Gender Roles

Gender roles, or sex roles to many, are important to the study of family interaction because our definition of the part(s) we play in family relationships, and thus the very meaning which we attach
to family ties, are guided to a great extent by our concept of gender appropriate behavior.

Some Sociological Definitions

These are the building blocks of social structure.

Status is a position in society that carries with it certain distinct behaviors and abilities.
Role is the behavioral definition required by persons occupying certain statuses.
Thus,
Gender Roles are the behaviors required by persons occupying the Male or Female Status

Think of all the relationships in which you figure as a player. This social web is spun for you by the generations before you. You, in turn, begin maintaining it, spinning off new strands to relationships newly formed.  Each person occupying a status on the end of a role carries symbolic meaning of their purpose in the relationship. 


In society we differentiate between groups of people based on their physical characteristics alone.

Adults vs. Children / Blacks vs. Whites
Young vs. Old / Boys vs. Girls / Men vs. Women

Gender is a broad concept by which we divide the human population into two groups.
Gender is the concept of maleness or femaleness, and is basic in all social interactions.
It refers to physical characteristics, social behaviors, characteristic self-image, psychological tendencies, behavioral tendencies, and abilities that allow us to differentiate between men and women.

The Cause of Gender Roles - Biology or Culture?

There is some objective evidence that differences between the sexes exist:

The biology argument suggests that we are predetermined to behave in sex appropriate fashion.
Thus: The culture argument suggests that we learn gender appropriate behaviors from those around us - conventional wisdom. Obviously, there are biological differences, such as a: These biological differences give males and females slight differences in motivation.
Culture takes whatever difference that exist at birth and exacerbates them.
Differences due to acculturation into the appropriate role are constant and powerful.
Traditional male and female behavior in American culture is not traditional in other cultures,
showing us that "feminine" and "masculine" behaviors are culturally affected.

Different cultures have different value placed on gender.
Males most often inherit power, and keep it (rarely is this not the case).
This is known as PATRIARCHY - that men have afforded themselves most of the social power in almost every society known.

Social Learning Theory suggests that children are rewarded for conforming to their parent's (i.e., society's) expectations and are punished for behavior that meets with disapproval. Disapproved behavior is extinguished.

Differential socialization holds that male children undergo quite different socialization than do females. Fathers seem to be the deciding factor in the early years of life; while both parents support the division in later childhood. Other role models - siblings, peers, media influences.

The Feminist Critique of Gender Role Socialization
Power and control are the real social motives behind the division of sex roles, through the division of labor. Not simply differential socialization, the assertion is that there is no motivation for men to relinquish any of their power and control to women (abortion issues, equal pay issues, child care issues).

The Feminist Power analysis

Social science now generally holds that ANDROGYNY is the gender role of choice. 

Symbolic Interaction

Gender is the social basis of dating, courtship, marriage, and the production and nurturance of children. Two interrelated factors influence differences in gender role behavior:

While there are deviations from the G.I. norm, there is a normal standard to which everyone compares their own abilities and behavior.

From the moment of birth, through an incredibly complex process of socialization, from the first peek at baby's bottom, gender role reinforcement begins:

For Girls - ribbons, pink blankets, softness / For Boys - hockey jerseys, blue blankets, toughness.
Clothing styles, environments, colors, hair styles, parental treatment, toy selection are all means of reinforcement of Gender Roles.

A Gender Role is a part that an individual plays as a social actor, including the patterns of feeling and behavior deemed appropriate or inappropriate by others because of the individual's assigned sex. Gender Identity is a composite of all the rights and obligations warranted to an individual by virtue of their assigned sex. While Sex is ascribed at birth, Gender is achieved and accepted through successful accomplishment of developmental tasks.

Gender roles and Gender Identity is Important:

Two dimensions of life: are better served if they coexist in a single individual. The person who possess both kinds of traits is better suited to cope with the demands of modern life. Males can express their feelings well and are more nurturant than once thought possible. Women can be assertive, task oriented, skilled at problem solving and self-reliant than once thought proper.

Sex Roles and Family Relationships

Traditional sex roles inhibits the full range of emotional expression and interaction.

Confining sex role expectations can restrict personal and family development - don't forget we live in a society that expects women to work (Economy) and expects them to care for kids (Family) and expects them to develop intelligence (Education).

Confining sex role expectations can restrict a couple's sexual relationship as well - who initiates, who's on top, who's on first.

The Parent-Child relationship can also be restricted by traditional sex roles. Uninvolved fathers - allows mom to take the blame for all children's mistakes. B. Changing Sex Roles -

In the past 15 years or so, American Culture has become Feminized to a great extent.

-the most important change in recent history to move our society away from traditional sex roles is the massive movement of women in to the PAID LABOR FORCE. With it comes other changes, such as changes in child care schedules, who buys the weekly groceries, who does the laundry, who makes decisions.

Due to: Economic Reasons - More women in the work force - Higher unemployment among men Demographic Reasons Highly geographically mobile Political Reasons - More awareness of women's rights caused V Image of Masculinity and Femininity to change

-we are moving towards a "task" oriented. before: "when the family does well, I do well" Now: "when I do well, the family benefits." When wives move into the labor force, husbands like it. But husbands have not significantly increased the time they devote to domestic tasks. (nationally).

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy - W.I. Thomas gave us the Situational Hypothesis: Things that are perceived as real, will be real in their consequences. If we think we are weak, dependent, unskilled, we will act accordingly. If we think we are a tough ass, we will proceed as such.

Gender Identity - is the core of one's self-image. Beginning to take form at about age three, gender identity results from the perception of one's anatomical characteristics and the perception of the way one is treated by others. Gender identity is the inward experience of gender role. Gender role is the outward expression of gender identity.

Primary gender characteristics are biological imperatives and include ovulation, menstruation, gestation, and lactation in the female and sperm production and spitting in the male.

Secondary gender characteristics occur as a result of hormones and differentiate men and women in terms of the norm in skeletal structure, musculature, and hair distribution. 


Annotated References

Benin, M.H., and Agostinelli, J. (1988). Husbands' & wives' s satisfaction with the division of labor. JMF 50 (May), 349-361. Husbands were most satisfied with an equitable division of labor especially if the number of hours they spent in household chores is not large. Wives were most satisfied if the division of labor favors them and husbands shared traditional chores.

Werbach, G.B., Grotevant, H.D., & Cooper, C.R. (1992). Patterns of family interaction and adolescent sex role concepts. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 219(5), 609-623. Mothers seem to have the most impact on gender role concept formation in both boys and girls.

Willets-Bloom, C.C., & Nock, S.L. (1994). The influence of maternal employment on gender role attitudes of men and women, Sex Roles 30(5/6), 371- 388. Adult children of working mothers had egalitarian and nontraditional gender role attitudes attitudes when mother worked during their childhood.


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