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Gender Stereotypes That Were Once Reversed

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This sample MLA paper explores a number of modern gender stereotypes and the surprisingly reverse of throughout history. This sample essay was written at the undergraduate level for the Ultius blog.

Gender Stereotypes That Were Once Reversed

Gender stereotypes are assumptions and generalizations that are made about the roles of men and women. While many are neither positive nor negative, they are often completely inaccurate. Some common gender stereotypes include certain colors for boys and girls, crying considered to be a feminine act, and certain fashion items being exclusively for women. Surprisingly though, many of these stereotypes are not only recent, but were once thought to be the opposite.

Pink and blue

The most popular colors for baby clothes are blue and pink with blue being more closely associated with boys and pink often being considered to be exclusively for girls. Many baby products, toys, and outfits come in each color so that they can be gender-specific. Pink is typically thought of as more feminine, romantic, and delicate while blue is considered to be more masculine. However, until relatively recently, the opposite was true. In 1918, a magazine article declared that blue was for girls and pink was the more masculine color; blue was considered to be dainty and softer while pink, a derivative of red, is the stronger color of the two (Conradt). Still, none of this was considered rigid and different ads recommended different colors for both genders.

After the First World War, pink started slowly becoming more closely associated with femininity. A true shift really occurred, though, during the eighties. During this time, women who grew up wearing gender neutral colors wanted to dress up their daughter in pink and lace; in addition, it was becoming more common to find out the sex of the baby before it was born, so people were able to buy more gender-exclusive gifts.


Cheerleading is often considered to be a mostly-female sport. While some cheerleading teams do include members of both sexes, male cheerleaders participate more in the lifting and stunts rather than the actual cheering. Interestingly, when cheerleading began during the middle of the nineteenth century, it was an exclusively-male sport. The position of cheerleader was seen as equally important as a football team’s quarterback and considered by many to be one of the most prestigious things a young man could glean from his college experience. Women cheerleaders at the time were totally unheard of. Several presidents, including Dwight D. Eisenhower, Franklin Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan were all cheerleaders in college. Other famous male cheerleaders include Republican leader Tom DeLay who cheered for the University of Mississippi and actor Jimmy Stewart, head cheerleader at Princeton (Wade).

That all changed when more than four million men were deployed to fight in World War I and the cheerleading positions became vacant. Like the rest of the jobs that were left without personnel, women took over the empty positions. When the war was over and the men returned, they were generally unpleased with the way that women had taken over cheerleading, still believing it to be too masculine. Many tried to push women out of the sport and some schools even went so far as to ban female students from cheerleading (Martisiute). Another world war followed shortly after, however, and women seized upon the opportunity to fill in the vacant spots again and, as a result, came to dominate the sport. In time, the image of a cheerleading switched from a strong, masculine man to a happy, cheerful woman.


Several articles of clothing that are almost exclusive to women today were once more popular with men. Dresses, for example, were considered to be gender-neutral baby apparel between the mid-sixteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Before that, people of all ages and genders wore long tunics of some kind. Such modern amenities like diapers and wipes were not yet available, so young children wearing skirts before they were potty-trained made a lot of sense. Even when men started wearing pants, boys wore dresses and skirts until around the age of eight when they were given pants of their own, often during a special ceremony to mark the boy’s journey into boyhood (Martisiute). Still, it was easy to distinguish between male and female children because boy’s clothes were made with stronger fabric in plain colors and pattern.

Another fashion accessory that is typically considered to be feminine are high heeled shoes. The heeled shoes we are familiar with today gained popularity in Persia when Persian soldier rode into battle on horseback wearing high heels. The heels made it easier for soldiers to lock their feet into the stirrups when they stood in them to shoot a bow and arrow, providing them with a steadier stance (Oliver). When a group of Persian diplomats made their way to Europe seeking allies against the Ottoman Empire during the sixteenth century, the look became incredibly popular among the upper class across Europe. Because the Persians were known as impressive fighters in battle, high heels were considered to make men look more masculine, making them a status symbol among wealthy Europeans; this is the origin of the term ‘well-heeled’, which means wealthy (Oliver).

A particular fan of the high heeled shoe was King Louis XIV of France, who reportedly owned shoes with heels measuring at a staggering five inches. Because he was a shorter man, they made him appear more regal and domineering. He began to have the heels of his shoes painted red and passed a decree that only aristocrats were allowed to wear red heels in order to preserve its exclusivity. In addition, he decided that no one should have heels higher than his (Oliver). ‘Louis heels’ became so popular in Europe that England’s Charles II wore them during his coronation.

When the style eventually trickled down into the middle and lower classes, the upper class responded by making their heels even higher in an attempt to make them entirely impractical for the day-to-day lives of the working classes. Such impracticality only made them more of a status symbol because it did not matter if they could do hardly walk- they did not need to work for a living. High heels eventually became popular with women during the seventeenth century, when it became popular for women to adopt elements of men’s fashion into their everyday dress. The end of the century saw a split in shoe fashion as men’s heels became thicker and fatter while women’s became more slender. Men began to steer away from high heeled shoes during the eighteenth century, however, and heels were soon seen as too frivolous to be masculine.

Often paired with high heels, stockings and hose were also incredibly popular men’s fashion pieces during the sixteenth century. Men wore them during the Middle Ages because the close fitting leg-wear was practical for riding on horseback. Originally, men’s stockings were not completely closed at the top and there was an opening between the crotch and the leg areas (Oliver). Shorter tunics rose in popularity, though, meaning more of the leg was exposed, so men’s stockings evolved into the way we think of tights today. It was considered high fashion for men to show off their legs in tight-fitting stocking, which were only accentuated by their high heels. Women wore stockings underneath their skirts to hide their legs and maintain modesty. Eventually, men’s pants became looser and looser before stockings came to be considered a strictly feminine clothing item.


