A gender role is defined as a set of perceived behavioural norms associated particularly with males or females, in a given social group or system. It can be a form of division of labour by gender. It is a focus of analysis in the social sciences and humanities. Gender is one component of the gender/sex system, which refers to "The set of arrangements by which a society transforms biological sexuality into products of human activity, and in which these transformed needs are satisfied" (Reiter 1975: 159). Allmost all societies, to a certain effect, have a gender/sex system, although the components and workings of this system vary markedly from society to society.
Gender role refers to the attitudes and behaviours that class a person's stereotypical identity, e.g. women cook and clean, men fix cars.
To associate oneself as either masculine or feminine is identifying with gender.
Researchers recognize that the concrete behavior of individuals is a consequence of both socially enforced rules and values, and individual disposition, whether genetic, unconscious, or conscious. Some researchers emphasize the objective social system and others emphasize subjective orientations and dispositions.
Creativity may cause the rules and values to change over time. Cultures and societies are dynamic and ever changing, but there has been extensive debate as to how, and how fast, they may change. Such debates are especially contentious when they involve the gender/sex system, as people have widely differing views about how much gender depends on biological sex.
The Parsons model was used to contrast and illustrate extreme positions on gender roles. Model A describes total separation of male and female roles, while Model B describes the complete dissolution of barriers between gender roles. (The examples are based on the context of the culture and infrastructure of the United States.)
|Model A - Total role segregation||Model B - Total integration of roles|
|Education||Gender-specific education; high professional qualification is important only for the man||Co-educative schools, same content of classes for girls and boys, same qualification for men and women.|
|Profession||The workplace is not the primary area of women; career and professional advancement is deemed unimportant for women||For women, career is just as important as for men; Therefore equal professional opportunities for men and women are necessary.|
|Housework||Housekeeping and child care are the primary functions of the woman; participation of the man in these functions is only partially wanted.||All housework is done by both parties to the marriage in equal shares.|
|Decision making||In case of conflict, man has the last say, for example in choosing the place to live, choice of school for children, buying decisions||Neither partner dominates; solutions do not always follow the principle of finding a concerted decision; status quo is maintained if disagreement occurs.|
|Child care and education||Woman takes care of the largest part of these functions; she educates children and cares for them in every way||Man and woman share these functions equally.|
However, these extreme positions are rarely found in reality; actual behavior of individuals is usually somewhere between these poles. The most common 'model' followed in real life in the United States and Britain is the 'model of double burden' (See Gender roles and feminism below).
According to the interactionist approach, roles (including gender roles) are not fixed, but are constantly negotiated between individuals. In North America and southern South America, this is the most common approach among families whose business is agriculture.
Gender roles can influence all kinds of behavior, such as choice of clothing, choice of work and personal relationships; E.g., parental status (See also Sociology of fatherhood).
In the majority of traditional and developmental social systems, an individual has a choice as to what he or she should or should not conform to as a representative of the socialization process. Through this process an individual willingly accepts the consequences whether they be beneficial or negative, minor or severe depending on the way an individual copes, and the extent to which he or she must modify his or her natural behavior to conform to society's accepted behavioral standards. Typical encouragements and expectations of gender role behavior are not as powerful a difference and reforming social trait as they were a century ago. Such developments and traditional refinements are still a socialization process to and within family values, peer pressures, at the employment centers and in every social system communication medium.
Still, once someone has accepted certain gender roles and gender differences as expected socialized behavioral norm, his or her behavior traits become part of his or her perceived responsibilities. Influential roles in gender relationships on a personal and social level to the individual's own socializing role or self-concept. Sanctions on unwanted behavior and role conflict can be stressful.
It is claimed that even in monolingual, industrial societies like urban North America, some individuals do cling to a "modernized" primordial identity, apart from others and with this a more diverse gender role is recognized or developed. Some intellectuals, such as Michael Ignatieff, argue that convergence of a general culture does not directly entail a similar convergence in ethnic, social and self identities. This can become evident in social situations, where people divide into separate groups by gender roles and cultural alignments, despite being of an identical "super-ethnicity", such as nationality.
Within each smaller ethnicity, individuals may tend to see it perfectly justified to assimilate with other cultures including sexuality and some others view assimilation as wrong and incorrect for their culture or institution. This common theme, representing dualist opinions of ethnoconvergence itself, within a single ethnic or common values groups is often manifested in issues of sexual partners and matrimony, employment preferences, etc. These varied opinions of ethnoconvergence represent themselves in a spectrum; assimilation, homogenization, acculturation, gender identities and cultural compromise are commonly used terms for ethnoconvergence which flavor the issues to a bias.
