Gender Roles Essay: Example and Tips

Gender roles are a type of social role, a set of expected patterns of behavior (or norms) for men and women. The role in social psychology is defined as a set of norms that determine how people should behave in a given social position. William Shakespeare can be considered the first representative of the role theory. He wrote:

“All the world’s a stage,

and all the men and women:

they have their exits and their entrances;

and one man in his time.”

At present, there is no single theory of social roles as such. Gender roles, their characteristics, origin and development are considered within the framework of various sociological, psychological and biosocial theories. But the available studies allow us to conclude that their formation and development in humans are influenced by society and culture, embodied in them ideas about the content and specificity of gender roles. Besides, in the course of the historical development of society, the content of gender roles is subject to change. A blow to the belief that men and women are naturally created to perform certain roles, was inflicted by Margaret Mead in her book “Sex and Temperament.” Her observations on the life of the tribes in New Guinea convincingly refute this. The women and men she observed performed completely different roles, sometimes directly opposite to the stereotypes adopted for each gender.

One of the ideas announced by the women’s movement of the 1970s was that traditional gender roles hampered personal development and the realization of the available potential. It served as an impetus for the concept of S. Bem, which is based on the concept of androgyny, according to which any person, regardless of his biological sex, can combine traditionally male and traditionally feminine qualities (such people are called androgynes). This allows people to less rigidly adhere to sex-role norms and freely move from traditionally female occupations to traditionally masculine and vice versa. Developing this idea, Pleck in his works began to talk about the splitting, or fragmentation of gender roles. There is no single role for men or women. Each person performs a number of different roles, for example, a wife, a mother, a student, a daughter, a girlfriend, etc. Sometimes these roles are not combined, which leads to a role conflict. The conflict between the role of a business woman and the role of the mother is well known to everyone. Now there are data that the fulfillment of many roles contributes to the psychological well-being of a person.

The diversity of gender roles in different cultures and in different epochs testifies to the hypothesis that our gender roles are formed by culture. According to the theory of Hofstede, the differences in gender roles depend on the degree of gender differentiation in cultures or the degree of masculinity or femininity of a particular culture. On the basis of cross-cultural research, Hofstede showed that people of masculine cultures have a higher motivation to achieve, sees the meaning of life in the work and can work hard. A number of cross-cultural studies have also established that feminine cultures with a low power distance (Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden) have personality-oriented families that contribute to the assimilation of equality in gender roles. While cultures with a high power distance and pronounced masculinity (Greece, Japan, Mexico) – have families that are focused on rigid gender roles. Such families contribute, in the final analysis, to rigid differentiation in gender roles.

Gender roles depend not only on culture, but also on the historical era. Cone noted that the traditional system of differentiation of gender roles and associated stereotypes of femininity-masculinity was characterized by the following characteristic features:

  • female and male activities and personal qualities differed very sharply and seemed to be polar;
  • these differences were sanctified by religion or references to nature and seemed unbreakable;
  • women’s and men’s functions were not just complementary, but also hierarchical, women were assigned a dependent, subordinate role.

Now practically in all cultures, with regard to gender roles, radical changes are taking place.

Basic concepts: sex and gender

The gender role and all that is associated with it is a relatively new phenomenon and for our society remains a rather ambiguous and not fully understood category. Therefore, before delving into the study of this topic, you need to define the basic concepts.

Biological sex is a combination of genetically and hormonally conditioned characteristics of the organism, generalizing all its reproductive (sexual) characteristics, distinguishing it from representatives of another biological sex and determining its role in the process of fertilization during sexual reproduction.

It is customary to talk about the existence of two types of biological sex: male and female.

Gender is the social sex of a person; personality characteristics from the point of view of masculinity (a complex of physical, mental and behavioral characteristics considered as masculine) or femininity (a collection of qualities traditionally attributed to women or expected of women).

In today’s world, a binary gender system dominates – the division of people into two opposite groups of men and women. It is interesting that not in all cultures gender is a significant social category, as in ours. There are societies where there are three or more genders, as well as many gender roles. A gender role is a kind of social role that is the behavior expected from individuals of male and female gender. This behavior, which is traditionally regarded as appropriate for men and women.

A social role is the socially normalized behavior of a person occupying a certain position in society and having in this connection certain rights and duties. Thus, the gender role of men and women is the forms of behavior expected by the society from men and women.

