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Gender role

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Title: Gender role  
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Gender role

From approximately 1700 through 1900 women served as soldiers for the kingdom of Dahomey, a slave-trading nation
During World War II women performed certain roles that would otherwise have been considered male jobs

Gender role is a theoretical construct involving a set of social and behavioral norms that, within a specific culture, are widely considered to be socially appropriate for individuals of a specific sex. The perception of gender roles includes attitudes, actions, and personality traits associated with a particular gender within that culture. Coinage of the term is credited to John Money in a 1955 paper. Gender roles are predominantly considered within a family context as well as within society in general and may collectively be referred to as gender stereotypes.

There is ongoing debate as to which gender differences in behavior and personality are due to innate personality of the person and which are due to cultural or social factors, and are therefore the product of socialization, or to what extent gender differences are due to biological and physiological differences.[1]

Gender roles are culture based, and while most cultures distinguish only two genders, some recognize more. Androgyny, for example, has been proposed as a third gender.[2] Other societies have been claimed to see more than five genders,[3] and some non-Western societies have three genders – man, woman and third gender.[4] Gender expression refers to the external manifestation of a person's gender identity, through masculine, feminine, or gender-variant or gender neutral behavior, clothing, hairstyles, or body characteristics.[5]


  • Theories of the social construction of gender 1
    • Talcott Parsons' view 1.1
    • Geert Hofstede's views 1.2
    • Albert Ellis' views 1.3
    • John Money's views 1.4
    • Gender roles in family violence 1.5
    • Socialization 1.6
  • Anthropology and evolution 2
  • Culture 3
    • Religion 3.1
    • Studies on marriage in the U.S. 3.2
    • Changing roles 3.3
  • Communication 4
    • Nonverbal communication 4.1
    • Communication and gender cultures 4.2
    • Communication styles 4.3
    • Communication and sexual desire 4.4
  • Gender stereotypes 5
    • Implicit gender stereotypes 5.1
    • Gender stereotypes in Disney films 5.2
  • Politics and gender issues 6
    • Feminism: Women from the "Private Sphere" to the "Public Sphere" 6.1
    • Feminism and gender roles 6.2
    • Gender neutrality 6.3
    • Transgenderism 6.4
  • Sexual orientation 7
  • Criminal justice 8
  • The impact of feminism on gender roles 9
  • See also 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12

Theories of the social construction of gender

Some philosophies claim that gender behavior is mostly due to social conventions, although opposing theories contest this (see Social construction of gender difference). Children learn to categorize themselves by gender usually by the age of 3.[6] From birth, children learn gender stereotypes and roles from their parents and environment. It is claimed that boys learn to manipulate their physical and social environment through physical strength or other skills, while girls learn to present themselves as objects to be viewed.[7] Social constructionists claim for example that gender-segregated children's activities create the appearance that gender differences in behavior reflect an essential nature of male and female behavior.[8]

Gender role theory “treats these differing distributions of women and men into roles as the primary origin of sex-differentiated social behavior, their impact on behavior is mediated by psychological and social processes”[9] According to Gilbert, gender roles arose from correspondent inference, meaning that general labor division was extended to gender roles. Socially constructed gender roles are considered to be hierarchical and characterized as a male-advantaged gender hierarchy by social constructionists.[10] The term defined by researcher Cherlin defines when "a social order based on the domination of women by men, especially in agricultural societies as patriarchy.(Cherlin, 2010. p.93)[11] According to Eagly et al., the consequences of gender roles and stereotypes are sex-typed social behavior (Eagly et al., 2004)[12] because roles and stereotypes are both socially shared descriptive norms and prescriptive norms.

Judith Butler,[13] in works such as Gender Trouble and Undoing Gender, contends that being female is not "natural" and that it appears natural only through repeated performances of gender; these performances in turn, reproduce and define the traditional categories of sex and/or gender.

Talcott Parsons' view

Working in the United States, Talcott Parsons[14] developed a model of the nuclear family in 1955, which at that place and time was the prevalent family structure. It compared a strictly traditional view of gender roles (from an industrial-age American perspective) to a more liberal view.