Often it is in a secular, multi-ethnic environment that cultural concerns are both minimalized and exacerbated; Ethnic prides are boasted, hierarchy is created ("center" culture versus "periphery") but on the other hand, they will still share a common "culture", and common language and behaviors. Often the elderly, more conservative-in-association of a clan, tend to reject cross-cultural associations, and participate in ethnically similar community-oriented activities. Xenophobes tend to think of cross-cultural contact as a component of gender and assimilation and see this as terrible.
Due to the influence of (among others) Simone de Beauvoir's feminist works and Michel Foucault's reflections on sexuality, the idea that gender was unrelated to sex gained ground during the 1980s, especially in sociology and cultural anthropology. This view claims that a person could therefore be born with male genitals but still be of feminine gender. In 1987, R.W. Connell did extensive research on whether there are any connections between biology and gender role and concluded that there were none. Most scientists reject Connell's research because concrete evidence exists proving the effect of hormones on behavior. However, hormone levels vary, and disorders can cause an intersex status. The debate continues to rage on. Simon Baron-Cohen, a Cambridge Univ. professor of psychology and psychiatry, claims that "the female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy, while the male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems." Some researchers, such as Bruce Lipton, believe that neural synapses in early childhood are formed due to the environment of the child, so if parents were to treat the child as to his or her assigned gender, then the brain would develop for that gender role and thus would be "hard-wired".
Dr. Sandra Lipsitz Bem is a psychologist who developed the gender schema theory to explain how individuals come to use gender as an organizing category in all aspects of their life. It is based on the combination of aspects of the social learning theory and the cognitive-development theory of sex role acquisition. In 1971, she created the Bem Sex Role Inventory to measure how well you fit into your traditional gender role by characterizing your personality as masculine, feminine, androgynous, or undifferentiated. She believed that through gender-schematic processing, a person spontaneously sorts attributes and behaviors into masculine and feminine categories. Therefore, an individual processes information and regulate their behavior based on whatever definitions of femininity and masculinity their culture provides.
The current trend in Western societies toward men and women sharing similar occupations, responsibilities and jobs suggests that the sex one is born with does not directly determine one's abilities. While there are differences in average capabilities of various kinds (E.g., physical strength) between the sexes, the capabilities of some members of one sex will fall within the range of capabilities needed for tasks conventionally assigned to the other sex.
In addition, research at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center has also shown that gender roles may be biological among primates. Yerkes researchers studied the interactions of 11 male and 23 female Rhesus monkeys with human toys, both wheeled and plush. The males played mostly with the wheeled toys while the females played with both types equally. Psychologist Kim Wallen has, however, warned against overinterpeting the results as the color and size of the toys may also be factors in the monkey's behavior.
Traditionally only feminine and masculine gender roles existed, however, over time many different acceptable male or female gender roles have emerged. An individual can either identify themselves with a subculture or social group which results in them having diverse gender roles. Historically, for example, eunuchs had a different gender role because their biology was changed.
Androgyny, a term denoting the display of both male and female behaviour, also exists. Many terms have been developed to portray sets of behaviors arising in this context. The masculine gender role in the West has become more malleable since the 1950s. One example is the "sensitive new age guy", which could be described as a traditional male gender role with a more typically "female" empathy and associated emotional responses. Another is the metrosexual, a male who adopts or claims to be born with similarly "female" grooming habits. Some have argued that such new roles are merely rebelling against tradition more so than forming a distinct role. However, traditions regarding male and female appearance have never been concrete, and men in other eras have been equally interested with their appearance. The popular conceptualization of homosexual men, which has become more accepted in recent decades, has traditionally been more androgynous or effeminate, though in actuality homosexual men can also be masculine and even exhibit machismo characteristics. One could argue that since many homosexual men and women fall into one gender role or another or are androgynous, that gender roles are not strictly determined by a person's physical sex. Whether or not this phenomenon is due to social or biological reasons is debated. Many homosexual people find the traditional gender roles to be very restrictive, especially during childhood. Also, the phenomenon of intersex people, which has become more publicly accepted, has caused much debate on the subject of gender roles. Many intersexual people identify with the opposite sex, while others are more androgynous. Some see this as a threat to traditional gender roles, while others see it as a sign that these roles are a social construct, and that a change in gender roles will be liberating.
