From an early age, boys and girls receive messages about what is expected of them as a boy or girl. These early ‘gendered’ messages usually come from parents, caregivers and other family members or educators, and are often explicit: Act like a lady; Do as you are told like a good girl; Be strong, like a man. Only girls are crybabies; Hit him back. Show him who’s the man! Other more implicit (hidden) messages are socially constructed and are often seen as ‘natural’, as if they were biological facts about males and females, e.g. who plays which roles and who has the highest status, power and control in family relationships, in the community, in the workplace and nationally.
Although most cultures around the world have long-held patriarchal (male-dominant) patterns of power and control, many countries are emerging from these patriarchal systems. Women (and many men) are increasingly challenging male dominance and economic and social conditions may also lead to many women holding positions of relative power in their families. However, even when laws and policies are designed to correct the male-female power imbalance and empower women, deeply ingrained everyday patriarchal attitudes and behaviours hold back change at all levels of society. Change can be stressful as men experience women exerting power and control in various spheres of life and feel their status and roles are threatened and uncertain.