The hardest stereotypes to break are the ones that are so old as to go all the way back to hunter-gatherer days. After all, how can you argue with biology? Women carry the babies, men have the upper body strength to tackle gazelles. Nobody made that up out of thin air.
But if society has taught us one thing, it’s that it becomes way too easy to attach amendments to that bill, claiming that all sexual and gender stereotypes date back to the early days of human evolution. Of course, in reality …
#5. “Pink Is for Girls” Is a Recent Idea
For most families, finding out the gender of their baby early on is crucial, since everyone needs to know what color of clothes and toys to get them — pink or blue? Almost immediately after being born, an infant is outfitted with his or her uniform (a blue T-shirt or pink headband, respectively) so there can be no confusion. You don’t want your baby to turn out gay, do you?
“Margaret, you get little Steve out of that outfit this instant.”
If it’s a girl, don’t forget to paint the room pink and get pink curtains. Pink is an inherently girly color that makes us think of flowers and sweet smells and being delicate, while blue is, uh, football, Chevy trucks … Smurfs … that topless lizard chick from Avatar …
But at One Time …
If it’s starting to seem pretty arbitrary, that’s because it totally is. Up until the start of World War I, people didn’t care what color their kids’ diapers were, because it was the freaking 19th century. What color the fabric is under the baby poop is the last thing on your mind when you have to deal with insanely high infant mortality rates, the Civil War, cholera and roving packs of baby-eating wolves (look, the old days were hard, OK?).
“Don’t worry, Junior, dogs are your friends!”
Luckily, all our gender issues were heartily resolved by the 1910s, when it was decided that we’d assign colors to each “team”: blue was for girls and pink was for boys. No, that’s not a typo: A 1918 editorial from Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department stated that pink was “a more decided and stronger color … more suitable for the boy; while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” It makes sense: Pink is the color of a nice, raw, manly steak, or the blood of your enemies splattered on a white uniform.
Which is why Matt Stone appears to be far manlier than Trey Parker.
But things had started to switch by 1927, and there was disagreement as to which gender should get which color — Time magazine even printed a chart showing which stores were advocating each. It wasn’t until 1940 that the colors switched and advertisers decided to just go with pink for girls.
This goes beyond colors, too, by the way. For example, take a look at this baby:
Back in the day, thigh-high leather boots were for toddlers, not dominatrixes.
Cute, right? Let’s see what she looks like all grown up:
She’s the one in the wheelchair.
Yeah, that’s FDR in the dress. In those days, it was common to throw every kid in a dress, because who cares? So it turns out the real danger of dressing androgynously is the possibility of your kid growing up to get elected president of the U.S. four times in a row.
#4. Crying Used to Be a Symbol of Manliness
Pop quiz: What’s the difference between Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck? Answer: When they were both stuck with the task of stopping a meteor from destroying the Earth, one of them cried, and the other saved the world.
Pictured: Not the hero.
A man crying in a movie can only mean two things: Either that man has lost his grip, or he’s more of a soft, sensitive, romantic type than an action hero. That’s why Leonardo DiCaprio has shed some choice tears in nearly every movie he’s ever been in, while we’re pretty sure Liam Neeson in Taken doesn’t even have tear ducts. It’s just natural: We see crying men as weak and lame — pussified, if you will.
Crying men don’t get to throat-punch on camera.
But at One Time …
When the epics of ancient Greece were first transcribed to paper, you can bet it was paper stained with the tears of their sobbing protagonists. Odysseus (the guy who killed a Cyclops and frickin’ won the Trojan War) would break down into tears periodically, at least once just because he listened to an emotional song. That’s because in ancient Greek culture, “men were expected to cry if their family’s honor was at stake.” One of the greatest signs of true manliness was to shed tears.
“I weep, for now I must strangle a beautiful creature with my bare hands.”
Yeah, but that’s Greece, right? They were all kinds of androgynous! On the contrary: This idea was spread through most cultures, and continued through the Middle Ages and up to the Romantic Movement. Japanese samurai, medieval heroes and even Beowulf himself cried like babies throughout their adventures. As recently as the 19th century, male tears were actually celebrated as a sign of honesty, integrity and strength. And not in the “you’re brave enough to show your weakness” way, but just as a symbol that you actually gave a crap. And it probably also meant you were confident that no one would mock you, since you had just won a battle or torn the limbs off of a monster with your bare hands.
#3. PMS Didn’t Always Make Women Irrational
Oh, come on, everyone knows about premenstrual syndrome, or PMS. It’s that time of the month when a woman’s cycle turns her into an irrational scream machine. It’s why we can never have a woman president: We’d have a war every 28 days! (Because presidents are totally allowed to decide whether or not we go to war.) It’s also the reason women need to stay in the kitchen and make us sandwiches, because sexism sexism sexism.
“We just nuked Canada because it said we look fat in these shoes.”