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 gender roles.[15] (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; 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 structured positions become less common in a liberal-individualist society; actual behavior of individuals is usually somewhere between these poles.

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 behaviors, such as choice of clothing, choice of work and personal relationships, e.g., parental status (See also Sociology of fatherhood).

Geert Hofstede's views

Geert Hofstede is a Dutch researcher and social psychologist who dedicated himself to culture study. Hofstede sees culture as "broad patterns of thinking, feeling and acting" in a society[16] In Hofstede’s view, Masculinity and Femininity differ in the social roles that are associated with the biological fact of the existence of the two sexes. Masculinity and Femininity refer to the dominant sex role pattern in the vast majority of both traditional and modern societies: that of male assertiveness and female nurturance.[17]

Femininity: “Femininity stands for a society in which social gender roles overlap: Both men and women are supposed to be modest, tender, and concerned with the quality of life”[18]

Masculinity: “Masculinity stands for a society in which social gender roles are clearly distinct: Men are supposed to be assertive, tough, and focused on material success; women are supposed to be more modest, tender, and concerned with the quality of life”[18]

Hofstede's Feminine and Masculine Culture Dimensions: “Masculine cultures expect men to be assertive, ambitious and competitive, to strive for material success, and to respect whatever is big, strong, and fast. [Masculine cultures] expect women to serve and care for the non-material quality of life, for children and for the weak. Feminine cultures, on the other hand, define relatively overlapping social roles for the sexes, in which, in particular, men need not be ambitious or competitive but may go for a different quality of life than material success; men may respect whatever is small, weak, and slow".[19] In feminine cultures, modesty and relations are important characteristics. This differs from in masculine cultures, where self-enhancement leads to self-esteem. Masculine cultures are individualistic, and feminine cultures are more collective because of the significance of personal relationships. “The dominant values in a masculine society are achievement and success; the dominant values in a feminine society are caring for others and quality of life”.[20]

Albert Ellis' views

In the 1940s, Albert Ellis studied eighty-four cases of mixed births and concluded that "while the power of the human sex drive may possibly be largely dependent on physiological factors... the direction of this drive does not seem to be directly dependent on constitutional element." In other words, in the development of masculinity, femininity, and inclinations towards homosexuality or heterosexuality, nurture matters a great deal more than nature.[21]

John Money's views

In the 1950s John Money, along with colleagues took up the study of intersexuals, who, Money realized, "would provide invaluable material for the comparative study for bodily form and physiology, rearing, and psychosexual orientation." Money and his colleagues used their own studies to state in the extreme what these days seems extraordinary for its complete denial of the notion of natural inclination. They concluded that gonads, hormones, and chromosomes did not automatically determine a child's gender role.[21] Among the many terms he coined was gender role which he defined in a seminal 1955 paper as "all those things that a person says or does to disclose himself or herself as having the status of boy or man, girl or woman".[22]

In recent years, the majority of Dr. Money's theories regarding the importance of socialization in the determination of gender have come under intense criticism, especially in connection with the false reporting of success in the 'John/Joan' case (see David Reimer).[23][24][25]

Gender roles in family violence

The ‘Family Violence Framework’ applies gender dynamics to family violence. “Families are constructed around relationships that involve obligations and responsibilities, but also status and power”.[26] According to Hattery and Smith, when “masculinity and femininity are constructed…to generate these rigid and narrow gender roles, it contributes to a culture of violence against women”[26] “People with more resources are more likely to be abusive towards those without resources,” meaning that the stronger, older people abuse their weaker, younger family members to exert their powerful roles.[26] However, the fight for power and equality remains – “Intimate partner violence in same-sex couples reveals that the rates are similar to those in the heterosexual community”.[26]


Roundhouse wipers at lunch, Chicago & North Western Railroad, 1943. Women took on men's jobs during World War II in the USA and elsewhere.

Socialization refers to people adapting ideas about social roles from other members of their society. Some theories of socialization emphasize how society sanctions what is considered inappropriate behavior, while other theories such as the socialization approach suggest that gender identification and behavior is learned by the child by rewarded for behaviors that are seen as appropriate towards their sex; in other words, gender is socially taught and acquired.[27] Children are socialized through various channels besides their families. A child's material world (i.e. toys, cards, bed sets) reinforces their gender, as well as the movies they watch and the books they read.[28]

Changing norms of socialization: Louis XV in 1712, wearing the customary clothes of unbreeched boys, would be considered cross-dressed in the 21st century.