According to sociology research, traditional feminine gender roles have become less relevant and hollower in Western societies since industrialization started. For example, the cliché that women do not follow a career is obsolete in many Western societies. On the other hand, in the media there are attempts to portray women who adopt an extremely classical role as a subculture. Women take on many roles that were traditionally reserved for men, as well as behaviors and fashions, which may cause pressure on many men to be more masculine and thus confined within an even smaller gender role, while other men react against this pressure. For example, men's fashions have become more restrictive than in other eras, while women's fashions have become more broad. One consequence of social unrest during the Vietnam War era was that men began to let their hair grow to a length that had previously (within recent history) been considered appropriate only for women. Somewhat earlier, women had begun to cut their hair to lengths previously considered appropriate only to men.
Some famous people known for their androgynous appearances in the 20th century include Brett Anderson, Gladys Bentley, David Bowie, Pete Burns, Boy George, Norman Iceberg, k.d. lang, Annie Lennox, Jaye Davidson, Marilyn Manson (musician), Freddie Mercury, Marlene Dietrich, Mylène Farmer, Gackt, Mana (musician), Michael Jackson, Grace Jones, Marc Bolan, Brian Molko, Julia Sweeney (as Pat (fictional character)), Genesis P-Orridge, Prince and Kristen McMenamy.
Ideas of appropriate behavior according to gender vary among cultures and era, although some aspects receive more widespread attention than others. An interesting case is described by R.W. Connell in Men, Masculinities and Feminism:
Other aspects, however, may differ markedly with time and place. In pre-industrial Europe, for example, the practice of medicine (Other than midwifery) was generally seen as a male prerogative. However, in Russia, health care was more often seen as a feminine role. The results of these views can still be seen in modern society, where European medicine is most often practiced by men, while the majority of Russian doctors are women.
In many other cases, the elements of convention or tradition seem to play a dominant role in deciding which occupations fit in with which gender roles. In the United States, physicians have traditionally been men, and the few people who defied that expectation received a special job description: "woman doctor". Similarly, there were special terms like "male nurse", "woman lawyer", "lady barber", "male secretary," etc. But in the former Soviet Union countries, medical doctors are predominantly women, and in Germany and Taiwan it is very common for all of the barbers in a barber shop to be women. Also, throughout history, some jobs that have been typically male or female have switched genders. For example, clerical jobs used to be considered a men's jobs, but when several women began filling men's job positions due to World War II, clerical jobs quickly became dominated by women. It became more feminized, and women workers became known as "typewriters" or "secretaries". There are many other jobs that have switched gender roles. Many jobs are continually evolving as far as being dominated by women or men.
In Western society, people whose gender appears masculine are sometimes ridiculed for exhibiting what the society regards as a woman's gender role. For instance, someone with a masculine voice, a five o'clock shadow (or a fuller beard), an Adam's apple, etc., wearing a woman's dress and high heels, carrying a purse, etc., would most likely draw ridicule or other unfriendly attention in ordinary social contexts (the stage and screen excepted). It is seen by some in that society that such a gender role for a man is not acceptable. This, and other societies, impose expectations on the behaviour of the members of society, and specifically on the gender roles of individuals, resulting in prescriptions regarding gender roles.
Not entertaining, but usually highly problematic, however, are cases wherein the external genitalia of a person, that person's perceived gender identity, and/or that person's gender role are not consistent. People naturally, but too easily, assume that if a person has a penis, scrotum, etc., then that person is chromosomally male (I.e., that person has one X chromosome and one Y chromosome), and that the person, in introspection, feels like a male.
In one example, a person may have a penis and scrotum, but may be a female (With XX chromosomal sexual identity and with normal female sexual organs internally). When that person reaches puberty, "his" breasts may enlarge to ordinary female proportions, and "he" may begin to menstruate, passing menstrual blood through "his" penis. In addition, this person may have always accepted a gender identity that is consistent with "his" external genitalia or with "her" internal genitalia. When the true sex of the individual becomes revealed at puberty, the individual and/or the community will be forced to reconsider what gender role is to be considered appropriate. Biological conditions that cause a person's physiological sex to be not easily determined are collectively known as intersex.
Another example to consider is transgender people, who mix gender roles to form a personally comfortable androgynous combination or transcend the scheme of gender roles completely, regardless of their physiological sex . Transgender people can also be physically androgynous or identify as androgynous. Transsexualism also exists, where a person who is born as one sex and is brought up in that sex, but has gender identity of the opposite sex and wishes to live as that sex (but does not necessarily wish to adopt that particular gender role, depending upon whether the person in question believes that gender roles are innate).