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While scientists have always found reasons to discount women’s opinions as irrational, their excuses are pretty inconsistent. Back in ancient Greece, Hippocrates blamed female bad moods on the uterus getting knocked out of place and blocking the heart, which meant she should engage in as much sex as possible to push it back where it belongs.
When sex came to be considered more of a sin with the rise of Christianity, these “irrational” bursts of anger started to get blamed on having too much sex. Then, by the late 18th century, it was considered a side effect of going too long without getting pregnant.
If by “too long” you mean “a month.”
So what does the science say? Well, if the researchers don’t tell their subjects what they’re looking for, they find no correlation between mood alteration and the menstrual cycle. Even among studies that do find a correlation between PMS and mood, many of them place PMS in completely different places in the woman’s cycle.
“I’m not PMSing — I’m pissed off.”
We’re not saying that hormones don’t change behavior — they do, in both women and men — but there’s little evidence to suggest that women become emotionally compromised or irrational during the supposed “PMS” phase.
The biggest problem here is separating culture from biology. Or, more specifically, the way we write off cultural effects as biological. We are told from an early age that a woman’s period will make her act like a bitch. Regardless of the truth, that makes it easy for a female to see it as a blank check to be in a bad mood and for a man to dismiss every female emotional reaction as a series of noises made by her lady parts.
#2. Gay Stereotypes Change More Often Than a Gay Man’s Clothing
If there’s one thing really bad sitcom writers have taught us, it’s that making gay people and straight people interact will have waaaaacky consequences! The reason for this is clearly because gay men actually have a lot in common with straight women, and gay women who aren’t “lipstick lesbians” are, of course, motorcycle-riding tattooed badasses.
Women can’t even hold a wrench until they’ve been issued their Lesbian Card.
Of course, anyone who has actually met (or is) a gay person knows that these things aren’t necessarily true, but it’s hard to break stereotypes that are centuries old. That’s why you still hear things like “I’m not homophobic, but, you gotta admit, that gay lisp and that feminist crap is just weird, right? I don’t mind if they’re gay, as long as they act straight.”
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As this list is starting to show, “acting straight” has never been the same thing for very long … and, surprise! It’s the same for acting gay! Once again, trying to separate cultural influences from biology turns into a big mess.
Above: Traditional samurai manskirts.
For instance, despite the current stereotype that gay men are effeminate, during the Renaissance a big part of being “manly” was being bisexual. As recently as the 1930s, “manly” women (that is, women who enjoyed sports and acted like tomboys) were seen as dangerously slutty straight chicks, the kind of crazy girls who show off their tramp-stamps by dancing on tables and refusing to get along with your mom, no matter how much effort she puts into her pie.
It’s like our granddaddies said: If she’ll shoot hoops, she likes it in her poop shoot.
A big part of this is the relatively recent idea that “gay” is a distinct class of individual, something that didn’t actually come along until the 1860s. Don’t get us wrong — homosexual sex was widely considered to be immoral before that, but back then, anyone could have been doing it. And there was no way to spot them because, well, other than their sexual habits, they were just like anyone else.
#1. A “Man’s Place” and a “Woman’s Place” Is Whatever Makes the Most Economic Sense
Ask most anyone and they’ll tell you that while women’s liberation is a good thing now, the fact of the matter is that it flies in the face of millenniums of evolution. For as long as society has existed, men have been the hunter-gatherers and women have been the domestic homemakers. There’s nothing sexist about this (they’ll insist) — it’s just reality. In all of history, there’s been a “man’s world” and a “woman’s world,” and never the twain shall meet.
Unless people are “twaining,” if you know what we mean (we mean sex).
But at One Time ..
Despite what the Flintstones may have taught you about caveman family values, the distinction between the “man’s world” and the “woman’s world” is actually fairly new, and by fairly new we mean the Industrial Revolution.
Running a house is no picnic even today, but as we mentioned at the beginning of this article, it was a freaking nightmare in the 1800s. While a contemporary father knowing how to change diapers and do dishes is considered a “catch” or “progressive” (or “whipped,” depending on your perspective), back then it was just … being a dad. Making sure a baby lived long enough to help out on the farm was a super important responsibility, and instead of arguing over whose job it was, people just did it.
“OK, Billy, we’re all done here. Get back to the fields.”
There are many reasons that things shifted, but it basically boils down to the rise of out-of-home labor. Working in factories meant not being in the house all day, and men got most of the factory jobs because … you know, 19th century. It was then that the “cult of true womanhood” appeared, and the idea of motherhood as a full-time profession became popular and accepted. As the industrial world became more brutal and competitive, a stronger border between the two spheres became the norm, and before you knew it, BOOM: Mad Men happened.
It happened like a boss.
The more research we do, the more it seems like the only behavior consistently considered normal is the tendency to be way too strict about what normal behavior actually is — and then being really shitty to the people who don’t conform. So next time you hear someone criticized for not being “manly” or “feminine” enough, remember that, for the most part, the only things keeping it from being 180 degrees different are the numbers on the calendar.