Another aspect to consider on the topic of socialization would be the influence of peer groups on children. It has been argued, by psychologist Eleanor Maccoby, that peer groups strongly influence the behavior patterns of boys and girls Researcher Jan Hoffman discussed how Dr. Menville, Director of Gender and Sexuality Psychosocial program at Children's National Medical Center at Washington D.C., suggested that the observed behavior exhibited by very young children doesn't necessarily result as a predictor of adult gender orientation (Hoffman, 2011). Tying all of this together, Cherlin discusses the idea of the interactionist approach as gender identity and behavior is based on a day-to-day behavior that reinforces gender distinctions.[27]

Anthropology and evolution

The idea that differences in gender roles originate in differences in biology has found support in parts of the scientific community. 19th-century anthropology sometimes used descriptions of the imagined life of paleolithic hunter-gatherer societies for evolutionary explanations for gender differences. For example, those accounts maintain that the need to take care of offspring may have limited the females' freedom to hunt and assume positions of power.

Because of 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[29] and concluded that there were none. Maria Lugones observes that among the Yoruba people there was no concept of gender and no gender system whatsoever before colonialism. She argues that colonial powers used a gender system as a tool for domination and fundamentally changing social relations among the indigenous.[30] However, there continues to be debate on the subject. 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."[31]

Several studies have been conducted on situations where a child was either raised believing that they were of opposite sex, or in conditions where the sex was changed using medical operations at young age. One study looked a female infants that suffered from adrenal hyperplasia, and who had excess male hormone release, but were thought to be females and raised as such by their parents. These girls expressed higher than normal male-like behavior.[32][33] Another study looked at 18 male infants with a genetic disorder where their genitals are disformed so that their parents believed them to be girls. At adult age only one of these attempted to adapt a female role and express female behavioral patterns, but she was in psychiatric care because of gender-roles issues, all the others being stereotypically male.[34] In a third study, 14 male children born with cloacal exstrophy and reassigned female at birth by gender change operations were looked at. Upon follow-up between the ages of 5 to 12, eight of them identified as boys, and all of the subjects had at least moderately male-typical attitudes and interests.[35]

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.[36]

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.[37] While there are differences in average capabilities of various kinds (E.g. better average balance and endurance in females or greater average physical size in males) between the sexes,[38] 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.[39] Psychologist Kim Wallen has, however, warned against overinterpeting the results as the color and size of the toys may also have been factors in the monkey's behavior.[40]


The world turned upside down, by Israhel van Meckenem the Younger. The wife is holding the sceptre and the man is spinning.

Ideas of appropriate behavior according to gender vary among cultures and era, although some aspects receive more widespread attention than others. R.W. Connell in Men, Masculinities and Feminism.[41] claims:

"There are cultures where it has been normal, not exceptional, for men to have homosexual relations. There have been periods in 'Western' history when the modern convention that men suppress displays of emotion did not apply at all, when men were demonstrative about their feeling for their friends. Mateship in the Australian outback last century is a case in point."

There are huge areal differences in attitudes towards appropriate gender roles. For example, in the World Values Survey, responders were asked if they thought that wage work should be restricted to only men in the case of shortage in jobs. While in Iceland the proportion that agreed was 3.6%, in Egypt it was 94.9%.[42] Attitudes have also varied historically, for example, in Europe, during the Middle Ages, women were commonly associated with roles related to medicine and healing.[43] Due to the rise of witch-hunts across Europe and the institutionalization of medicine, these roles eventually came to be monopolized by men.[43] In the last few decades, however, these roles have become largely gender-neutral in Western society.[44]

Some claim that homosexual communities are more tolerant of and do not complain about switching gender roles.[45] 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).[46] It is seen by some in that society that such a gender role for a man is not acceptable.[47]



There is a rule in 1 Corinthians 11:4 and 5 that, in praying or prophesying, no man should cover his head, but that every woman should cover hers.