When we consider these more unusual products of nature's inventiveness, the simple picture that we saw originally, in which there was a high degree of consistency among external genitalia, gender identity, and gender role, then dissolves into a kind of jigsaw puzzle that is difficult to put together correctly. The extra parts of this jigsaw puzzle fall into two closely related categories, atypical gender identities and atypical gender roles.
In Western society, there is a growing acceptance of intersexed and transgendered people. However, there are some who do not accept these people and may react violently and persecute them: this kind of negative value judgment is sometimes known as transphobia.
Nevertheless, such cases of mismatch between a person's physiology, identity and role are rare. A large majority of people have matching genitalia and gender identities. For many people their gender role is commensurate with their genitalia.
For approximately the last 100 years women have been fighting for the same rights as men (especially around the turn from 19th to 20th century with the struggle for women's suffrage and in the 1960s with second-wave feminism and radical feminism) and were able to make changes to the traditionally accepted feminine gender role. However, most feminists today say there is still work to be done.
Numerous studies and statistics show that even though the situation for women has improved during the last century, discrimination is still widespread: Women earn a smaller percentage of aggregate income than men, occupy lower-ranking job positions than men and do most of the housekeeping work. However, there may be some reason for this, as some studies have indicated that many jobs which were traditionally perceived to be male-dominated usually have longer hours, necessitate long periods of exposure to the elements, are higher risk and require a fair amount of physical strength.
When feminism became a conspicuous protest movement in the 60's, critics often argued that women who wanted to follow a traditional role would be discriminated against in the future and forced to join the workforce. Many women, especially single parents are denied this choice due to economic necessity. In theory, feminism is the belief that a woman should have the right to make her own decisions. However, in contemporary society those who choose to adhere to traditional female gender roles (sometimes termed being femme or "girly girls") are discriminated against and are considered not living up to the female role. Furthermore, women who choose to pursue careers and higher education are also similarly stigmatized.
A recent article in The New York Times indicated that gender roles are still prevalent in many upscale restaurants. A restaurant's decor and menu typically play into which gender frequents which restaurant. Whereas Cru, a restaurant in New York's, Greenwich Village, "decorated in clubby brown tones and distinguished by a wine list that lets high rollers rack up breathtaking bills," attracts more men than women, places like Mario Batali's, Otto, serves more women than men, as a result that the restaurant has been "designed to be more approachable, with less swagger." Servers of both men and women at the same table still often go with the assumption that the male is the go-to person, as far as who receives the check and makes the wine decisions, but this appears to be a trend that is being used with more caution, especially with groups of younger people. Restaurants that used to cater to more men or women are now also trying to change their decor in the hopes of attracting broader equity.
Perhaps it is an attempt to reconcile this conflict that leads to a common assumption that one same-sex partner assumes a pseudo-male gender role and the other assumes a pseudo-female role. For a gay male relationship, this might lead to the assumption that the "wife" handled domestic chores, was the receptive sexual partner in anal sex, adopted effeminate mannerisms, and perhaps even dressed in women's clothing. This assumption is flawed, as many homosexual couples tend to have more equal roles, and the effeminate behavior of some gay men is usually not adopted consciously, and is often more subtle. Feminine or masculine behaviors in some homosexual people might be a product of the socialization process, adopted unconsciously due to stronger identification with the opposite sex during development. The role of both this process and the role of biology is debated. The existence of these separate identities (dominant masculine vs more passive feminine), where present, can establish the dynamics of the relationship, according to the heterosexual patterns; this is not always the case, especially in relationships with less clearly defined sexual/identity roles. A related assumption is that all androphilic people, including gay men, should or do adopt feminine mannerisms and other gender-role elements, and that all gynophilic people, including lesbians, should or do adopt masculine mannerisms and other gender-role elements; it is unclear how bisexuality fits into this framework, but it can be assumed they have a tendency towards both gender roles as they do in sexuality, towards both sexes. However, this idea is based on generalizations of homosexual people, which tend to be biased, as feminine gays and masculine lesbians are more widely visible than masculine gays or feminine lesbians.
Same-sex domestic partners also challenge traditional gender roles because it is impossible to divide up household responsibilities if both partners attempt to fill the same gender role. Like all live-in couples, same-sex partners usually do come to some arrangement with regard to household responsibilities. Sometimes these arrangements do assign traditional female responsibilities to one partner and traditional male responsibilities to the other, but non-traditional divisions of labor are also quite common. For instance, cleaning and cooking, traditionally both female responsibilities, might be assigned to different people. Some people do adopt the sexual role of bottom or top, due to their own sexual identity or for convenience; but this is not universal, and does not necessarily correspond to assignment of household responsibilities.
