Gender conditioning, and the burden of being a ‘real man’

It’s clear that, as a society, we still have a long way to go to fight these stereotypes

By Sarah Harris

As a sociology student, I’ve spent hours discussing the ways in which society conditions people of different sexes to think. First of all, it’s important to note that gender is inherently different from sex, with the dictionary definition of gender being ‘the state of being male or female (typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones)’.

Beloved British actor and comedian, Robert Webb recently released his first memoir, ‘How Not to be a Boy.’ In his soul bearing autobiography, Webb talks us through the most personal details of his life, from his crushes as a child to the emotions he felt after the death of his parents. He correlates all this with the demanding burdens of male life. It’s alarming to see that in a day and age where human rights are ever expanding, males are still being told to ‘act more manly.’

So what really defines ‘masculinity’? According to Robert Webb, society has raised us to think ‘real men’ love sport, drink beer and of course never, ever talk about their emotions. Cardiff University’s Mental Health Officer and News Editor, George Watkins recently began the campaign ‘Boys Do Cry’ in aim of breaking down societal gender norms and persuading men that it is okay to talk about their feelings. His campaign features a series of male students from the University discussing their problems with mental health and raising awareness on the lack of attention on the matter. The Office of National Statistics found that out of the 130 students who took their own lives in 2015, 97 were male.


It’s not just males that society is conditioning to behave in a certain manner. In many cultures, women are still expected to behave in a ‘feminine’ manner, with some of them not even being allowed to drive a car in specific countries. Although Western societies are far more advanced in this term, there’s still a lingering perception that women should dress, eat and talk in a way that isn’t too extravagant, yet still attracts the attention of potential pursuers. Despite hours of research being done on the topic by Marxists, Functionalists and Feminists, it’s still difficult to pinpoint exactly why we’re still gender conditioning our society.

Maybe the blame lies on our predecessors and their outdated ways of thinking, but if this is the case, why are male millennials still conforming to these rules and so afraid to express themselves? Not only has Webb now touched on the matter, but so have other famous male personalities such as Prince Harry, Zayn Malik and Ryan Reynolds amongst the many. It’s clear that, as a society, we still have a long way to go to fight these stereotypes and break down the barriers, but in the meantime we need to encourage people to feel comfortable expressing themselves, whatever their gender. Meanwhile, if you do happen to feel overwhelmed by the gender conditioning of society, the University Counseling and Wellbeing Services offer a free and confidential service for you to express your feelings and concerns.

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