I Corinthians, 11:14 and 15 indicates that it is inappropriate for a man to wear his hair long, and good for a woman to wear her hair long.


Muhammad described the high status of mothers in both of the major hadith Collections (Bukhari and Muslim). One famous account is:

"A man asked the Prophet: 'Whom should I honor most?' The Prophet replied: 'Your mother'. 'And who comes next?' asked the man. The Prophet replied: 'Your mother'. 'And who comes next?' asked the man. The Prophet replied: 'Your mother!'. 'And who comes next?' asked the man. The Prophet replied: 'Your father'"


Hindu deities are more ambiguously gendered than deities of other world religions, such as Christianity, Islam, and others. This informs female and males relations, and informs how the differences between males and females are understood.
Image of Ardhanarishvara
However, in a religious cosmology like Hinduism, which prominently features female and androgynous deities, some gender transgression is allowed. This group is known as the hijras, and has a long tradition of performing in important rituals, such as the birth of sons and weddings. Despite this allowance for transgression, Hindu cultural traditions portray women in contradictory ways. On one hand, women’s fertility is given great value, and on the other, female sexuality is depicted as potentially dangerous and destructive.[48]

On July 2012 Gopi Shankar, a Gender activist and a student from The American College in Madurai coined the regional terms for genderqueer people in Tamil, Gopi said apart from male and female, there are more than 20 types of genders, such as transwoman, transmen, androgynous, pangender, trigender,, etc., and ancient India refers it as Trithiya prakirthi. After English, Tamil is the only language that has been given names for all the genders identified so far. "[49][50][51]

Studies on marriage in the U.S.

In the U.S., single men are greatly outnumbered by single women at a ratio of 100 single women to every 86 single men,[52] though never-married men over age 15 outnumber women by a 5:4 ratio (33.9% to 27.3%) according to the 2006 U.S. Census American Community Survey. This very much depends on age group, with 118 single men per 100 single women in their 20s, versus 33 single men to 100 single women over 65.[53]

The numbers are different in other countries. For example, China has many more young men than young women, and this disparity is expected to increase.[54] In regions with recent conflict such as Chechnya, women may greatly outnumber men.[55]

In a cross-cultural study by David Buss, men and women were asked to rank certain traits in order of importance in a long-term partner. Both men and women ranked "kindness" and "intelligence" as the two most important factors. Men valued beauty and youth more highly than women, while women valued financial and social status more highly than men.

Changing roles

Societies can change such that the gender roles rapidly change. The 21st century has seen a shift in gender roles due to multiple factors such as new family structures, education, media, and several others. A 2003 survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that about 1/3 of wives earn more than their husbands (Dunleavey, 2007). With the importance of education emphasized nationwide, and the access of college degrees (online, for example), women have begun furthering their education. Family structures are changing, and the number of single-mother or single-father households is increasing. Fathers are also becoming more involved with raising their children, instead of leaving the responsibility to the mother.

A woman publicly witnessing at a Quaker meeting seemed an extraordinary feature of the Religious Society of Friends, worth recording for a wider public. Engraving by Bernard Picart, ca 1723.

Gender equality allows gender roles to become less distinct and according to Donnalyn Pompper, is the reason "men no longer own breadwinning identities and, like women, their bodies are objectified in mass media images."[56] The LGBT rights movement has played a role increasing pro-gay attitudes, which according to Brian McNair, are expressed by many metrosexual men.[57]


Gender communication is viewed as a form of intercultural communication, and gender is both an influence on and a product of communication. Communication takes a large part in the process in which we become male or female because males and females are taught difference linguistic practices. For example, females are often more expressive and intuitive in their communication, while males tend to be instrumental and competitive. In addition, there are differences in accepted communication behaviors for males and females. To improve communication between genders, one must understand these differences found in the opposite sex.[58]

Nonverbal communication

Hall[59] published an observational study on nonverbal gender differences and discussed the cultural reasons as to those differences. In her study, she noted women as smiling and laughing more, as well as having a better understanding of others’ nonverbal cues. She believed that women were encouraged to be more emotionally expressive in their language, thus better developed in nonverbal communication. Men, on the other hand, were taught to be less expressive, to suppress their emotions, and thus be less nonverbally active in communication and more sporadic in their use of nonverbal cues. Most studies researching nonverbal communication described women as being more expressively and judgmentally accurate in nonverbal communication when it was linked to emotional expression; other nonverbal expressions were similar or the same for both genders.[60] McQuiston and Morris[61] also noted a major difference in men and women’s nonverbal communication; men tended to show body language linked to dominance, like eye contact and interpersonal distance, more than women.

