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Traditional Gender Roles
The events of the past decade of the millennium have had a significant influence on the gender roles. Study of gender has emerged as a central trend in sociology. Sociologists must account for effects of the millennium recession and the global patterns. This paper documents the evidence for the traditional gender roles (Aalberg& Jenssen, 2007). It is important to link sociological explanation of gender with other disciplines such as sexuality in order to understand the traditional concepts of gender.
Sociology is concerned with the human behavior and how it is shaped by the group life. Research on gender indicates that the social interactions in the society are influenced by gender. Explanation of gendering has formed a foundation of the theoretical and empirical studies (Morris, 2006). The paper will provide evidence of constant reinforcement of the gender roles. Additionally, the paper will explain the changing gender roles in the society.
A role is an expected behavior, which is associated with the social status. Societal norms dictate the gender roles since they are the rules that determine the privileges and responsibilities that the social status accords to a person. Female and males, daughters and sons, and mothers and fathers are statuses that are attached to the gender roles. The social status of the mother calls for a certain set of roles such as loving, nurturing, home making and self-sacrifice. The social status of the father calls for the expected role of the breadwinner or the main provider for the family.
Fathers are also disciplinarians, hands on person and the highest decision making authority. The society allows for some levels of flexibility of the gender roles such that in times of rapid change, the clarity of the society-imposed gender roles is always at a flux (Morris, 2006). The most important change in the United States labor market is the increase of women in the labor force.
Mothers are moving towards employment and the traditional gender roles are always changing. The changes in gender roles leads to a situation whereby the society becomes normless since the traditional gender roles have changed and new norms are yet to be developed. For instance, the change in gender roles from home based unpaid role to permanent employment in organizations led to a norm less situation. This was particularly aggravated since the mothers with preschool children were on the forefront of the change.
Before the onset of the modern colonial family, the gender roles were specifically different from the usual. Families were larger and the concept of the nuclear family was nonexistent. Working was done in the communal manner whereby the families would work towards a common goal. If it were construction, all members of the extended family would play their role in the project (Aalberg& Jenssen, 2007). Everyone’s input was set even though the men were the main technical people as it is today.
However, the colonial and Christian backed notion of the family unit led to the creation of a new norm in the society, which placed the men as main providers for their family. The extended family was increasingly becoming annihilated from the decision making process since most of the economic changes did not permit them to work in a certain manner. Creation of the ideal family was solely dependent on the newly formed norms. These norms of the patriarchal society have dominated the society leading to the development of a certain perception of the gender roles until recently when their fundamental foundations have been tested.
Key concepts in gender
Statuses and roles in the society allow the people to live in consistent and predictable manner (Aalberg& Jenssen, 2007). The roles and statuses work hand in hand with the established norms to prescribe the behavior of the society and ease the interaction between the people that occupy different social statuses and roles regardless of whether the interacting parties have prior encounters with each other.
Predictability is insidious since when the normative roles are too rigid, the freedom of action is greatly hindered. Rigid definition of the social roles has led to the development of stereotypes concerning the gender roles whereby the oversimplification of the conceptions of the people that belong to the same social statuses leads to the discrimination of other people. However, in rare occasions, the stereotypes can include positive aspects.
Traditional stereotypes of the gender roles are developed according to the traits that the social groups are supposed to possess. Women are presented as flighty and beyond the control. This assertion is mainly developed due to biological fact that they possess ranging hormones that predisposes them to unpredictable emotional based judgments. The assignment of the aforementioned stereotypes is uncalled for since there is a tendency of developing sexist attitudes towards the women (Aalberg& Jenssen, 2007).
The society is at risk of assuming that the women are inferior due to the inability of acting rationally. It is important to note that not only women experience negative gender based stereotypes. The prominence of the negative stereotypes on women comes from the fact that the social statuses occupied by women are more stigmatized than the ones occupied by men. For instance, women are more likely to occupy statuses inside and outside the home setting that are deemed inferior compared to the men. The beliefs of inferiority of women due to their biological make up are traditionally reinforced and later used as a basis for sexist discrimination.
Sexism thrives on the patriarchal systems, which have male dominance and overt discrimination of women. Patriarchy exhibits male centered norms hence it is androcentric. Sexist beliefs are reinforced when patriarchy and androcentricism combine to propel the notion that the gender norms are biological and permanent. For instance, the belief those women are unsuitable for any other role apart from the domestic chores has been a major hindrance of development among the societies in the developing world. This is the case mainly because there is a preference of the male children when it comes to education opportunities. The perception has led to the installation of the male members of the society as the authors, disseminators and enforcers of the gender based roles.
