Spark Post: Can Gender Roles Make us Happy?


I spent my break in San Francisco and couldn’t help but notice the city’s street art and advertisements that touch on gender-related issues. In one advertisement that captured my attention, we see a young boy on a marionette with the words “Gender Oppression” alongside him. The scene depicted in the ad seems to suggest that gender roles are inherently oppressive and even destructive. Authors Patricia Hill-Collins and Wan-Hsiu Sunny Tsai second this notion in making the case that gender expectations oppress us by creating narrow visions of what it means to be a man, woman, heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual individual. This narrow vision, they believe, creates a hostile environment in which individuals who don’t meet a particular set of high standards are considered abnormal and consequently, ostracized. I, on the other hand, tend to see a more nuanced picture when it comes to gauging the merits of gender expectations. Gender sets codes of conduct that can sometimes contribute to both efficiency and a more pleasant society. Etiquette such as men ought to hold the door for women and men ought to exhibit their strength in bed are two examples of socially constructed gender roles that one might consider pleasant. Arguing that the same forces contribute to a culture of rape and sexual violence is a long shot and constitutes an overly pessimistic outlook that proper etiquette must be abolished in our hope to abolish gender violence.


Hill-Collis, Patricia. Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender and the New Racism. New York: Routledge, 2005.

Wan-Hsiu Sunny Tsai. “Assimilating the Queers: Representations of Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexual, and Transgender People in Mainstream Advertising.” Advertising & Society Review 11, no. 1. 2010.


One thought on “Spark Post: Can Gender Roles Make us Happy?

  1. oliviaesse

    I agree with you Noah. I think there is no use in claiming whether the characteristics attributed to gender roles are all good or all bad. Of course, in many contexts, such confining expectations have negative consequences. But when it comes down to it, all the qualities assigned to a certain gender are at their base, human qualities. When a man holds a door open for me, I consider how many “feminist” women are opposed to such a gesture. However, I consider myself a feminist and a man holding a door open for me does not bother me at all – it is simply a polite, human gesture (and one that I would do for a man as well)


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