Communication and gender cultures

Words, phrases, and topics most highly distinguishing English-speaking females and males in social media in 2013

According to Julia Wood, there are distinct communication "culture" for women and men in the US.[62] Wood believes that in addition to female and male communication cultures, there are also specific communications cultures for African Americans, older people, Indian Native Americans, gay men, lesbians, and people with disabilities. According to Wood, it is generally thought that biological sex is behind the distinct ways of communicating, but in reality the root is "gender".[62] Julia T. Wood's studies explain that "communication produces and reproduces cultural definitions of masculinity and femininity."[62]

Communication styles

Julia T. Wood[62] describes how "differences between gender cultures infuse communication." Maltz and Broker’s[63] research showed that the games children play contribute to socializing children into masculine and feminine cultures. For example, girls playing house promotes personal relationships, and playing house does not necessarily have fixed rules or objectives. Boys, however, tended to play more competitive team sports with different goals and strategies.

Communication and sexual desire

Mets, et al.[64] explain that sexual desire is linked to emotions and communicative expression. Communication is central in expressing sexual desire and "complicated emotional states," and is also the "mechanism for negotiating the relationship implications of sexual activity and emotional meanings." Gender differences appear to exist in communicating sexual desire.

For example, masculine people are generally perceived to be more interested in sex than feminine people, and research suggests that masculine people are more likely than feminine people to express their sexual interest. This can be attributed to masculine people being less inhibited by social norms for expressing their desire, being more aware of their sexual desire or succumbing to the expectation of their gender culture. When feminine people employ tactics to show their sexual desire, they are typically more indirect in nature. On the other hand, it is known masculinity is associated with aggressive behavior in all mammals, and most likely explains at least part of the fact that masculine people are more likely to express their sexual interest. This is known as the Challenge hypothesis.

Various studies show different communication strategies with a feminine person refusing a masculine person's sexual interest. Some research, like that of Murnen,[65] show that when feminine people offer refusals, the refusals are verbal and typically direct. When masculine people do not comply with this refusal, feminine people offer stronger and more direct refusals. However, research from Perper and Weis[66] showed that rejection includes acts of avoidance, creating distractions, making excuses, departure, hinting, arguments to delay, etc. These differences in refusal communication techniques are just one example of the importance of communicative competence for both masculine and feminine gender cultures.

Gender stereotypes

A study done by Beverly I. Fagot, Mar D. Leinbach and Cherie O'Boyle, tested gender stereotypes and labeling within young children. The researchers divided this into two different studies. The first study looked at how children identified the differences between gender labels of boys and girls through using materials. The second study looked at both gender labeling and stereotyping in the relationship of mother and child. Within the first study 23 children between the ages of 2 and 7 underwent a series of tests, those tests being a “Gender Labeling Test” and “Gender Stereotyping Test”. These tests consisted of showing the children either pictures of males and females or objects such as a hammer or a broom and identifying or labeling those to a certain gender. The results of these tests showed that children under 3 years could make gender-stereotypic associations. The second study looked at gender labeling and stereotyping in the relationship of mother and child using three separate methods. First consisted of identifying gender labeling and stereotyping, essentially the same method as the first study. Second consisted of behavioral observations, which looked at ten-minute play sessions with mother and child using gender specific toys. Third was a series of questionnaires such as an "Attitude Toward Women Scale", "Personal Attributes Questionnaire", and "Schaefer and Edgerton Scale" which looked at the family values of the mother. The results of these studies showed the same as the first study with regards to labeling and stereotyping. They also identified in the second method that the mothers positive reactions and responses to same-sex or opposite-sex toys played a role in how children identified them. Within the third method the results found that the mothers of the children who passed the “Gender Labeling Test”, had more traditional family values. These two studies, conducted by Beverly I. Fagot, Mar D. Leinbach and Cherie O'Boyle, showed that gender stereotyping and labeling is acquired at a very young age, and that social interactions and associations play a large role in how genders are identified.[67]

