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5. Girls are weighed down by restrictions, boys with demands – two equally harmful disciplines.




In societies worldwide, the profound impact of gender expectations and societal pressures on the lives of girls and boys continues to be a pressing concern. Recent years have witnessed powerful movements and incidents that spotlight the enduring relevance of this issue. The global #MeToo movement, sparked by women who courageously shared their experiences of harassment and assault, has exposed the deeply ingrained restrictions that women often confront. Simultaneously, the evolving concept of toxic masculinity and the toll it takes on men’s mental health and emotional well-being exemplify the demands placed on boys and men within society.


Essence of the topic:

The quote from Simone de Beauvoir conveys that that societal pressures and expectations based on gender roles can be equally harmful to both girls and boys. It underscores the need to address and challenge these harmful gender norms and expectations that limit individuals’ opportunities, perpetuate inequalities, and impact their mental and emotional well-being.


Thesis statement:

By examining recent examples and their consequences, this essay will demonstrate the urgent need to dismantle harmful gender norms and promote a more inclusive and equitable society that allows individuals of all genders to thrive without being weighed down by societal expectations.


Girls: Weighed Down By Restrictions

  • Quote: “The question isn’t who’s going to let me, it’s who’s going to stop me.” – Ayn Rand
  • Educational restrictions: Girls often face limitations in accessing quality education due to societal norms. In some regions, girls are discouraged from pursuing higher education, and their access to schools may be restricted.
  • The Malala Yousafzai case, where the Pakistani education activist was targeted by the Taliban for advocating girls’ education.
  • Career aspirations: Gender stereotypes and expectations can limit girls’ career choices. They may be discouraged from pursuing careers in fields traditionally dominated by men and limited to “pink-collar jobs”.
  • The gender pay gap in many countries reflects the limitations placed on girls’ career opportunities and wage disparities. Women earn only 81 cents for every dollar men earn hourly, a significant gender pay gap, according to the UN.
  • Cultural and social norms: Cultural norms may impose restrictions on girls’ clothing, behaviour, and interactions, leading to a lack of freedom and personal agency.
  • The debate over clothing choices, such as the recent Hijab-Uniform controversy, highlights how restrictions on girls’ attire can become a societal issue.
  • Higher prevalence of malnutrition as well as body image issues in the female population due to restrictions on food habits and looks.
  • Early marriage and parenthood: In some societies, girls are forced into early marriages and motherhood, curtailing their opportunities for personal development and education. Thus, they face restrictions ‘from womb to tomb’.
  • Limited mobility: Restrictions on girls’ mobility, such as curfews or limitations on travelling alone, limit their independence and experiences.

Boys: Weighed Down With Demands

  • Quote: “Boys need healthy self-esteem. They need love…Patriarchy will not heal them.” — Bell Hooks
  • Traditional masculine expectations: Boys often face societal demands to conform to traditional norms, which can include suppressing emotions, showing dominance, and avoiding vulnerability.
  • The pressure on boys to avoid expressing emotions such as sadness or fear, as seen in the phrase “boys don’t cry,” exemplifies traditional masculinity expectations.
  • Academic and career demands: Boys are frequently pushed to excel academically and achieve career success, sometimes at the expense of their mental health and well-being.
  • Physical appearance and fitness demands: Boys may face demands to maintain a certain physical appearance or level of fitness to conform to societal ideals of masculinity.
  • The prevalence of body image issues and eating disorders among boys is driven by pressure to have a “perfect” physique.
  • Pressure to provide: Boys may feel immense pressure to become primary providers for their families, which can be emotionally and economically burdensome.
  • In some cultures, boys are groomed from a young age to be breadwinners, leading to high levels of stress and responsibility. This is even seen in Gross enrollment ratio (GER) data in India as boys’ GER is lower with progressive higher stages of education.

Breaking Free: Social Hindrances and Overcoming Them

  • Quote: “The power to question is the basis of all human progress.” – Indira Gandhi
  • Underlying factors: Gender-based restrictions and demands often stem from deeply ingrained cultural and societal norms.
  • This is bound even in religion and ancient scriptures as patriarchal gender roles have been defined in works like Qur’an and Manusmriti.
  • Current social hindrances: Contemporary challenges include the persistent influence of harmful gender stereotypes and biases that affect various aspects of life, such as employment, leadership opportunities, and media representation.
  • There is a resurgence of social conservatism with social media influence like the ‘Tradwife movement
  • Role of socio-religious reforms: Throughout history, socio-religious reform movements have sought to reinterpret religious texts and traditions to promote gender equality. This must be done once again in current times to reflect on the current gendered society.
  • This is visible in the gradual acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community by religious establishments like the Catholic church.
  • Education is empowerment: Investing in girls’ education provides them with the knowledge and skills to break free from restrictions while sensitising boys from a young age and freeing them of normative demands.
  • Beti Bachao Beti Padhao initiative of the government has seen laudable success in terms of girl child education. Critical thinking in education to remove gender stereotypes must be furthered by the implementation of the New Education Policy 2020.
  • Role of various media: Media platforms, when used positively, can challenge stereotypes and promote gender equality. Objectification of women and men, and derogatory media representation must become a thing of the past.
  • The recent trend of allowing “Plus-sized” models and diverse representation in popular media has helped the case.


As we navigate this path, we must embrace the words of Alice Walker: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” The power to challenge and change these harmful norms is within each of us, and it is through collective effort that we can overcome and transcend these limitations to build a more just and equal society for all.