Gender vs. Sex
There has always been a considerable level of confusion regarding the differences between sex and gender. However, increasing research has led to the development of more awareness on the major aspects that distinguish sex from gender. Sex is biological since it focuses on the anatomical features that distinguish a male from female and vice versa. The biological definition of the females and males focuses on the genetically make up, hormones, anatomy and other features that come from the physiology.
Gender is a social construct. It is the social and cultural aspects of the male and female that have been propounded though the different social contexts. Sex only applies in the distinction of the male and female while gender determine who is masculine or feminine. Sex is ascribed to the person at the time of birth while gender has to be learnt from the norms and practices of the society.
Evidence reinforcing traditional gender roles
Gender roles are evident in the mainstream media. Media prays women as nurturing and gentle since they have to take care of other members of the society. They are often concerned with their appearance and that have to ensure that they have the right appearance and poise since it is required of them to ascribe to the norms imposed on them by the society. Women are also depicted as emotional and they make their decisions according to how they feel even when the evidence points out that the decision based on feelings is unattainable.
Men are depicted as logical since they try to attain the best outcome out of the situation that they are undergoing. Competitiveness is a major aspect of the male gender role that comes out in the media. For instance, men watch and participate in rough sports to display their competitiveness. Men are also displayed as aloof in that they work alone towards the attainment of a certain goal. However, when they work in a group, there is always a high degree of dominance of the group decisions by a certain member. This member is the alpha male and is independent. The media also sells the proposition that men are more dominant over the women. The media portrays the women as emphatic more than it portrays their male counterparts.
The media is more likely to display women as sex objects as opposed to the men. Media is awash with necessary images of women that create a surreal expectation. The female body is normally used to advertise things that are sexual in nature. For instance, the video games display women with large breasts and attractive. Their role to the development of the plot is usually limited since they are only in the video game for their sexual aspects (Aalberg& Jenssen, 2007).
There is also constant pressure among the women to attain certain standards of beauty due to the constant reinforcement of some perceptions of what makes one beautiful. Some of the media content places pressure on women on not only their bodies but also their attractiveness and marital status through content full of beautiful, young and single women (Morris, 2006). Women often dress in a provocative manner compared to men due to the media imposed stereotype that the women have to maintain a certain appearance.
Media programs display the teenage girls as overtly passive. The teenage girl in the media is concerned with her appearance, shopping or relationships, which are superficial topics. The teenage girls that stray from the norm always end up being outlasted since they chose better topics such as career development. The irony of this stereotype is that the girls are the ones that are responsible for hindering their own development while the society seems innocent (Morris, 2006). The reality is that the society has engineered the societal norms with accuracy and there is no way that one can distance the society role in the media stereotype creation.
Media also reinforces the traditional roles of the women and men by indicating the men as the better-paid employees in the organization. The media has the ability to come up with the right approach to the women but it seeks to propound the real life experiences of the women. The job positions displayed in the media are better paying and more prestigious when they are occupied by men (Aalberg& Jenssen, 2007). The occasional strong woman figure is juxtaposed with a lower cadre employee with a sense of amiability and social acceptance. The media will make the lower cadre employee look better in the audience compared to the executives. The executives are always displayed as sad members of the society whose life rotates around the work situation.
Their distinction from the job is highly unlikely since they exist only to work since they cannot fulfill the traditional roles (Morris, 2006). The conspicuous effort of the media to display the women in certain manner has led to the propulsion of the notion that there are some roles that the women have to fulfill failure of which they have to accept the description accorded to them as empty mechanistic people (Morris, 2006). The homemakers in the media are lauded for their selfless efforts in the sustenance of the family unit and their knack for performance. This leads to the reinforcement of the traditional gender role for the women as the homemakers due to their nurturing role. Downplaying the input of the single executive in the workplace is a sexist move meant to propound the notion that women re inferior to men.
Effects of exposure to media
Media is a major influencer among the young generation members. The children that are exposed to multiple gender images will most likely adopt the stereotype since it is a norm. Fewer children will work with the counter stereotype. The stereotypes have negative effects of lowering the self-esteem and dignity of women. Some of them are changing their outlook since they have mounting dissatisfaction with their bodies (Aalberg& Jenssen, 2007). Images of lonely and isolated executives have the effect of hindering the career development among women.
The media reinforced gender roles regarding the behavior of men and women leading to entrenchment of the practices of the society along the gender roles. Studies indicate that TV viewership can reinforce the attitudes of the women towards themselves and subjects such as career. The consistent messages passed through the mainstream media have two effect, in the first instance; the consistent messages can reinforce the traditional beliefs such that the women that were trying to work against the grain are forced to conform to the traditional perceptions of the gender roles. The second effect of the media is the creation of new perceptions of gender whereby there are new aspects of gender that all the women learn. Changing perceptions can alter the gender roles if they are strong enough.