Virginia Woolf, in the 1920s, made the point: "It is obvious that the values of women differ very often from the values which have been made by the other sex. Yet it is the masculine values that prevail" (A Room of One's Own, N.Y. 1929, p. 76). Sixty years later, psychologist Carol Gilligan was to take up the point, and use it to show that psychological tests of maturity have generally been based on masculine parameters, and so tended to show that women were less 'mature'. She countered this in her ground-breaking work, In a Different Voice, (Harvard University Press, 1982), holding that maturity in women is shown in terms of different, but equally important, human values. Gender stereotypes are extremely common in society. One of the reasons this may be is simply because it is easier on the brain to stereotype. The brain has limited perceptual and memory systems, so it categorizes information into fewer and simpler units which allows for more efficient information processing.[68] Gender stereotypes appear to have an effect at an early age. In one study, the effects of gender stereotypes on children's mathematical abilities were tested. In this study of American children between the ages of six and ten, it was found that the children, as early as the second grade, demonstrated the gender stereotype that math is for boys. This may show that the math self-concepts are influenced before the age in which there are actual differences in math achievement.[69] In another study about gender stereotypes, it was found that parents' stereotypes interact with the sex of their child to directly influence the parents' beliefs about the child's abilities. In turn, parents' beliefs about their child directly influence their child's self-perceptions, and both the parents' stereotypes and the child's self-perceptions influence the child's performance.[70]

Stereotype threat is the implicit belief in gender stereotype that women perform worse than men in math, which is proposed to lead to lower performance by women. A recent review article of stereotype threat research related to the relationship between gender and math abilities concluded "that although stereotype threat may affect some women, the existing state of knowledge does not support the current level of enthusiasm for this as a mechanism underlying the gender gap in mathematics."[71]

In another study, Deaux and her colleagues found that most people think women are more nurturant, but less self-assertive than men. Also, it is indicated universally. However, this awareness is related to women's role. That is, women do not have the nurturant personality by nature, but that personality is acquired by being in charge of the housework.[72]

According to the study of Jean Lipman-Blumen, women who grew up following traditional gender roles from childhood were less likely to want to be highly educated; women who were brought up with the view that men and women are equal were more likely to want higher education. This result shows gender role that has been passed down traditionally can influence stereotypes about gender.[73]

Implicit gender stereotypes

Gender stereotypes and roles can also be supported implicitly. Implicit stereotypes are the unconscious influence of attitudes a person may or may not be aware that they hold. A person is influenced by these attitudes even though they are not aware. Gender stereotypes can also be held in this manner. These implicit stereotypes can often be demonstrated by the Implicit-association test (IAT).

One example of an implicit gender stereotype is that males are seen as better at math than are females. It has been found that men have stronger positive associations with math than do women. Women have stronger negative associations with math, and the more strongly a woman associated herself with the female gender identity, the more negative her association with math is.[74] This stereotype has been found in American children in as early as second grade.[75] The same was tested with Singaporean children, and it was found that the strength of their math-gender stereotype and their gender identity predicted their association between the self and math.[76]

It has been shown that this stereotype also reflects performance in math. A study was done on the worldwide scale and it was found that the strength of this math-gender stereotype in varying countries correlates with 8th graders' scores on the TIMSS, a standardized math and science achievement test that is given worldwide. The results were controlled for general gender inequality and still came out significant.[77]

