Chapter 6: Gender, Sexuality, and Culture

Gender Roles

As defined by Little (2016), the term gender role refers to “society’s concept of how men and women are expected to act and how they should behave” (p. 496). A gender role works like an unwritten rule and tends to rely on generalizations or stereotypes. Stereotypes may include generalizations such as men are practical, whereas women are emotional; men are strong, but women are frail; men lead while women support. Gender roles frame gender as a binary—a concept composed of two parts that are framed as absolute and unchanging opposites (Kang et al., 2017, p. 48).

Examples of binaries and some questions to consider:

  • Are there only two categories to choose from?
  • What is in between?
  • Can you identify as neither?

In a binary, women and men appear as polar opposites, their differences exaggerated. Most people do not fit neatly into one category such as those shown in the examples of binaries above. The “binary system” is persistent in society and is typically visible on a day-to-day basis. For example, a client intake form or activity registration form may ask for the gender of the participant and allow a checkbox for one of two gender options—male or female.

Culture does shift, however. Canadians can now identify as gender X on their passports, birth certificates, and ID cards. This move signifies that Canadians are becoming more aware of non-binary identities. However, binaries such as “masculine” and “feminine” still exist. Behaviours, mannerisms, likes and dislikes, objects, and the clothing you wear can often be “gendered” as masculine or feminine. A person may feel more comfortable with a non-binary identity if they do not conform to traditional conceptions of masculinity and femininity.

Learning Activity 11: Gender Laws

NOTE: This activity works well as an in-class discussion or online forum discussion.

In a binary system, masculinity is understood as the opposite of femininity. In some cases, a person is subject to prejudice or even violence when they act outside an expected gender role. For the purposes of this activity, consider the biases, stereotypes, and expectations placed upon individuals’ behaviour to be “gender laws.”

Instructions: Think about typical conceptions of masculinity and femininity. Consider the behaviours and traits. For each behaviour or trait, in your experience, is it typically considered masculine, feminine, both, or neither?

  1. This person wants to be a politician.
  2. This person wants to take a woman on a (romantic) date.
  3. This person wants to marry a man.
  4. This person plays the harp.
  5. This person works in the theatrical arts.
  6. This person loves hockey.
  7. This person wears makeup.
  8. This person stays home and raises children.


  1. Which characteristics did you associate strongly with men versus women? For the purpose of this activity, these characteristics might be conceived as “gender laws.”
  2. What happens when individuals break a gender law?
  3. How are gender laws the same or different in your country or nation of origin?


Learning Activity 12: Indigenous Women and the Story of Canada

Watch the video Indigenous Women and the Story of Canada by Sara Robinson (The Walrus Talks).

In the video, Sara Robinson, lawyer and Indigenous women’s right advocate, talks about Indigenous Women and the story of Canada. She is described as a citizen of the Fort Nelson First Nation and the Saulteau First Nation in Treaty 8 territory. She served in the Minister’s Advisory Council on Indigenous Women, and was founder and principal at Rainwatch Consulting and an Action Canada Fellow. She passed away in 2021 (The Walrus, 2017).


  1. What is the relationship between masculinity and femininity and the colonization of land?
  2. Why does the concept of gender equality need to consider Indigenous women and the history of Canada?
  3. What are Sara’s suggestions for you “as a character and as an author” in creating a better story of Canada? Think about your perspective as an individual in the settlement sector.

Gender Stereotypes

The “Gender Laws” activity above, which had you think about traits and behaviours typically perceived as masculine or feminine, relies on gender stereotypes. Consider the following definition:

A gender stereotype is a generalized view or preconception about attributes or characteristics, or the roles that are or ought to be possessed by, or performed by women and men. A gender stereotype is harmful when it limits women’s and men’s capacity to develop their personal abilities, pursue their professional careers, and make choices about their lives (United Nations OHCHR, 2022, para. 4).

The phrase “doing gender” is helpful in describing the ways in which people take on stereotypical masculine or feminine roles (West & Zimmerman, 1987). For example, in a heteronormative family structure (that is, a heterosexual couple and children), gender roles tend to organize the family arrangements and expectations of how men and women should act in the family—men act as breadwinners, while women take on the majority of household labour. Hari (2018) points to the systemic barriers that perpetuate couples in typical gender roles in a study of skilled immigrant heterosexual couples from India aspiring to work in Ontario’s tech sector. In this study, both men and women faced racial discrimination in the job market and challenges accessing appropriate and affordable child care. Almost all couples agreed that the female partners would “scale back” their career progressions to take care of children because their male partners earned higher wages. Despite the couples’ preference for an egalitarian relationship in career and home life, systemic barriers to the labour market shaped the couple to maintain typical gender roles in the family.

