Orlando and Gender Roles

We recently watched the movie Orlando in my Gender and Race class. This is what I wrote on the topic of gender roles for our weekly “Think Piece.” These are short papers giving our take on what we saw, discussed, or read that week.

Orlando and Gender

I found Orlando to be an interesting and odd movie. Obviously one of the main subjects was the role of women and men in society. Not just the lower status that doesn’t allow for the ownership of property and other legal inequalities for women, but also just the social expectations attached to gender roles. When Orlando was a man, he was expected to charge into the glory of battle willingly. These expectations don’t take into account the personal feelings of the individual. People who buck these stereotypes are often treated as weird or, in some places and stages in the world and history, outcast from society or persecuted legally. This was the case when Orlando was changed to a woman. Her lands were confiscated unless she had a male heir.

In my own life, I don’t recall growing up with any particular gender role expectations. I saw my mom raise me by herself. I also saw her enter into the male dominated world of the timber industry. She worked for years on tree planting crews and eventually became a sawyer there. She put up with quite a lot of teasing and ridicule in that setting for doing a “man’s job.” I say that I didn’t feel any particular gender role expectations. But, on second thought, that’s not entirely accurate. There is always the pressure to fit the beauty standards of the day. These are always much harsher for women. I read a study last year for another class about the self esteem levels of women of different sexual orientation. They compared heterosexual, bisexual, and lesbian women’s general levels of self esteem and found that lesbians had the highest levels overall. This isn’t surprising when you consider that heterosexual females are competing for the attentions of males who are biologically hardwired to pay more attention to physical attractiveness. This puts the onus on us to measure and compare that attractiveness against each other.

Also, some gender inequalities are so institutionalized that it’s hard to even see them. I’ve read recently that women still are paid on average approximately seventy-five cents for every dollar that a man is paid for the same job. But, it’s hard to see that because we don’t talk about finances openly. How would I know that the man working next to me is making more than I am? I can say that I didn’t feel much in the way of gender role pressure, but I think it may be like trying to explain water to a fish. It’s there, all around you, but you can’t really fathom it because you can’t see it and there isn’t anything else to compare it to. I don’t know what would have been different had I been born a boy. Would I have been more encouraged to participate in sports? I have no idea. I played basketball and was supported in that. I doubt it would have made a lot of difference in my home. In my life in society? Probably a very big difference. But I can’t see that from here.