Gender stereotypes in Disney films

Disney films are widely known for stereotyping gender roles. Animated characters in Disney films are portrayed differently depending on their gender. Male characters are generally represented as heroic, reliable, handsome, and independent; and they are often ready to sweep in and save the girl. Female characters, in contrast, are commonly weak, frail, passive, vain, and domestic; additionally, they are often shown as being in need of a man. Analysis of Disney films shows how the roles have largely persisted across time. The Disney Princess franchise was created in 2001 targeting young girls. The franchise now has 25,000 products and has been identified as a ‘Powerful Influence on children’s media.’[78] Jolene Ewert[78] found that in the company's first three "Princess" films (Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty) female main characters were almost entirely lacking in "male" traits. The 1998 film Mulan was widely praised upon its release for its seemingly progressive gender roles, but its values are actually rather ambiguous. Mulan features the title character heroically saving her nation after sneaking off to war in her ailing father's stolen uniform; yet after the danger has passed, she happily accepts the attentions of her former military commander and reverts to traditional feminine domesticity. Disney's most recent "Princess" films, Frozen and Tangled, have featured "strong" female characters, in a clear attempt to address feminists' concerns. [78]

The franchise has 11 films and in the earliest films, the princess has rarely been seen asserting herself. Some did assert themselves over their father’s attempts to control them however not really to any other adult. The male characters never seemed to have a fatherly character to assert themselves toward. From studies done by Elizabeth Dawn England, Lara Descartes and Melissa A. Collier-Meeks[79] the first three Disney Princess films show traditional gender characteristics by the princes as well as the princesses. Gender expectations had been less complex when the first Disney princess films were produced. This was before 1970 and the rise of feminism had taken hold. Current times have proven gender expectations to be even more complex through current times and this has prompted an adjustment in the development of women’s roles in these Disney . The title princesses in the earliest films such as Snow White and Cinderella were showcased as the domestic housewife. According to by Elizabeth Dawn England, Lara Descartes and Melissa A. Collier-Meeks,[79] today's women are expected to maintain such feminine traits whilst incorporating aspects of male traits. These changes in expectations are reflected in such Disney films as Pocahontas and Mulan where the title heroines participated in stereotypical masculine activities, however the story endings showed traditionally valued outcomes, such as the Princesses wanting to settle with their love interests, and instead of pursuing new opportunities settle into family life. Male characters have also become more complex over time. The earlier princes were hardly shown, and, when they were displayed, mainly masculine traits. Aladdin was the first Disney Princess movie where the focus was on a male character. 2009's The Princess and the Frog displayed the first prince to be shown as slightly incompetent and naive. Both these cases showed the male lead characters to have far more feminine behaviours rather than masculine. The study done by Elizabeth Dawn England, Lara Descartes and Melissa A. Collier-Meeks demonstrated that there were both stereotypical and non-stereotypical gender role portrayals in Disney films. Such media can have strong influences over children and can and possibly may play an important role in this influence of stereotyped gender roles.

Politics and gender issues

Feminism: Women from the "Private Sphere" to the "Public Sphere"

Throughout the 20th century women in the United States saw a dramatic shift in social and professional aspirations and norms. Following the Women’s Suffrage Movement of the late 19th century, which resulted in the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment allowing women to vote, and in combination with conflicts in Europe, WWI and WWII, women found themselves shifted into the industrial workforce. During this time, women were expected to take up industrial jobs and support the troops abroad through the means of domestic industry. Moving from “homemakers” and “caregivers”, women were now factory workers and “bread winners” for the family.

However, after the war, men returned to the States and women, again, saw a shift in social and professional dynamics. With the reuniting of the nuclear family, the ideals of American Suburbia boomed. Throughout the 1950s and 60’s, middle-class families moved in droves from urban living into newly developed single-family homes on former farm land just outside of major cities. Thus established what many modern critics describe as the “private sphere.”[80] Though frequently sold and idealized as “perfect living”,[81] many women had difficulty adjusting to the new “private sphere.” Writer Betty Friedan described this discontent as “the feminine mystique.” The “mystique” was derived from women equipped with the knowledge, skills, and aspirations of the workforce, the “public sphere”, who felt compelled whether socially or morally to devote themselves to the home and family.[82]

One major concern of Feminism is that women occupy lower-ranking job positions than men, and do most of the housekeeping work.[83] There are several reasons for the wage disparity.