Today, it is generally believed that men have bigger libidos than women do and are interested in sex more often. However, it used to be assumed that women were interested in sex all the time and men were their innocent victims. There is a myth from ancient Greece that tells the story of Zeus and Hera arguing about who find sexual intercourse more pleasurable- males or females. They consult the prophet Tiresias, who was now a man but had spent seven years of his life as a woman. He told them that if sexual pleasure was divided into ten parts, man would receive one of them while the remaining nine belonged to the woman (Martisiute).

It was also a popular belief for centuries that a woman’s sexual pleasure must be greater than a man’s because if it were not, childbirth would not be worthwhile. Women were believed to have great sexual desires and often labeled as vixens or temptresses, seeking to seduce innocent men into their sexual deviance (Martisiute). The attitude towards women shifted when Protestant ministers began portraying their congregants as innocent, moral beings- the majority of their followers were middle-class women, resulting in a change in the stereotype.


Often times, men who openly cry can be considered by some to be weak or feminine. This has not always been the case, though, as crying used to be considered to be a rather gender-neutral activity. During the Illiad, the Greek soldiers cry hard and often while Zeus has been known to weep, as well. King Arthur openly wept when he went to battle against his friend Sir Lancelot and medieval romance stories tell of knights bursting into tears when they do not perform well in tournaments or miss their lovers. It is also believed that Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, cried repeatedly during a speech he gave at a peace congress, moving the audience to tears with him (Martisiute).

Early Christian priests preached that tears were cleansing to the soul. When St. Bernard of Clairvaux wept at the death of his brother, he delivered a sermon expressing that holding in our tears would make us bitter. He said, “Flow on, flow on my tears, so long on the point of brimming over… Let my tears gush forth like fountains, that they may perchance wash away the stains of those sins that drew God’s anger upon me.” (Mason). This gave way to the ‘have a good cry’ school of thought, that crying can purge our negative feelings and let us express emotions we cannot put into words. According to the Bible, Jesus shed a tear upon the death of his friend Lazarus, and during the thirteenth century, many churches claimed to be in possession of the tear (Mason). Historians are unsure of when crying shifted to be considered to be a feminine act, though it is thought to be around the time of urbanization, as more men were living among strangers.

Computer programming

Today, the stereotypical image of a computer programmer is generally a nerdy man. In contrast, the very first computer programmers were women. The University of Pennsylvania employed six women during the mid-twentieth century to work on one of the world’s first electronic computers. At the time, programming was considered to be a low-skill clerical job and men were more interested in hardware development (Henn). For some reason, when personal computers appeared, they were more common among men than women, despite there being equal interest between the genders; at the time, men also began creating professional programmer associations and some actively discouraged the hiring of women in the field (Martisiute).


Gender stereotypes are baseless assumptions about someone’s appearance, role, or character built solely on their gender. Further proof of their lack of validity lies in the fact that many of them are only recently widely assumed. While, today, pink is considered to be more feminine, crying is not seen as masculine, and dresses and high heels are thought of as exclusively female, they were thought to be the exact opposite not very long ago.

Do you like what you read here? Consider an Ultius essay for your next writing task.

Works Cited

Conradt, Stacy. “When Did Pink Become a “Girl” Color?” Mental Floss. Mental Floss, Inc., 23 Jun. 2015. Web. 18. Aug. 2016. http://mentalfloss.com/article/65058/when-did-pink-become-girl-color

Henn, Steve. “When Women Stopped Coding.” NPR. NPR, 21 Oct. 2014. Web. 18 Aug. 2016. http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2014/10/21/357629765/when-women-stopped-coding

Martisiute, Laura. “10 Gender Stereotypes That Used To Be Different”. Listverse. Listverse, Inc., 13 Jul. 2016. Web. 18 Aug. 2016. http://listverse.com/2016/07/13/10-gender-stereotypes-that-used-to-be-different/

Mason, Emma. “Heavenly dew: crying in the Middle Ages.” History Extra. Immediate Media Company LTD., 27 May 2015. Web. 18 Aug. 2016. http://www.historyextra.com/article/sex-and-love/heavenly-dew-crying-middle-ages

Oliver, Katie. “High Heels And Tights Were Originally Men’s Fashion.” Mental Floss. Mental Floss, Inc., 04 Apr. 2016. Web. 18 Aug. 2016. http://mentalfloss.com/uk/fashion/40760/high-heels-and-tights-were-originally-men-s-fashion

Wade, Lisa. “The Mainly Origins of Cheerleading.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc., 02 Mar. 2013. Web. 18 Aug. 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-wade/cheerleading-history_b_2372103.html



Ultius, Inc. "Gender Stereotypes That Were Once Reversed." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. Ultius Blog, 20 Apr. 2019. https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/gender-stereotypes-once-reversed.html

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Ultius, Inc. (2019, April 20). Gender Stereotypes That Were Once Reversed. Retrieved from Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services, https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/gender-stereotypes-once-reversed.html

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Ultius, Inc. "Gender Stereotypes That Were Once Reversed." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. April 20, 2019. https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/gender-stereotypes-once-reversed.html.

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Ultius, Inc. "Gender Stereotypes That Were Once Reversed." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. April 20, 2019. https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/gender-stereotypes-once-reversed.html.

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