But gender roles are not only expected, they are also:

  • prescribed,
  • brought up (through education and upbringing),
  • mastered,
  • executed,
  • violated,
  • accepted or rejected by the individual.

Gender identity

There is one more concept related to gender: gender identity. Gender identity is the inner self-awareness of a person as a representative of a particular gender, that is, a man, a woman or a representative of another category. How is the gender role of men and women formed?

A baby is born a man or a woman only in a biological sense, in a social sense he or she becomes a man or a woman. In the behavior of infants-girls and boys there are no differences. There is no significant gender difference between a man and a woman! Initially, the representatives of both sexes are just people. The set of human characteristics and qualities is one, the division into masculine and feminine qualities is conditionally accepted in society.

The boy becomes a man because he is brought up as a man, develops traditionally masculine traits, qualities, instills relevant principles and goals, learns male models of behavior. Similarly, a girl learns to be a woman. Boys and girls are brought up in different ways, they expect different patterns of behavior, reinforce the manifestations of different traits of character, make different demands.

Is it any wonder that after growing up, men and women look at each other as creatures from different planets? How can they understand each other, if they are different and no one has taught them mutual understanding? Only through self-education and the acquisition of personal experience of communication.

The gender roles of women and men change in the course of history. They have been and remain different in different cultures and societies, differ depending on the economy, politics, religion and other social factors of a particular society. But still you can talk about some tradition of gender roles, which has been passed on for centuries from generation to generation.

Traditional understanding of gender roles

In our society, the gender roles of men have traditionally been referred to as the “Worker”, “Boss”, “Defender”. They are preserved, but it is impossible not to notice that already for a couple of decades there is a fashion for “soft”, even feminine masculinity. Increasingly appreciated in men is not physical strength, activity, courage, the ability to take risks, but intellect, indulgence, restraint, the ability to communicate, empathize and care.

Traditional gender roles of women: “The keeper of the home”, “Mother”, “Wife”. Society expects that the woman will be kind, patient, modest, soft, caring, understanding, “home.” But how many women in our time are socially active, working on a par with men, often earning more than men?! In a woman, society values not only beauty, kindness and economy, but also the ability to earn, businesslike, purposeful, stress-resistant, courageous characteristics.

The most common gender role of women in our society has no name. This role, characteristic of women who are representatives of the working class, has appeared in our society and entrenched in it in the twentieth century. You can call this role “Universal Soldier”. Woman it is required to be the wife, mother, the mistress, the worker, the earner, the defender – ideal always and in everything and thus everywhere succeeding!

Freedom to be yourself. Couple words about gender-role stress

It would seem, why in our time, when a man and a woman are equal in rights, freely, voluntarily, without the obligatory consent of relatives, choose each other and create a family for love, there are so many unhappy couples? Is it because, departing from traditions and nature, people simply do not understand how to continue living.

When people do not know what to do with freedom, it becomes more evil for them than the need to live under someone’s strict guidance. But freedom is the highest value, it is an opportunity to be yourself! A person in these days is free to choose whom to be and how to live. He does not have to adhere to the gender role that is imposed and expected. Regardless of sex, it’s important to be yourself!

If a girl likes to fight, why not become a professional boxer? If a boy likes to take care of younger children, why can not he become a teacher? But the phrases “You’re a boy!” Or “You’re a girl!” teach children to understand themselves. As a result, the child speaks, acts and feels as it should, and not how he really experiences it.

The problem “I do not know what to do with freedom of choice” grows out of the problem “I do not know myself”. Too traditional and strict, requiring strict adherence to social norms and stereotypical thinking, education in childhood in adulthood leads to what is called gender-role stress. Gender-role stress is a state of mental stress arising from the inability to adhere to a gender role or, conversely, the need to adhere to a behavior that is characteristic of the opposite gender role.

The trends observed today in developed countries are such that the emphasis on gender differences is recognized as incorrect, since the traditional gender role has been understood as the imposition of society’s needs on the individual without regard to his personal desires and goals. Society, imposing certain patterns of behavior on a person, deprives him of the opportunity to be himself, and therefore, to be happy.

On the other hand, if all people behave just as they want, not guided by social norms and requirements for themselves as a representative of a certain gender, the world risks losing such institutions important for the continuation of the human race as marriage and family! After all, the emergence of traditional gender roles of a man and a woman once upon a time gave birth to monogamy, a traditional family and a duty to take care of children until they grow up!