Cross-dressing is also quite common in gay and lesbian culture, but it is usually restricted to festive occasions, though there are people of all sexual orientations who routinely engage in various types of cross-dressing, either as a fashion statement or for entertainment. Distinctive styles of dress, however, are commonly seen in gay and lesbian circles. These fashions sometimes emulate the traditional styles of the opposite gender (For example, lesbians who wear t-shirts and boots instead of skirts and dresses, or gay men who wear clothing with traditionally feminine elements, including displays of jewelry or coloration), but others do not. Fashion choices also do not necessarily align with other elements of gender identity. Some fashion and behavioral elements in gay and lesbian culture are novel, and do not really correspond to any traditional gender roles. For example, the popularity of rainbow jewelry, or the gay techno/dance music subculture. In addition to the stereotypically effeminate one, another significant gay male subculture is homomasculinity, emphasizing certain traditionally masculine or hypermasculine traits. (See Sexuality and gender identity-based cultures.) These may be natural traits for an individual, or they may be adopted to conform to mainstream culture or to distance oneself from the more effeminate gays, as masculinity is often seen as a positive trait among gay men. A quick look through gay personals websites, such as Gaydar, will reveal that many gay men's personals are discouraging effeminate men from replying to their ad. (Fat, effeminate or bald, please do not disturb).
The term dyke, commonly used to mean lesbian, sometimes carries associations of a butch or masculine identity, and the variant bulldyke certainly does. Other gender-role-charged lesbian terms include lipstick lesbian, chapstick lesbian, and Stone Femme. "Butch," "femme," and novel elements are also seen in various lesbian subcultures.
External social pressures may lead some people to adopt a persona which is perceived as more appropriate for a heterosexual (For instance, in an intolerant work environment) or homosexual (for instance, in a same-sex dating environment), while maintaining a somewhat different identity in other, more private circumstances. The acceptance of new gender roles in Western societies, however, is rising. However, during childhood and adolescence, gender identities which differ from the norm are often the cause of ridicule and ostracism, which often results in psychological problems. Some are able to disguise their differences, but others are not. Even though much of society has become more tolerant, gender roles are still very prevalent in the emotionally charged world of children and teenagers, which makes life very difficult for those who differ from the established norms.
See also: Straight acting.
High levels of agreement on the characteristics different cultures to males and females reflects consensus in gender role ideology. The Netherlands, Germany and Finland are among the most egalitarian modern societies concerning gender roles, whereas the most traditional roles are found in Nigeria, Pakistan, and India. Men and women cross-culturally rate the ideal self as more masculine than their self. The American difference on spatial reasoning between males and females does not apply in all cultures. One example of where it does not is the Inuit culture in Canada. Male superiority is found in tight, sedentary, agriculturally based cultures, while females are superior in cultures that are loose, nomadic, and hunter-gathering based. US females are more conforming to others than are males. Males are more aggressive in all cultures for which data exists. This is related to, but not solely determined by, age and hormones though some researchers would suggest that women are not necessarily less aggressive then men but tend to show their aggression in more subtle and less overt ways (Bjorkqvist et al. 1994, Hines and Saudino 2003). Male aggression may be a "gender marking" issue breaking away from the instruction of the mother during adolescence. Asian-American females adhere to traditional gender roles. Males are aloof, unemotional and authoritative. In the family, women have high control of decisions. Hispanic Americans males exhibit machismo. Acculturation is creeping into these families, however. Native American gender roles depend on the cultural history of the tribe.
Women who enter prison society often voluntarily enter into lesbianism, as a means of protection from gangs or stronger females. In doing so, they will take on the submissive role to a dominant female in exchange for that dominating female keeping them safe. Those who do not enter voluntarily into lesbianism might at one time or another be group raped, to introduce them into that circle, and sometimes they will be referred to as sheep, meaning anyone can have them. It is to avoid that status that most female inmates choose a mate, or allow themselves to be chosen as a mate, which can make them available to only a minimal number of partners during their incarceration, as opposed to a large number. So, in a sense, an inmate undergoes a "female role" in the prison system either by choice or by yielding to excessive coercion, and it is that yielding that terms the once male inmates as "females", and which identifies the stronger females in a female prison system as "males".