Leigh (2015) discusses the ways that immigration can “undo” gender in her study of skilled immigrants in an Alberta city. The process of immigration can create situations in which gender dynamics are in flux because of new circumstances such as barriered access to the labour market, as discussed above. For example, a woman may find a job to cover basic family finances before a man is able to find a job in his field. Gender “role reversal” describes how gender becomes “undone” when, in a heteronormative family structure, the man takes on a gender role traditionally associated with a woman and vice versa. This shift can create family tension, as well as opportunities for change. Some couples welcome this change, such as a more equitable share of child-rearing and a chance to deepen relationships with children, whereas others find their new roles deeply challenging to their settlement experiences, such as sacrificing the career aspirations they had held for Canada (Leigh, 2015).

The immigration process can lead to a number of challenges for families, including financial strain, emotional strain, changes in parent-child relationships, and changes in familial and gender roles (Leigh, 2015). Okeke-Ihejirika and Salami (2018), in a study of immigrant men from Africa, describe the context in which “the shift in the financial balance of power often upsets the taken-for-granted division of gender roles in the family” (p. 101). After arriving in Canada, the study participants tell a story common to the immigrant experiences highlighted in Leigh (2015) and Hari (2018) noted above. Participants had little in terms of support systems, and despite being highly educated and experienced, their credentials were unrecognized or undervalued, leading to deskilling, unemployment, or underemployment (Okeke-Ihejirika & Salami, 2018, p. 92). Okeke-Ihejirika and Salami point to the relationship between men’s economic integration and their experiences of gender, marital, and family tensions. Their suggestions for settlement services include improved supports for men, increased intercultural sensitivity to the particular complexities of cultural groups, and engaging cultural elders and leaders to inform programming and policy (Okeke-Ihejirika & Salami, 2018, p. 107). Although a “gender lens” often refers to the rights of women, the well-being and settlement experiences of men and the ability of a couple to work together creates potential for success for both partners.

An awareness of the variables impacting gender relations contributes to a settlement worker’s sensitivity and empathy in working with the whole family. Importantly, a family may consist of a heterosexual or same-sex couple, with or without dependents. Stereotypes or values surrounding gender roles, and the division of household labour and child care, mediate a family’s economic integration, which is intimately tied to their well-being. Importantly, the pathways to Canada available through different immigration classes create both constraints and possibilities in the family lives of immigrants and newcomers. In many cases, families do not migrate together at the same time, adding another set of variables that impact both gender and family relations.

Vignette by Esther D.

My family’s immigration story is not unique to other Filipino migrants. Both of my parents left the Philippines when I was a child to work overseas. I was two years old when my mother left for America as an undocumented immigrant working odd jobs. She was our family’s main source of income for a few years until my father left for Canada and worked as a live-in caregiver. Though the method in which Filipinos migrate to their countries of residence can differ (different streams of immigration), the one ubiquitous duty Filipino immigrants and temporary workers share are the remittances they send back to the Philippines, supporting the country’s economy.

The need for overseas remittance arose as a solution to the foreign debt accumulated by the Marcos regime (1965 to 1985), which heavily backed and encouraged the labour export of Filipino workers. On the other hand, this was also favoured by the labour-receiving countries as it allowed them to exploit cheap and, oftentimes, disposable labour (Galerand, Gallié, & Ollivier-Gobeil, 2015).

Canada’s Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) perfectly reflects this model. The LCP emerged in 1992 and lasted until 2014, when it was replaced by the Caregiver Program under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). The LCP is what brought my father to Canada in 2000. He worked as a live-in caregiver for four years, enduring different forms of abuse and being overworked before he could apply for his Permanent Residence (PR) and apply to sponsor my mother and me so that we could reunify.

Being separated as a family unit for many years undoubtedly impacted our familial relationship. I grew resentful towards my parents in my childhood because while they parented other people’s children, they, by default, neglected to parent me from across the world. Only now in my adulthood did my family begin to acknowledge and repair the strain our transnational family dynamic had on our relationships, as well as the trauma that both of my parents continue to carry.

Effective April 30, 2022, Canada increased its capacity for Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) to 30%. Formerly at 10%, sectors with labour shortages can hire up to 20% more TFWs (ESDC, 2022). Although statistics and figures help us to understand and contextualize immigration, the individuals behind those numbers, such as my parents, each have their own stories and sacrifices worth uncovering.


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Canadian Settlement in Action: History and Future Copyright © 2021 by NorQuest College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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