Why Gender Constructs Are Like Prison

Why Gender Constructs Are Like Prison

Humans should not have to fit into societal molds.

If you have ever considered what “gender” means, you have probably come across the fact that gender is a social concept. It is. Gender, gender roles, and separate spheres were created by people in our society to assign certain traits or certain roles to men and to women. Before I continue, let me define the words that I have just mentioned.

Gender: a social concept that defines what is male and what is female in a non-biological sense

Gender Roles: types of behavior that are socially acceptable for women and men

Separate Spheres: the idea that men dominate the public world (i.e. politics, society, law) and women must stay in the domestic world (i.e. the home)

Whether you are aware of it or not, these ideas have been used to oppress people throughout our world history. For example, although the idea of separate spheres has been around for centuries, antifeminists pushed for stricter separate spheres when women were fighting for their right to vote. Why? Well, if women were assigned to the domestic private sphere and men were assigned to the public sphere, then there would be no need for women to vote. Being assigned to the private sphere meant that women could not cross into the realm of the public sphere of government and politics.

In present day, we see these ideas continue to restrict people. Gender roles are what keep women and men from being equal. For example, men are socially perceived to be “breadwinners,” and therefore receive a 6 percent increase in their salary per child. Women, on the other hand, are seen as liabilities and will receive a 4 percent decrease in their salary per child. Why? Because society views that a woman’s “main priority” is motherhood, not a career.

Gender roles also affect the ability of people to express themselves. It is socially understood that men should not express emotion. Anything from showing affection to crying is seen as “unmanly.” The phrase, “be a man,” is used to encourage men to be strong, tough, and unyielding. In other words, gender roles promote a sense of violence in men--- that men need to be these unemotional, blunt, and physically domineering beings. If men veer from this social understanding, then they are criticizes and made fun of for being… feminine.

That’s right. Gender roles made "being feminine" an insult.

For women, society expects them to be fragile, emotional, and dependent. This social understanding means that women who break these assigned traits are “too manly.” I have heard men complain when some women are muscular. Women who take their career seriously are seen as “bitchy” because they do not go around the office in a constant emotional state and yield to male dominance.

As I write these examples, I think it becomes clear as to why gender is a prison. Gender begs society to ask this question: what is male and what is female? That question alone is the beginning of the oppression. Gender sets us on a straight and narrow path with guard rails to prevent us from jumping the fence and expressing ourselves with the complete freedom that was given to us since birth. I ask you this: why are we asking what is male and what is female? Why don’t we ask what it means to be human?

To be human is to be able to think, to express, to create, to feel, to question, to try, and to be. It means that we can exist exactly as we see fit without being assigned to some list of social requirements that bind us. Society needs to stop pretending that it can gather life and existence into one tiny, controllable ball and prevent it from taking any other form. There is no one way to be human. We’re all making up our existence and expression as we go, and we can change, grow, and reform as many times as we see fit. That is the beauty of being human. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to be human than to be what society says I must be.

Cover Image Credit: schoolsofequality.com

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I'm The Girl Without A 'Friend Group'

And here's why I'm OK with it


Little things remind me all the time.

For example, I'll be sitting in the lounge with the people on my floor, just talking about how everyone's days went. Someone will turn to someone else and ask something along the lines of, "When are we going to so-and-so's place tonight?" Sometimes it'll even be, "Are you ready to go to so-and-so's place now? Okay, we'll see you later, Taylor!"

It's little things like that, little things that remind me I don't have a "friend group." And it's been like that forever. I don't have the same people to keep me company 24 hours of the day, the same people to do absolutely everything with, and the same people to cling to like glue. I don't have a whole cast of characters to entertain me and care for me and support me. Sometimes, especially when it feels obvious to me, not having a "friend group" makes me feel like a waste of space. If I don't have more friends than I can count, what's the point in trying to make friends at all?

