30 September 2013

Monday Musings: The Trouble with Cultural Expectations

This topic is one that I've pondered and struggled with for most of my life. For as long as I can remember I've been opposed to many of the expectations for females. I never wanted to appear too 'girl-y', so I refused to be afraid of bugs and dirt. I eschewed being obsessed with clothes and shopping the way I saw some of my female peers doing. Girls, at least high school girls have a reputation of being gossip-y and dramatic - I also refused to do that. And it's bothered me a lot that if a girl wore her hair really short and participated in sports, for example, she was viewed as more masculine, and perhaps her sexuality was questioned; as in, she may have been suspected of being a lesbian because of those choices.

The expectations for males have also bothered me. If a guy is interested in music and dancing (or any of the fine arts), or if his energy could be described as 'bubbly,' he is viewed as less masculine and his sexuality may be questioned. Now I was a dance major, and there were some males either in the program or in dance companies that definitely behaved in ways that would have been viewed as feminine, but I saw no reason why that had to mean that perhaps they were homosexual. Our culture in the United States has created expectations for males and females that really aren't true, and I feel like those expectations sometimes cause people to question their sexuality simply because their interests are not considered mainstream for their gender. (That's not to say that there aren't people who legitimately struggle with same-sex attraction; there absolutely are.)

In the past six months I have come across some information that really sits well with me. Here is an excerpt from a book about energy profiling:
"In Chinese philosophy, the concept of Yin Yang is used to describe how seemingly opposing forces are interdependent in the natural world. Yin Yang refers to opposite expressions. Yin is usually characterized as slow, soft, insubstantial, diffuse, cold, wet, and tranquil. It is generally associated with the feminine, birth and generation, and with the night. Yang, by contrast, is characterized as hard, fast, solid, dry, focused, hot, and aggressive. It is generally associated with masculinity and daytime. . . Historically, in our culture, the movement that is identified as yin has been deemed a feminine movement and the yang has been deemed a masculine movement. We have a cultural cookie cutter mold that suggests that all women should lead with a dominant yin movement, which is soft, and that men should lead with a dominant yang movement, which is aggressive . . . It is time to strip the old paradigms of what we relate to as feminine and masculine qualities. Knowing [who we are allows us] to strip our minds of unreasonable expectations that were based on cultural models of women and men that no longer serve us." - Excerpts from, It's Just My Nature! by Carol Tuttle, self-help author and creator of Dressing Your Truth. (emphasis added)
It so happens that I've learned that my energy is exactly what has been perceived as feminine. But I've still got a real problem with the labeling and stereotypes. So what should qualify as masculine and feminine? I guess I'm not exactly sure, but I am sure that gender matters and that men and women each have specific and unique gifts.

The doctrine about men and women in the LDS church is specifically addressed in the proclamation on the family. Here is what is stated regarding the roles of men and women:
"By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children."
Nothing in the proclamation is said that could imply that a woman who could be described as 'aggressive' would not be a good nurturer, or that a man who is 'soft' would not be a good provider or protector. My belief is that Heavenly Father has given each of us gifts that will help us fulfill our roles. Those gifts may or may not be aligned with what our culture has taught us to expect for each gender. But that doesn't really matter. What matters is that we understand our individual roles and purposes in God's plan. Because His plan is good, and following it brings happiness.


  1. What a difficult topic to tackle! The Family a Proclamation to the World states, "Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose."
    Just because someone doesn't necessarily fit into the world's expectation for their gender doesn't mean that they aren't where they belong.
    I have a younger brother who is a bit soft spoken and timid. All through high school he was ridiculed with words like "fem," "fag," and "queer." Once he started dating he gravitated towards girls that were a bit hardened, competitive, and, in the world's view, masculine. This, somehow, added to the teasing as the onlookers would jeer, "It's easy to see who wears the pants in THAT relationship."
    After high school my brother entered the armed forces and that division became even more pronounced as the women he was surrounded by were not the most "feminine" of their sex.
    (He is now 27 years old and happily married.)
    In my life I have spent a lot of time in musical theater. I have had some close male friends who, with talent and interest in the musical theater arena, have been teased by their assumed lack of masculinity.
    After years of others questioning their sexuality they began to question it themselves. These friends, even after being raised in strong Latter-Day-Saint families have chosen a different path. It breaks my heart just a little every time I see them post pictures on facebook with them and their current boy-friend(s).
    The world would ridicule me for my "old-fashioned" view on marriage, but God is unchanging.
    As stated in The Family A Proclamation to the World, "Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan."

    1. Amen to your comment. Amen. In fact, I'll probably do a companion post sometime regarding some of what you've said. Thanks!

  2. I am the one who wrote the post about Gender on a Well Behaved Mormon Woman blog. I agree with everything you have said completely. I do think the two posts fit together well. I think you are correct about if you do not fit stringently into a notion of who a girl or a boy is, then you are homosexual or the really opposite gender is a dangerous idea that we are seeing the fruits of. I do know a couple of theater dance guys that were always called gay and eventually went that path. One left the lifestyle and later got married, another told my mother that was the biggest mistake in his life and he misses the wife and children he could have had, but feels stuck in the lifestyle. That does not mean there are people who just have same sex attraction or gender confusion, but something is wrong if a man can't love to cook or a girl love to shoot a gun without them being told that means they are homosexual or their spirit is the opposite gender of their body.

    One thing that struck me recently and helped me to form my opinion expressed in the article I wrote was that years ago boys learned and worked from their fathers or a male apprentice and girls from their mothers or a female and the world did not have so much confusion on gender. That is when I realized it is okay and even good to help your boys prepare to provide and protect and your daughters to nurture. A musical man can make a great father and husband that fulfills his role perfectly just as an athletic woman can be a wonderful and nurturing mother and wife.

    1. Thank you so much for your feedback! I'm kind of relieved to hear that, because my heart totally agreed with your post, and with mine as well. I guess I just kinda wanted to make sure they weren't conflicting. I agree with you completely. Let's call them companion posts. hahaha I'm linking your post here: http://wellbehavedmormonwoman.blogspot.com/2013/09/lds-parenting-gender-identity.html


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