Gender Stereotyping in Relationships

By Vicky Chong

My next door neighbour is currently renovating the bathrooms for the kids’ room. I say kids here but really, they are adults, the eldest son being 28 and the daughter 26. When I asked about the inconvenience of them sharing her bathroom, she told me her son moved in with his girlfriend for the time being.

“And you allowed it?” I asked rather naively.

She replied, “He is already 28, of marriageable age."

“So that means your daughter could also move in with her boyfriend?”

“That I won’t allow,” she replied.

So age isn’t really an issue here, but gender is. Her reasoning, like many Asian mothers, is that how other daughters behave is not my problem, but my daughter must behave differently, in fact even more morally upright.

And this brings me to the current Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) issue of the relationship course that was conducted by an external vendor. Based on what I read in the press, the issue concerned the stereotyping of genders in the booklet which was given out by the organization conducting the said course. The facilitator himself also did not handle the objection in an appropriate fashion.

HCI is an elite school with many outspoken parents (I am one of the parents, maybe not so outspoken) and students and things tend to get blown out of proportion when shared in social media. Unfortunately, such outbursts may be self serving, resulting in the underlying context not being properly considered.

In this case, stereotyping of genders is inevitable when teaching about relationships and communication in general. Why do you thing Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus? Even parents have admitted treating their sons and daughters who are in relationships differently. Parenting books for parenting toddlers to teenagers are full of such gender stereotypes. Yes, there are exceptions but these are the norm by and large.

As a past coordinator for family life events for schools, I applaud the Ministry of Social And Family Development (MSF) for the initiatives taken to conduct such talks for students and parents alike. I did not have such an opportunity when I was a teenager but it’s not too late to learn now in the capacity of a parent. Yes, objections to any materials presented is subjective and discussions about them would have been a precious teachable moment. It’s unfortunate that this instead led to petitions and attacks on the course conductor by the public.

Many people assumed incorrectly that most parents communicate with and teach relationship issues to their teenagers. Yes, parents are supposed to be the best teachers in these departments, but how many actually communicate to their children about everyday life affairs in an effective manner? Or any other topics for that matter? From my conversation with my neighbour, parents’ treatment of relationship issues already differ in accordance to gender. Stereotyping in some instances is therefore, can we say, inevitable?

This post was first published over at the blog of Vicky Chong on 10 October 2014. It is reproduced with permission.


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