Inmy culture, there are various gender norms that are use to definegender identity of an individual. Generally, women are supposed to besubmissive, flirtatious, weak, soft, nurturing, sexually submissive,quite, innocent, passive, dependent, graceful, emotional andaccepting. On the other hand, men are expected to be independent,strong, active, aggressive, hard, rebellious, clumsy, competitive,non-emotional, tough-skinned, experienced and sexually aggressive. Ichose to violate gender norms when I decided to assist my friend, whois also a girl to repair her car that had broken down just before weleft college for home. Amongst us were male friends, which my friendwas seeking assistance from, when she noticed that I had alreadygotten my hands dirty, with a toolbox working on the engine. This isa role that is associated with masculinity. I chose this particularactivity because, there was enough audience and I wanted to see theirreaction. I also knew this behavior was not harmful to anyone andwould appear a genuine behavior. Other behaviors that I hadbrainstormed would have raised suspicion or would not be successful.I had repaired a similar problem before on my own back at home and Iwas sure this would work out well. I did not want a situation where Iwould leave the situation incomplete. I wanted something that I wasconfident with, despite it being a violation of norms.
Iviolated the norm of being feminine by getting myself dirty andworking on the engine. I had some basic knowledge on rectifyingignition issues in a car. As such, I was very confident in what I wasdoing. To the surprise of the onlookers both girls and boys, the carstarted successfully. My hands were oiled as I engaged the engine,and I just wiped off the excess dirt using my blouse, as if it was anapron. This even made them more surprised. Normally, girls aresupposed to seek the assistance of a male when their car breaks down. Essentially, a girl is not expected to get involved in roughactivities or even getting clumsy. My behavior was obviously aviolation of a gender role in most societies.
Beforeengaging in this activity, I was very nervous, but did not want toshow it. I felt that as a girl am not supposed to be masculineespecially in the presence of my peers in college. I knew veryclearly that they would call me a tomboy, something that I could notaccept. However, for the sake of my observation test, I decided to goahead as the opportunity was perfect. As my friend was engaging malefriends at the parking lot for assistance, I opened the car bonnetand went for the tool box. I was on the engine when a group ofgentlemen came over to lend a hand. Alas! They couldn’t believewhat I was doing. Somehow I felt proud and at the same timeembarrassed. They were expecting to see the outcome of my mechanicknowledge. With success, they were surprised and commended me, whichmade me feel even more confident. At the end, when I wiped my handson my blouse, they were all gaze. They thought this to be an extremebehavior that they didn’t expect from a girl. Nevertheless, I hadachieved my objective.
Allthe people at the parking lot had gathered around to see me violatethe norm. Some of them were giggling behind my back as someencouraged me verbally with terms like “Go girl!” “Yes you cando it” while some of them were skeptical that I would manage torestore the car to start. I was confident that I would do it andtried to compose myself not to listen to doubt Thomas. From nowhere,a guy arrived and said that this was absurd that the boys wereallowing me to do this when they could help. He offered to help but Ideclined. He said I was only embarrassing myself as the car wouldn’tstart. I turned a deaf year on them. I was confident I would manage.My friend was starting to be impatient as she thought that, the menwould help solve the problem with more ease. In a moment as shestarted becoming impatient, I told one of the guys to start the car.As I was expecting, some of them were already laughing, while otherswere holding their breath. Alas! The car started, leaving everyone’smouth wide open. Some gave me a word of applause, while others teasedme Madam, mechanic. To brush off the critics especially men, Iconcluded. “What a man can do, women can do better”. The girlswere all happy with my comment and yelled “Yes!” Somehow, thisgave me even more confidence.
Themost awkward moment was when I decided to go extreme. Fixing the carwasn’t just enough for me, I had to confirm that I had broken thenorm. I rubbed my engine oil-stained hands on my blouse afterreturning the toolbox to the boot of the car. This took everyone toanother level of surprise. The boys and girls could not hide theirfeelings, they screamed, making all kinds of comments. “Girls don’tget dirty!” “You’re so clumsy!” were among the things that Icould hear from far as I was feeling somehow embarrassed by now. Somegentlemen tried to hand me their scarves to cover myself as I waslooking quite funny. I declined and assured them I was fine withthat. After all, I was heading home. My girlfriend thought that I wasdeclining to take offers from the guys, so she told me that she had aspare top in her handbag which I could change and return to normalcy.To her surprise, I was not interested too. Well by now everyone hadgiven up on me. I could hear some people whispering “She is goingcrazy!”
AnywayI went home, thinking that my assignment was over, but I was wrong.At home I met my brother and my mom in the sitting room as I headedto my room to freshen up. “Oh my God! What happened?” Yelled mymum and brother. I assured them that nothing was wrong, as I only hadhelped a friend fix her car. In disbelief, my mom asked whether wewere all alone for me to go to that extent. I told them it was in theparking lot at college and I volunteered to help despite several boysbeing around and willing to help. This left them in disbelief as Iwent to my room and changed. Much to their relief, I later explainedto them that it was part of a class assignment.
Genderroles are inscribed by the society from early childhood. Boys andgirls have different gender roles. Basically, men are described asmasculine while women are feminine. Gender theories explain why thereare gender stereotypes in the society. The social learning theory forinstance argues that we learn gender roles right from childhood.Parents applaud behaviors that seem appropriate while they suppressbehaviors that are seen as contradicting the norm. By the age ofthree years, a child can already identify with a certain gender, aboy or a girl and continues to follow the desired gender rolesappropriate to their sex. This was very clear in my experience. Frommy upbringing and that of my peers, we had been made to conform togender roles appropriate to our gender. Repairing a car or anymechanical work is the work of men and women are associated withhousehold chores. When I embarked on violating gender roles, it wasclear that it was a big deal to everyone including my mother and abrother whom we had been brought in the same environment over theyears. Gender roles are very influential in the way we behave athome, school or in the workplace. To some extent, they influence ourchoice of career, relationships, health and life in general. Forinstance, a woman experiencing physical violence from her husband mayperceive this as a normal thing since gender roles expect women to besubmissive. This explains why there are more male engineers thanwomen. My experience illuminates the greater societal expectations.Even though I could handle some of the roles reserved from men, forthe society, it is a violation of the norm. It is unacceptable for awoman to fix a car when a man is just staring. Fixing cars is thework of men. Ultimately, this course has enabled me understand theextent of gender roles, gender identity, as well as genderstereotyping in my life and the society at large.