Are Gender Identity Pressures Limiting Your Teen’s Self Expression?

Many teens risk isolation or bullying if they do not fit nicely into the Barbie and Ken archetypes of male or female. A new documentary called Straightlaced takes a thoughtful look at how some teens navigate these strict gender role expectations by interviewing them about their personal experiences. The resulting interviews reveal that there is a surprising amount of variation and struggle in how today’s teens identify and express their gender.

The term gender identity is often associated with teens who are exploring their gay, lesbian or transgender sexuality. But even if your child is not confused about their gender or their sexual orientation, the pressure to avoid being seen as existing between the polarities of girl or boy is huge. For example, teen girls report spending hours working on their image so they come across as feminine rather than masculine. And boys report steering clear of certain colors or styles in order to not to be perceived as feminine. And these are only the superficial levels of gender on which they fixate. How they talk, what they talk about, and who they talk to is also filtered through gender role expectations. For teens who are openly exploring their sexual orientation or challenging their birth gender, it’s even riskier. They face being shunned by friends, bullied and–even worse–ostracized or excluded from their families.

Straightlaced: Gender Identity Film and Discussion
Next Showing: 2pm to 5pm, Sunday October 9th, 2011
Where: The Teen Annex in the Sebastopol Community Center
Price: Adults are $15 to $20, Teens are Free!
Sponsored by Sebastopol Community Center, Positive Images, and The Teen Counseling Project

Discussing gender identity roles with teens can engender acceptance of the naturally occurring variation in how humanity expresses masculine and feminine traits. Typically, the qualities of assertiveness, such as speaking your opinion or exhibiting leadership potential are not valued in teen girls. They report being called bitchy or whiny. But for boys, those same traits are highly valued. Conversely, emotional qualities such as being reflective or expressing emotion or remorse are seen as signs of weakness in boys, but are clearly okay for girls. If a teen gets the chance to develop all of these traits equally, they have a better chance of being prepared for the challenges they will face in life. When you discuss these manifestations of gender roles with your teen they get to become conscious of the many, often invisible, gender expectations that they will encounter. They will also learn they have a choice about which expectations they want to meet or challenge, whether in friendships, romantic relationships, or work relationships.

When teens are not given permission to question gender roles they miss the opportunity to explore all the possibilities of what it means to be human before being male or female. As a result, they often miss the opportunity to experience the reality that all of us carry characteristics that are both feminine and masculine. If your teen has your permission to discuss their experiences encountering these expectations, they will be a step closer toward accepting all that they are now and who they are growing up to be. They will also be better able to accept others regardless of where they are on the spectrum of gender identity.

I highly recommend that you take the opportunity to see Straightlaced with your teen. It is a great opportunity to explore a topic together that is often overlooked but that your teen deals with everyday.

 

One Response to Are Gender Identity Pressures Limiting Your Teen’s Self Expression?

  1. Hi Josie – Wow! Great information about gender stereotyping and how it shakes down during adolescence. I can see how this issue plays out on multiple levels on the psyche….as a teen develops and tries on different identities in those years, and also the rigid, literal interpretation of those roles in those formative years….very interesting…