Let's talk about gender roles

04 Aug 2023

Hey, Khwellies! Have you ever heard of gender roles? Big word, I know, but it is easy to understand and if we can all understand the term, we can all live in an equal world, where no child feels judged.


Have you ever looked around you and thought about the different roles boys and girls play at home, such as chores, and your responsibilities at school and the community? Have you ever thought about the sports boys and girls play, or even the sports you play? Better yet, have you ever noticed how boys and girls act and behave? Well, that and more is what we call gender roles. Gender roles simply means the way society wants us to act, carry ourselves, behave, what we are expected to like and activities we participate in – simply because we happen to have been born male or female.


Our society groups boys and girls separately, and believes you should have a certain way of doing things based on whether you were given the title ‘male’ or ‘female’ at birth. This is what we call ‘boxing’. No, I don’t mean the sport where you punch people! Think of boxing as having a box with a few items to choose from and you have no choice but to choose from the box and nothing else. For example, for girls think of a pink box. Girls are called female at birth and are expected to dress in pink, wear dresses, play netball, to cook and clean, laugh quietly, walk like ladies and the list goes on and on. Now think of the second box, a blue one for boys. Boys are called male at birth, are dressed in blue, expected to carry heavy items, do the garden, play soccer, be loud, play roughly and like the girls, the list goes on. But there are also a whole lot of us who don’t fit in either box or want to be in both boxes.


Just because you are a girl or a boy does not mean that you MUST follow gender roles given to you by society. For example, you can be a girl and prefer playing soccer or laughing loudly. On the other hand, there are boys who do not like sports at all and prefer singing or choosing not to play roughly with their friends, and that is okay. You also need to understand that choosing to follow gender roles given by society is also okay – if it makes you feel comfortable, happy and if your behaviour and choices do not make others feel bad or uncomfortable. Gender roles are good when you are given a choice to be freely you and not have anyone judging you for your choice of things you like or dislike.


Gender roles can be bad when we judge others and bully them for the choices they make. They are bad when others are forced to participate in activities that do not make them feel comfortable, just because everyone around them WANTS them to do so. Think about the girls with chiskops, or the boys with soft, squeaky voices. Do you or your friends ever make fun of them? Do your schoolmates make fun of them? Often, people do make fun of and judge each other – that is wrong and makes others feel horrible. They end up not enjoying playing outside or going to school and being too scared to tell others what they want and how they feel.


We need to understand that we are all created differently, and we all have rights. Our rights give us the freedom to have choices, and no one is allowed to take away our choices. We need to be welcoming, and accept that we are all allowed to be and like whatever we want. We need to stand up for learners who are bullied because of their likes and choices and help others understand that bullying is wrong and can make other learners feel bad about themselves. As a young person, you sometimes don’t have the courage to stand up for others, and so it is best that you also tell trusted adults and your mentors when others tease and make any child feel bad.


IKHWELOLethu has a fun programme for you that takes place in schools with the guidance of a big sister or brother known as a mentor. In the programme, you get to know more about gender, gender roles, accepting others and not judging or bullying.