Photo credit : Issam Smiri
Photo credit : Issam Smiri

From the moment we are born into this world, our first breath comes along with pre-determined social expectations. We are assigned roles, based on our actual sex, that we do not necessarily keep or approve when we grow older. It is what we call gender roles.

Gender roles vary from one country to another. According to “Gender Roles” Research Starters.They are :

Separate patterns of personality traits, mannerisms, interests, attitudes, and behaviors that are attributed by society and regarded as either « male » or « female » by one’s culture.

Our Tunisian culture for instance, drew certain behavioral patterns for both men and women to act accordingly. Generally speaking, men are expected to be the breadwinners and women are expected to be in charge of running the household and taking care of children. Then again, we live in the 21st century, things have changed and  gender roles nowadays may even be different within the same culture.

Lately and specially starting from International Woman’s Day, many international mobilizations on gender related issues were launched. These mobilizations gave me motivation to lay bare gender expectations in Tunisia and deal with the topic from a national viewpoint. I was curious about how today’s generation thinks about gender roles and I figured that the best way to do so is to leave it for Tunisians (28 students in my case) to answer a one question survey : What are the things that you would like to do, but you can only do them if you were a member of the opposite sex ? 

After reading the following answers, you will be the ones to judge gender roles in Tunisia by yourselves. (I kept the answers provided to me in Tunisian between parenthesis right after the English translation so as to keep the Tunisian ‘flavor’ in the article.)

Girls Boys
– I don’t want to be passive, I want to make the first step when it comes to dating.
– Pee wherever I want.
– Smoke in public.
– Go out at night without a fuss.
– Making mistakes but not being judged for it coz I’m a man. 
– Having sex everyday with a boy.
hahah..If I were a boy … ♩ ♪ ♫ ♬ Beyonce says it all ?
– I would never wash the dishes..never.. ever.. Oook ^__^
– I would never break a girl’s heart.
– Not shaving my legs or my armpits.. Or only if I WANT/NEED to
– I want to be able to spend the night out specially when there is a protest that I want to take part in. 
– Play football with the neighborhood boys and sit with them in “men – only “ cafés.
– Have drinks with my male friends. 
– If I were a boy I would date a girl without digging into her past.
– Be free to leave or stay in the house whenever I want to. 
– Go to cafés at night.
– Play cards/Belote in “men-only” cafés.
– I wouldn’t have to spend so much time on my appearance (make-up, outfits etc..).
– Go on road trips and learn how to survive hardships.
– Swim in the sea alone at night. 
– I want to know how it feels like to sleep with a girl.  (this girl does not even know the equivalent expression for « having sex » in the Tunisian dialect.. Who says innocence has an age ? xD)
– Just relax and forget about the dishes.
– Spend the day out and not feeling guilty about it.
– Rubbing my genitals in the street when they are itching (like what man comfortably and publicly do when their crotch itches). 
– Lose my virginity with no sense of guilt whatsoever.
– Getting married without being asked to have kids by every single person around me (friends, family, parents in law, neighbors..)
– Be able to pray while wearing shorts (or light clothes in general  like man do). 
– Go out to bars for a drink with no one staring at me or harassing me. 
– Using the metro/train without being harassed.
– Travel alone without having a family member accompanying me as a Safety Pass card. 
– Peeing standing up : against a wall or in a public garden.(too ambitious lol)
– Go out at night to party then go back home late without being asked “why did you stay out this late ?”
– Eating with the family at home and not having to clean the table afterwards each single time because I’m the GIRL while my brothers just lay there watching TV.
– Do whatever I want to do without having to justify anything.
– Travel abroad and live alone.
– Renting an apartment with male friends without being judged by society.
– Not wearing makeup at all and not being called “ugly”.
– I would look for a part-time job as a secretary or receptionist  because it would be easier for me to be hired when I’m a girl.
– I want to try  high heels or tights,  it seems that they can keep you warm in winter.
– I want to know what menstruation feels like.
– Try pad and see whether they are really effective or not :p.
– I wish girls would ask me out for a change.
– See feminine things girls do from their perspective.
– I’m satisfied the way I am, I don’t want to try anything girly. *Is being girly demeaning?*
– I want to be pregnant. 
– I want to feel free to cook for the family and not being asked to leave the kitchen because the task is not “manly” enough for me.
– Wear makeup to cover my blemishes just like girls  because my flaws make me feel insecure too.
– Try accessories for women : earrings,rings etc..
– Shedding tears in public without being seen as less “masculine”. (It’s human!)
– Wearing tight jeans without being teased about it. Some guy asked me once if I was wearing my sister’s clothes.
– Go to women’s Hammam (Turkish bath). (not so

These answers tell a lot, but let’s  point out the obvious

Even though the number of male interviewees matches that of female interviewees (14 boys and 14 girls), the answers of the latter were curiously longer. Unlike most boys who showed hesitation at first, girls seemed to have multiple answers to the question and eager to write down them down. (I reorganized some long answers  so as to match the bullet point format). Besides, judging by the content of these answers, I would say that regardless of their gender identity, the major quest for both boys and girls can be mainly summed up in three keywords : peace, love and freedom (not necessarily in that order though…lol). As cliché and cheesy these words may sound, I strongly believe that they are at the heart of a healthy society. In other words, every human being, be it a man or a woman, should have the freedom to do whatever he/she Loves in peace as long as it doesn’t harm others.

In short,  Gender roles are nothing but mere dictations imposed on us by society. We are continuously and implicitly nurturing these roles by simply complying to society and enjoying our passive peace.  I’m aware that it’s hard to detach ourselves from the social pressure that is exerted on us but we should at least not let it shape our behavior radically. By conforming to these gender stereotypes, we are contributing to their existence. My point is : we are society’s future generation that someday, in its turn,  will take part in raising the next generation, so if we can’t make instant changes, at least we can pave the way for a better reality for the generations that will follow.