By Jeanne Mariella Uwimana

It came to my mind to think and pay attention to gender stereotypes recently. From my own experience, I would say that gender stereotypes are harmful, and don’t allow people to fully express themselves, and their emotions – for example, that men are not allowed to be sensitive and cry, and show their feelings and emotions, and that women are not allowed to be fully independent, smart, and assertive. Yet I have found this to be true in many cultures. Especially in this unusual time of a global health crisis, where emotions are challenged on a daily basis, and where life is hard for most people, shouldn’t it be OK for a man to burst into tears when he is overwhelmed?

In my culture, which is Rwandese culture, we have a saying – “Act like a man.” That means being strong, so that even if something is really painful, men should not cry. We also say, “Amalira y’umugabo atemba ajya munda,” or “Tears of a man flow inside, not outside.” This is said in Burundi as well. A man is not supposed to show emotions. In my case, I think it is OK for men to cry, instead of displacing their emotions. But this idea is unusual in my culture. In general, people think that men crying is a sign of weakness. But I think that when a man is in pain, he can let it come out, and embrace the pain and the reality of emotion. During the lockdown, men have certainly sometimes broken down emotionally. I think this is natural.

Many couples experience a lot of strain when they get to the U.S. One reason is that the woman often starts working outside the home, and for the first time, the man has to start helping out at home. Losing the roles that defined him back home is upsetting for many men, and can upset the peace of the household. Back home, men were expected to take care of finances and big home repairs, while women were expected to take care of children, cook, and clean the home. It is a huge shift for women to take a leading role in the family, and provide for their households financially, on top of their duties of being caregivers for children and partners.

Here, women often bring the same amount of money to the home as men. Culturewise, this is not the way it usually is, and it is hard to understand. In many groups and communities back home, it was really taboo for men to help in the home. In Rwanda, many people have others who help in the household, who take care of the children, and who cook. Even people without a lot of money often had someone to help. So when people get here, men really have had no experience at all cooking, cleaning, changing diapers, and doing work they are used to having women do. In some cases, men actually want to help their wives, and do it willingly, but when guests come over from your home country, men believe that if they serve drinks or food, while the woman is also in the house, the guests will think that the woman controls the man.

In my opinion, extreme gender stereotypes are harmful. If you look, you will probably see examples around your community, circle of friends, and workplace. You may also have experienced sexism or discrimination based on gender. Breaking down gender stereotypes should be a duty to all of us. In my point of view, as the world moves on, saying that there’s this to be done by a man, and this to be done by a woman, should be decreasing meaningfully, except when there really is something that can’t be accomplished by the opposite gender. There are ways to challenge gender stereotypes that will help everyone to feel valuable and equal, no matter what their identity is. Because gender stereotypes can cause unequal and unfair treatment in community, let’s be aware and act against them.

Mariella is a native of Rwanda and a global citizen, having lived, loved, worked, and studied on three continents. She’s committed to living a deeply meaningful life and intentionally creates loving community and family connections wherever she lands. As an expert in diversity, equity, and inclusion, she hopes to be an asset for the community to build bridges between New Mainers and long-time Mainers. She is passionate about helping women grow and learn to live balanced lives.