In conclusion, traditional gender roles persist due to the increasing reinforcement of the said roles by the media. Media depiction of the two genders leads to the reinforcement of the traditional gender roles whereby the boys are termed to be different from the girls. The media also portrays what becomes of the women or men that do not work according to the gender roles since they become pariahs in the society (Aalberg& Jenssen, 2007). In order to be a member of the society, a person is forced to conform to the gender roles.
Aalberg, T. & Jenssen, A.T. (2007). Gender stereotyping of political candidates: An experimental study of political communication, Nordicom Review, 28, 17-32.
Morris, P. (2006,). Gender in print advertisements: A snapshot of representations from around the world. Media Report to Women, 34, 13-20.
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Children learn from their parents and society the conception of
"feminine" and "masculine." Much about these conceptions is not biological at
all but cultural. The way we tend to think about men and women and their gender
roles in society constitute the prevailing paradigm that influences out thinking.
Riane Eisler points out that the prevailing paradigm makes it difficult for us
to analyze properly the roles of men and women in prehistory "we have a cultural
bias that we bring to the effort and that colors our decision-making processes."
Sexism is the result of that bias imposed by our process of acculturation.
Gender roles in Western societies have been changing rapidly in recent
years, with the changes created both by evolutionary changes in society,
including economic shifts which have altered the way people work and indeed
which people work as more and more women enter the workforce, and by perhaps
pressure brought to make changes because of the perception that the traditional
social structure was inequitable. Gender relations are a part of the
socialization process, the initiation given the young by society, teaching them
certain values and creating in them certain behavior patterns acceptable to
their social roles. These roles have been in a state of flux in American
society in recent years, and men and women today can be seen as having expanded
their roles in society, with women entering formerly male dominions and men
finding new ways to relate to and function in the family unit.
When I was growing up a woman was never heard of having a job other than
a school teacher or seamstress. Our(women's)job was to take care
of the house. We had a big garden out back from which we got most
of our vegetablesâ¦A garden is a lot of work you knowâ¦We also had to
make clothes when there were none to be had(hand-me- downs)
Gender can be defined as a social identity consisting of the role a
person is to play because of his or her sex. There is a diversity in male and
female roles, making it impossible to define gender in terms of narrow male and
female roles. Gender is culturally defined, with significant differences from
culture to culture. These differences are studied by anthropologists to
ascertain the range of behaviors that have developed to define gender and on the
forces at work in the creation of these roles. The role of women in American
society was conditioned by religious attitudes and by the conditions of life
that prevailed through much of American history. The culture of Europe and
America was based for centuries on a patriarchal system in which exclusive
ownership of the female by a given male was considered important, with the
result that women were regulated to the role of property with no voice in their
own fate. The girl-child was trained from birth to fit the role awaiting her,
and as long as compensations were adequate, women were relatively content:
"For Example, if in return for being a man's property a woman receives
economic security, a full emotional life centering around husband and children,
and an opportunity to express her capacities in the management of her home, she
has little cause for discontent."
While this statement is arguable in the way it assumes that women are
not discontented under such circumstances, it is clear that for most of history
women were expected to be content with this sort of life and were trained for
that purpose. Clearly, circumstances of family life have changed in the modern
era. Industry has been taken out of the home, and large families are no longer
economically possible or socially desired. The home is no longer the center of
the husband's life, and for the traditional wife there is only a narrowing of
interests and possibilities for development: "Increasingly, the woman finds
herself without an occupation and with an unsatisfactory emotional life." The
change in sex roles that can be discerned in society is closely tied with
changes in the structure of the family. Changes in both family structure and
sex roles over the last century have produced the ferment we still see today,
and one of the problems with the changing role of women is the degree to which
society perceives this is causing unwanted changes in the family, though it is
just as true that changes in the family have altered the roles of women.
As women entered the early 1990s, they faced a number of problems.
Most of these problems have been around for some time, and women have challenged
them and even alleviated them without solving them completely. They are
encountered in the workplace, in the home, in every facet of life. Women have
made advances toward the equality they seek only to encounter a backlash in the
form of religious fundamentalism, claims of reverse discrimination by males, and
hostility from a public that thinks the women's movement has won everything it
wanted and should thus now be silent. Both the needs of women today and the
backlash that has developed derive from the changes in social and sexual roles
that have taken place in the period since World War II. These changes involve
the new ability of women to break out of the gender roles created for them by a
The desperation women feel has been fed throughout history by the
practice of keeping women in their place by limiting their options. This was
accomplished on one level by preventing women from gaining their the sort of
education offered to men, and while this has changed to a great extent, there
are still inequalities in the opportunities offered to men as opposed to women.
