A person’s gender role is largely culturally and socially determined. At a broad level, society (which is considered predominantly patriarchal and heteronormative) defines and dictates which typical roles (that is activities and behaviours) are considered appropriate for men and women depending on their assigned biological sex. As such, men are typically expected to be masculine (e.g., boys don’t cry, and men must be strong, sporty, competitive, rational, and in many cases, aggressive), and women are typically expected to be feminine (e.g., girls must play with dolls, and women must be submissive, emotional, nurturing, and in many cases, domesticated). These cultural norms, standards, and expectations are considered to be “gender-typical“, and are usually adopted at a very early stage via one’s family (starting with the ‘innocent’ gesture that baby girls should wear pink and baby boys should wear blue), and reinforced later on through the media, education, religious institutions, one’s peers, and various other social networks.
In reality, however, gender roles are not as fixed or straightforward as society expects. In addition to being “gender-typical”, one may be considered “gender-neutral” (i.e. androgynous, or exhibiting a combination of masculine and feminine traits), or “gender-atypical/non-conforming” (i.e. being male with feminine characteristics or female with masculine characteristics). These variations from the norm are often confused with being transgender or gay, which is not necessarily the case. Although there are some signs of change, failure to conform to society’s traditional gender roles may still result in rejection, humiliation, victimisation, or even violence. Given society’s prevailing patriarchal (i.e. rule of the father) and heteronormative (heterosexuality as the ideal) culture, boys and men continue to experience significant pressure to conform to gender-typed expectations and repeatedly prove their masculinity to others. Unfortunately, this constant pressure tends to be limiting, and invariably results in unnecessary conflict and pain.