Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center

Coverpage of Striving for Justice Toolkit

Gender Socialization

Gender stereotyping and enforced adherence to it play a major role in battering.

Certainly girls are taught to be passive, smile, be nice, accommodating, take care of and be sensitive to other’s needs. Beyond “teaching,” our culture actively punishes girls who violate those rules. Such punishment includes social ostracism, ridicule, poor grades in school, and often times sexual harassment, assault, and physical violence. As a result, girls soon learn the price of speaking out, independence and autonomy. Individual females may have these lessons softened or more strictly enforced by their own particular family members, extended family, neighborhood, school and teachers, but the overall cultural message remains constant.

Usually, (in discussions of gender stereotyping) the issue is raised that men are taught to be tough, not to cry, not to be verbal and not to discuss their emotions. However, this is not the aspect of gender stereotyping that contributes to battering. Batterers express emotions of anger, pain, grief and loss very well. They do cry. Many are highly articulate, persuasive and skilled at identifying and expressing their feelings.

The concept of male entitlement created by gender roles is associated with domestic violence. Men have been taught through social roles modeling and the media that they are entitled to the attention and services of women. Women are required to listen, be supportive, enhance their partners’ status with other men, fulfill the man’s sexual needs, and care for their children. Traditional gender roles maintain the expectation that women are required to cook, clean and maintain the household. Gender roles have created a dynamic within intimate relationships that maintain women as subservient and men as power holders and decision makers, which is ultimately detrimental to the health and survival of women. Often in an abusive relationship, if a woman does not live up to these unrealistic and strict expectations, it is license for the batterer to be violent.

These roles are deeply engrained in many men and women so that it is difficult to uncover the extent to which behavior has been influenced by socialization.

Some men are struggling conscientiously to divest in the benefits offered to them based on their gender. Gender roles are so pervasive and insidious that men (and women) don’t even realize how seriously they affect and inform our behavior. There are men who have chosen non-violence, are actively participating in equal relationships with women and working to challenge male privilege. It is encouraged that all men take a greater role in challenging violence and sexism.

Women are indoctrinated with the notion that they are only valuable if a) they are in or seeking out heterosexual relationships and, b) they have children. In addition, the pressure of maintaining a family is evident upon many women in our culture. The threat of losing a family is a grievous one. Women are taught to believe that they are responsible for their family, and charged with its health and well-being. Again, gender roles suggest that women are to be nurturing, caring, and self-sacrificing.

These beliefs work against women who become trapped by violent men. When women do what they have been taught to do (stand by their man; take care of their kids) and are then blamed for staying. They are labeled masochistic or codependent.

Some battered women stay because in addition to being women and being battered, they are from another historically disenfranchised population.