What does it mean to be male or female?

What does it mean to be male or female?

By Bailey Wood-

I was curious to see what our schoolmates thought about some select subjects, so I decided to be adventurous and conduct a survey to students here at LHS – seniors, juniors, and freshmen on their thoughts of gender roles, family leave, advertising, transgender issues, and whatever else they wanted to add. Every student wants to feel like their opinion matters, and this survey really gave the freedom and anonymity to express true beliefs.

My curiosity to see what our schoolmates thought about these subjects paid off. We, as teens, and especially teens at LHS are viewed as being more “enlightened” about these subjects. What I found was that we aren’t as “enlightened” as we think. I had to read through all of these responses. I ended up with a total of 113 surveys to read through to find links between students among different ages and subjects. When I saw that I had that many papers to read among doing homework for other classes and go to work I thought I was out of my mind. How could I read all of these and keep up with everything else? What I found when I read these responses was well-worth the stress.

When I read through the responses of students I found that it was almost a 50/50 shot whether a freshman put genitalia as a description of what they first thought of when thinking about the gender within the question. Which is pretty funny the different ways they phrased it. That is not to say the upperclassmen didn’t include that in some of their responses, but it was not as prevalent. The most common theme was that it didn’t matter whether the student was male or female but they each fit into one of two groups. One group was more open-minded, while the other group was more traditional.

So in regards to the question, “When you think of a male, what first comes to mind?” I got a lot of different responses. “Heartless, immature, sports,” (Female, 12) another was, “A person with a penis. (Sorry that’s just what comes to mind. I’m not trying to be funny or stupid.),” (Female, 9). A gender fluid freshman stated, “Tall, suit and tie, muscular, and swoopy, short hair (ew).” “The stereotypical strong, heroic type that is really not emotional (which is the worst and I wish I didn’t),” (Female, 9). Lastly, two male freshmen answered “Military,” and “Indiana Jones.” The answers ranged, but mostly stuck inside the groups of masculine, strong, dominant, and hairy.

The next question was, “What is a male’s job in society?” One female senior answered with, “Construction”. Another was, “To make sure his family is taken care of before himself” (Male, 12). There was also “To work and contribute to society in a positive way, including military service if they want,” (Male, 9).
That leads into “How is a male supposed to act? Feel? Look?” which lead to responses such as, “Strong, emotionless, muscular,” (Male, 12). “Males usually act respectful, take pride in what they do, and have the traits of a leader,” (Male, 9). A senior female also responded, saying, “Heartless, careless, emotionless, bigger than women, strong.”

So then I asked, “When you think of a female, what first comes to mind?” and, of course, out came of many different responses. “In society, females are viewed as the prissy, stay-at-home moms. Cook, clean only, take care of the children. But I personally think women are more than just for cleaning. We are brave warriors, we are independent and we can do anything that anyone else can do,” (Female, 12). “Beautiful hair – doesn’t matter the length. And fierce eyebrows,” (Female, 9). “Breast, vagina, birth,” (Male, 12). A freshman boy also added, “very cunning and tricky.”

The questionnaire also asked the students to give their idea of what a female’s job in society is. “Society views females as sexual objects whose only value is to cook and clean, which really shouldn’t be the case in any way, shape, or form. Females are people and should be treated the same as men,” (Male, 9). Another said, “She can do whatever she wants.” The last one I chose to include was a freshman female who said, “Same as a male. Be kind, love everyone, and be protectful.”

Illustration courtesy of an LHS freshman

Illustration courtesy of an LHS freshman

This lead into the question of “How is a female supposed to act? Feel? Look?” which got responses like, “Act kind and caring to other people. They should feel confident in themselves without exposing too much of their skin. They should look comfortable and refined.” (Female, 9), and “Cis women can act and feel whatever, usually with somewhat heavy male judgement. Trans ladies and non-binary ladies (or feminine people in general) are judged heavily by both cis males and female people.” (Non-binary, 12). For those who aren’t aware, “Cis” means you identify as the gender and sex you were born as. For example, you were born female and identify as female.

The next question was “What are your views on family leave when a child is born?” which got answers on both ends of the spectrum. One student answered with, “I believe at least one parent should stay with the child while the other works. What’s the point of having a baby if she/he is going to spend most of the time in a day-care?” (Female, 12). Another response was, “It takes two people to make a baby, it should take two people to care for a baby, supposing both parents are still there or wanted a baby to begin with.” (12). The last I would like to include on this question, “I think that parents should be given more time with their children. The first few years are the most important for kids to build a bond with their parents. But instead they’re forced to have other people take care of them after not even six months.” (Female, 12).

A question that society asks a lot is “How do you think advertising affects our views on gender roles?” and who better to ask than those who are the most influenced by media. “Advertising shows what’s acceptable in society. It gives off the ideas that men are strong and independent, but women are sex toys. Those who defy social norms don’t get a lot of attention.” (Female, 12). A female freshman pointed out that, “We see men as cars and beer, and women in diaper commercials and appliances. We think women should be around the house.” And then the most common judgement on advertisement was, of course, “Women believe that they have to look like the models in magazines, even when they are photoshopped. Media makes us believe that you have to be thin to be beautiful and men think that they have to have abs.” (Female, 9).

The last serious question asked was, “How do you think gender roles affect same-sex couples and people who are transgender?”. This question received answers such as “Most people don’t like same-sex couples or transgenders. I don’t care. They are people. Let them be” (Male, 12). It also got answers like, “I think same-sex couples are wrong and people who decide to be a transgender are wrong, but it’s their choice and I won’t judge them.” (Male, 12). This quote came up in various ways among students also, “I think it can be confusing, because I feel they probably think they have to conform to the gender they were born as, and with same-sex couples people sometimes say things like which one of you is ‘the wife’. Like, why does it matter? They’re both husbands” (Female, 9).

As a finishing touch to the survey was the additional comments section where there were various things said by students. These responses varied from “I just think gender roles kind of ruin the community around us,” (Female, 9) to “I think that same-sex couples should not be allowed because God intended it to be man and woman. It was Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve. And I think that you are born the way you were born and you should not change who you are” (Female, 9).
After this experiment, I found that maybe we aren’t as “enlightened” about gender and gender roles as we thought, especially going to such a diverse school. I came in thinking out of all the schools in Lincoln, LHS would be the most open-minded and accepting, but I was wrong. Not that everyone is closed-off to the equality of all genders, but many of us are still stuck in sexual humor and “traditional” thinking when it comes to gender.

Bailey Wood
Bailey Wood

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