Stereotypes, Gender Bending and Gay Acceptance

As athletes like Jason Collins and Britney Griner come out, Maya Dusenbery writes in the Atlantic that while America has become more understanding of gays and gay culture, gender association is still tricky.

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Britney Griner at the 2013 GLAAD Media Awards in San Francisco (John Medina/WireImage/Getty Images)

As America becomes more accepting of homosexuality, old stereotypes die hard. Maya Dusenbery writes in the Atlantic that in sports, men who have come out like Jason Collins are shielded by their gender conformity and the outward stereotypical masculinity of playing sports. However, for gay people who don't conform to gender stereotypes, like baller Britney Griner, it can be a hard road.

It's not just boys who are punished for breaking gender norms, of course. Take Griner for example. In an op-ed in the New York Timesshe recalled that in seventh grade "the teasing about my height, appearance and sexuality went on nonstop, every day." Notably, it seemed to have more to do with her gender than her sexual orientation: "People called me a dude and said there was no way I could be a woman. Some even wanted me to prove it to them."

Still, at this moment in history, it is easier to be a gender non-conforming girl. "Girls are allowed a lot more leeway to be outside of traditional femininity than boys are allowed to be outside of traditional masculinity," says Barbara Risman, head of the department of sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and senior scholar at the Council on Contemporary Families. So while girls also hold each other to rigid standards, and are vicious when someone doesn't conform (one word: slut-shaming), they're far less likely to be homophobic. The GLSEN report, for example, found that over half of students reported hearing remarks about students not acting "masculine enough," but just over a third heard comments about students' "femininity" as often. Up to a certain age, girls can usually get away with being tomboys, while "sissy" boys are discouraged from very early on—and not just by their peers. Studies have shown that parents—especially fathers—are more uncomfortable with their young sons playing with dolls or dresses than with their daughters doing stereotypically "boy" activities. And though stepping too far outside of acceptable gender norms is seen as a problem for everyone, to a degree, women may even be rewarded for distancing themselves from femininity at times.

Read Maya Dusenbery's entire piece at the Atlantic.

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