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How Does Self Esteem Differ In Gender Roles?

Melanie Lustbader, LPC

As a newborn, babies are either given a blue or pink hat, depending if they’re male or female. As the infant gets older, the females are expected to play with dolls and males are expected to play with trucks or trains. Society gives gender roles and assigns either objects or certain activities to be feminine or masculine. Gender roles are culturally defined as behaviors that are seen as appropriate for males and females including attitudes, personality traits, emotions and even postures and body language. I believe society has to do with cultural norms, which may be generational, and what is “expected” of that gender regarding interests, such as sports, shopping, make up etc. Differences are not primarily due to biological, physiological or psychological differences between men and women but rather the ways in which we are taught to behave.

         An interesting debate is whether or not individuals are born with gender roles or they are learned.  It should be that individuals are born with a particular sexual organ and as they grow up they discover interests relating to sports, cooking, clothing, no matter if it is associated with being male or female. Community plays a large part in what defines what it is to be a woman or a man. Each community expects women and men to think, feel, and act in certain ways, simply because they are women or men. In most communities, for example, women are expected to prepare meals, clean the home and care for their children and partner. Men, however, are often expected to work outside the home to provide for their families. Gender roles may vary between cultures, religions, traditions, etc. Gender is something that individuals may notice at a very young age or sometimes not until teenage years.

         Self-esteem is a significant part of adolescents’ interpretation of themselves and may impact how they see others. According to the Journal of Psychology and Clinical Psychiatry, “it is more likely to boys in situations that encourage competition, conflict, power, and excitement, while girls in situations of intimacy, self-disclosure, support and co-rumination. While girls tend to develop emotions related to internalizing problems, boys tend to develop emotions related to externalizing problems”( Agam, Golan & Tamir, 2015).  Adolescence is viewed as a challenging period of self-discovery.

         Individuals may not fall into a perfect box of female or male. How does our society impact an individual’s self-esteem? Self-esteem can be described, as one’s ability to have confidence in one’s self or a sense of self-respect. Clients who struggle with self-esteem may feel pressured to fall into a certain gender role based on society’s expectations. The studies of “Gender Differences in Respect to Self Esteem, the impact of media exposure is affected by gender. Repeated exposure, for girls, to media images of unrealistic beauty idols significantly impacts the development and maintenance of body image through internalization of cultural ideals, but the influence on boys is controversial”(Agam, Golan & Tamir,2015).  Although, some males may not be affected by body image ideals, some males are very much affected by our societal expectations. Individuals can improve their overall self-esteem by making decisions that they feel confident about.    

         If you have found yourself struggling with anxiety around gender roles and self-esteem and would like to talk to a licensed therapist, we offer a wide range of counseling services to support you. Contact Symmetry Counseling online or call us at (312)-578-9990 to arrange an appointment with a skilled and compassionate therapist today! 

Agam R, Tamir S, Golan M (2015) Gender Differences in Respect to Self-Esteem and Body Image as Well as Response to Adolescent’s School-Based Prevention Programs

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