I can tell you that there is a point. As a matter of fact, just because I don't have a close-knit clique doesn't mean I don't have any friends. The friends I have come from all different walks of life, some are from my town back home and some are from across the country. I've known some of my friends for years, and others I've only known for a few months. It doesn't really matter where they come from, though. What matters is that the friends I have all entertain me, care for me, and support me. Just because I'm not in that "friend group" with all of them together doesn't mean that we can't be friends to each other.

Still, I hate avoiding sticking myself in a box, and I'm not afraid to seek out friendships. I've noticed that a lot of the people I see who consider themselves to be in a "friend group" don't really venture outside the pack very often. I've never had a pack to venture outside of, so I don't mind reaching out to new people whenever.

I'm not going to lie, when I hear people talking about all the fun they're going to have with their "friend group" over the weekend, part of me wishes I could be included in something like that. I do sometimes want to have the personality type that allows me to mesh perfectly into a clique. I couldn't tell you what it is about me, but there is some part of me that just happens to function better one-on-one with people.

I hated it all my life up until very recently, and that's because I've finally learned that not having a "friend group" is never going to be the same as not having friends.

SEE ALSO: To The Girls Who Float Between Friend Groups

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Past Legal And Modern Social Apartheid

An opinion piece on past legal Apartheid in South Africa and how it is socially reflected in the United States.


When stepping inside of a solitary cell at Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg, I felt a tightness in my chest and wanted to leave that small space immediately; imagining a Black South African who broke the pass laws during Apartheid being in there is beyond disturbing. Due to laws such as the Native (Urban) Areas Act No 21 of 1923, the Bantu/Native Building Workers Act of 1951, and the Bantu Homelands Citizens Act of 1970, Black South Africans during Apartheid were extremely limited in where they could live, detrimentally affecting their economic and employment opportunities. When touring the former Constitutional Hill prison, the guide told us that, when Black South Africans were caught without passes permitting their stay in Joburg for the day and/or night, they spent 5 days in prison, along with murderers and others who committed serious crimes. If caught multiple times breaking these pass laws, they would spend 5 years in this prison. Most of those who violated these pass laws were unemployed or sought better employment in Joburg; this is understandable, as a person has a better chance of having a job by being there physically. When thinking further about the lack of opportunity they suffered from due to the aforementioned laws creating this effect, this legal repercussion becomes further and further disturbing. Additionally, this also directly led to the creation of "White" and "Black" areas, where Whites lived in areas of better opportunity (ex. cities, suburbia), and Blacks were subjected to living in poverty and townships where there was limited economic and employment opportunities.

This lack of opportunity is echoed in the U.S. when looking at socially designated "White" and "Black" areas. Trayvon Martin was murdered by George Zimmerman essentially because he thought Martin "was not where he belonged", which was in a nice suburban area. As a person of color myself, I have been stared at in museums, followed in stores, and once at 12 years old kicked out of a shop (I did not do anything wrong), because I "stuck out". In this way, society told me (and violently told Martin) that we don't belong in those areas, that we "belong" in ghettos or prison; the racial demographics of populations in U.S. prisons will support me here. Therefore, by society socially designating where people "belong", not only do they bind themselves in their own ignorance, but also prevent people of color from sharing the same access to plentiful life and economic opportunity.


Native (Urban) Areas Act No 21 of 1923: Prevented Black South Africans from leaving designated area without a pass. The ruling National Party saw this as keeping Whites "safe" while using Blacks for cheap labor.

Bantu/Native Building Workers Act of 1951: Allowed Black South Africans to enter the building industry as artisans and laborers. Restricted to "Native" areas. Prevented competition between Whites, Coloureds, and Blacks. Could not work outside a designated area unless given special permission.

Bantu Homelands Citizens Act of 1970: All Black South Africans would lose their South African citizenship/nationality over time. Would not be able to work in "South Africa" due to being aliens. Black South Africans would have to work inside their own areas and could only work in urban areas if they had special permission from the Minister.

South African History Online. "Apartheid Legislation 1850s-1970s." South African History Online, South African History Online, 11 Apr. 2016, www.sahistory.org.za/article/apartheid-legislation....

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