Susan Brownmiller writes:
The sad history of prohibitions on women's learning is too well known to
be recorded here. . . In much of the world women are barred from advanced
knowledge and technical training
Yet opening the world of business with new opportunities for women does not
dissipate much of this frustration because both men and women continue to be
ruled by their early training, by the acculturation process which decides for
them what sort of existence they will have. This can result in feelings of
guilt when their reality and the image they have been taught from childhood do
It would be a mistake to see changing gender roles in society as
threatening only to males who dominate that society. Such changes also threaten
many women who have accepted more traditional roles and see change as a threat.
"I don't know how your mother does it all. . . I think time are harder for women
these days. . . so many choices." This response is not new. When women first
united for the right to vote at the beginning of this century, they were opposed
by women's groups who wanted things to remain as they were. Many of these women
were ladies of means and social position in society:
The main burden of their argument was that woman suffrage placed an
additional and unbearable burden on women, whose place was in the home. . .
These arguments are heard today from religious fundamentalists who believe that
the women's movement is a threat to the family. The fact is that the family has
changed and that the traditional family structure of homemaker, husband as
breadwinner, and children bow constitutes only 10 percent of families. The role
for women has expanded with more women in the workplace and with a variety of
family structures with new roles for all members of the family. Business has
been slow to change and to acknowledge the new family, and for all the
complaints about the women's movement as anti-family, the movement has instead
followed the trend of placing the family in the forefront of addressing family
issues as vital to women.
There is much evidence that boys and girls are treated differently form
birth, and this fact has been noted in every world culture:
It may never be possible to separate out the precise effects of
physiology and cultural conditioning on human beings. Not only do they
individually influence people but they interact with each other and with each
person's unique essence to affect human behavior. To accord with the reality of
this complex interplay of factors, and to accord with an increasingly complex
external world, feminists ask simply for options in life styles.
Those stuck in sexism, however, cannot grant even the simple request to ask why
women are inferior. The reason sexism exists at all is because of an
acculturation process which subtly creates it, and it is perpetuated in part for
that reason and also because perceived changes in the roles and status of women
create a backlash based on fear of change.
Surveys have shown that identical resumes or scholarly articles are
rated lower if the applicant is though to be a woman rather than a man: "Man's
success is more likely to be attributed to ability and woman's to luck." While
advances have been made over the last decade, the challenge remains for the next,
and "as long as women constitute small minorities in nontraditional employment
contexts, substantial obstacles will remain." The women in the workplace must
work harder to succeed than their male counterparts, and once they have
succeeded they have to deal with the envy and anxiety this arouses. Women who
do not advance only confirm the stereotype for others:
The perception remains that women can't make it by conventional
standards, or are less committed to doing so. In either event, they do
not seem to warrant the same investment in training, assistance,
and promotion opportunities as their male counterparts.
Feminist theorists have been calling for some time for a change in the
political climate. They want more than just more women in office and the
political arena; they want a new type of political thinking, one that empowers
people rather than government and that addresses the issues that are of
importance to men and women:
If we can eliminate the false polarities and appreciate the limits and
true potential of women's power, we will be able to join with men
--follow or leadâ”in the new human politics that must emerge beyond
reaction. This new human liberation will enable us to take back the
day and the night, and use the precious and limited resources of our
earth and the limitless resources of our human capital to erect new kinds of
homes for all our dreams. . .
The perception the public has had on the role of men and women is
outdated and has been for some time, but public attitudes change slowly even in
the face of overwhelming evidence. More than 40 years ago, anthropologist
Margaret Mead noted the way the West had developed its concept of male and
There has long been a habit in Western civilization of men to have
a picture of womanhood to which women reluctantly conformed,
and for women to make demands on man to which men adjusted
even more reluctantly. This has been a accurate picture of the way in
which we have structured our society, with women as keepers of the
house who insist that the man wipe their feet on the door-mat, and men
as keepers of women in the house who insist that their wives
should stay modestly indoors.
Today, people are far less willing to accept these artificial roles even
reluctantly, and this includes the provision keeping women in the home and out
of the public arena. To have more women in office it is necessary to have more
As noted, public views change more slowly than the reality of gender
roles. They will continue to change slowly as long as we continue acculturating
children with the same sexual stereotypes that have so long prevailed. It is
necessary that we address this issue from early childhood, with parents
demonstrating a different view of gender and sexual roles just as the school and
church should take a part in eliminating the old stereotypes in favor of a more
reasonable and equitable way to view both men and women.
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