, because showing emotion is a sign of weakness.

Such cultural and societal beliefs are what trap men in what social activist Tony Porter coined as “The Man Box,” which he describes as the “collective socialization of man.” The Man Box determines the suitable ways a man can act.

Some of these generationally-reinforced gender roles–such as men being able to treat women like sexual objects–derive from evolutionary traits augmented by males’ evolutionary sexual behaviors to “spread their seed.” This could explain men thinking about sex more than women–men are evolutionarily wired to be more sexual. Still today, these evolutionary adaptations affect the way men approach sex.

Vequist said that in a study involving Ohio State undergraduates, “boys [thought] about…having sex as just having sex.”

Conversely, Vequist stated that according to the research, “[G]irls [thought] about having sex in terms of establishing a relationship and further deepening a relationship.” This could very possibly be due to a mother’s evolutionary instinct to take care of and raise a family.

Despite their probable evolutionary roots, gender roles are incredibly harmful because they are generalizations, breeding a culture of people to expect certain groups to behave within the narrow confines of what is considered “normal.”

Some gender roles–such as male dominance– lead to sexism, infringing upon the rights of another sex. Oppression in the workplace leads to women making 75% of what men make when performing the same job.

“It’s definitely changed in the last 50 years, but I think it’s still a problem,” senior Ella Gore said. “I think sexism in the workplace is still a problem. Women still don’t make the same amount of money that men do.”

However, society may be moving away from these fixed roles.

“Most of [humans’] work that goes on in relationships,” Vequist said, “has to do with trying to be better people and not letting biology drive our behavior.”

Porter’s lecture articulates a similar mindset, recognizing men’s fear of “getting out” of the Man Box due to the possibilities of society’s judgement.

When asked about whether or not males acting outside of the Man Box–being more effeminate, showing emotions besides anger–was okay, senior Fletcher Koch said, “I think it’s totally fine. But…you definitely get weird looks when you do that, so it’s not encouraged…by other men. Maybe not by other women, too.”

Davis concurred.

“I think that more girls [are]…looking for [guys that aren’t stereotypical men] because [girls] are over the whole ‘bad boy’ type,” Davis said. “I think that once we get older, we realize that we don’t really care about the bad boy.”

Both Porter and Vequist acknowledge that acting outside of gender roles and moving more towards androgynous behavior–blurring gender role lines–may be the healthiest way to behave.

“Androgyny is the healthiest option…Whether you’re a man or woman, over time, you should develop some characteristics of the other gender, just to become more of a balanced person,” Vequist said.

Despite different gender roles, girl and boy teenagers both confront one serious topic regularly: sex.

“I feel like [the pressure to have sex] is along the same lines as drugs and drinking,” said Koch. I definitely feel pressure to [have sex]…not necessarily from close friends, but in general.”

Gore recognizes that there is some pressure to have sex in high school, but she doesn’t let it affect her, citing her friends as good sources of support.

“The people I surround myself with [don’t pressure the need to have sex],” Gore said. “I guess, yes, [there is pressure], to a certain extent, but at the same time, I don’t really care what people think of me, and if I want to do it, then I’m going to do it.”

Although Vequist would like to see teenagers wait until they’re old enough to responsibly face the task of preventing pregnancy–which she states as 18 or so–she recognizes that not all teens wait until they’re 18.

Having said that, however, Vequist doesn’t think that “sexual activity, sexual exploration, sexual questions and feelings should be completely avoided [until then].”

Often, there are very black-and-white approaches directed at the charge of parents discussing sex with teenagers. However, Vequist says that there’s a lot of grey area. Subsequently, taking a close-minded, singular approach may not be the best way to discuss sex with teens.

In her hopes to normalize the discussing of sex between parents and children, Vequist urges the conversation to focus around two central, vital points: safety and love.

“Talking to teens about safe sex is really, really important, and making sure they know how to have safe sex and they know how to prevent pregnancy [is important],” Vequist said. “Even if their family culture doesn’t approve of that…they should know somebody who can tell them where to get that information themselves.”

Next on the agenda when discussing sex: love.

“Sex is so much better when you love somebody,” Vequist said, as she gave a parent’s hypothetical quote. “And you can be in love at 16. You can be in love at 80. So, I think that’s really important in sex and I think that’s important to tell people.”