A recent (October 2009) report from the Center for American Progress, "The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything" tells us that women now make up 48% of the US workforce and "mothers are breadwinners or co-breadwinners in a majority of families" (63.3%, see figure 2, page 19 of the Executive Summary of The Shriver Report).[84]

Another recent article in The New York Times indicates that young women today are closing the pay gap. Luisita Lopez Torregrosa has noted, "Women are ahead of men in education (last year, 55 percent of U.S. college graduates were female). And a study shows that in most U.S. cities, single, childless women under 30 are making an average of 8 percent more money than their male counterparts, with Atlanta and Miami in the lead at 20 percent.".[85] While this study concerned American cities, a global trend is developing, and has now been termed "the reverse gender gap."

Feminism and gender roles

Feminist theory generally defines gender as a social construct that includes ideologies governing feminine/masculine (female/male) appearances, actions, and behaviors. An example of these gender roles would be that males were supposed to be the educated breadwinners of the family, and occupiers of the public sphere whereas, the female’s duty was to be a homemaker, take care of her husband and children, and occupy the private sphere. According to contemporary gender role ideology, gender roles have been and still are constantly changing. This can be seen in Londa Schiebinger's Has Feminism Changed Science in which she states that, "Gendered characteristics-typically masculine or feminine behaviors, interests, or values-are not innate, nor are they arbitrary. They are formed by historical circumstances. They can also change with historical circumstances."[86]

One example of the contemporary definition of gender was depicted in Sally Shuttleworth’s Female Circulation in which the, “abasement of the woman, reducing her from an active participant in the labor market to the passive bodily existence to be controlled by male expertise is indicative of the ways in which the ideological deployment of gender roles operated to facilitate and sustain the changing structure of familial and market relations in Victorian England.”[87] In other words, this shows what it meant to grow up into the roles (gender roles) of a female in Victorian England, which transitioned from being a homemaker to being a working woman and then back to being passive and inferior to males. In conclusion, gender roles in the contemporary sex gender model are socially constructed, always changing, and do not really exist since, they are ideologies that society constructs in order for various benefits at various times in history.

Gender neutrality

Gender neutrality is the movement to end discrimination of gender altogether in society though means of gender neutral language, the end of sex segregation and other means.


People who are transgender have a gender identity or expression that differs from the sex which they were assigned at birth.[5] As long as a person's perceived physiological sex is consistent with that person's gender expression, the gender role of a person is so much a matter of course in a stable society that people rarely even think of it. Only in cases where an individual has a gender expression that is inconsistent with his or her sex will the matter draw attention. Some people mix gender roles to form a personally comfortable androgynous combination or violate the scheme of gender roles completely, regardless of their physiological sex.

Sexual orientation

Generally, when sexual orientation is discussed it is broken into the three categories of heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual. However, some argue that sexual orientation is better defined as a continuum with those three categories represented.[88]

Sexual orientation is developed based on the three components of sexual identity, sexual behavior and sexual attraction [89] Each component is independent of the other disallowing conclusions to be drawn based solely on one dimension.

An active conflict over the cultural acceptability of non-heterosexuality rages worldwide. The belief or assumption that heterosexual relationships and acts are "normal" is described – largely by the opponents of this viewpoint – as heterosexism or in queer theory, heteronormativity. Gender identity and sexual orientation are two separate aspects of individual identity, although they are often mistakenly conflated in the media.[5]

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 during 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.[90]

Cohabitating couples with same-sex partners are typically egalitarian when they assign domestic chores.[91] Though sometimes these couples assign traditional female responsibilities to one partner and traditional male responsibilities to the other, generally same-sex domestic partners challenge traditional gender roles in their division of household responsibilities, and gender roles within homosexual relationships are flexible.[92] For instance, cleaning and cooking, traditionally both female responsibilities, might be assigned to different people. Carrington (1999) observed the daily home lives of 52 gay and lesbian couples and found that the length of the work week and level of earning power substantially affected the assignment of housework, regardless of gender or sexuality.[93]

Criminal justice

A number of studies conducted since the mid-90s have found direct correlation between a female criminal’s ability to conform to gender role stereotypes, particularly murder committed in self-defense, and the severity of their sentencing.[94][95][96][97] "...In terms of the social realities of justice in America, the experiences of diverse groups of people in society have contributed to the shaping of the types of criminals and victims that we have had. Like Andersen and Hill Collins (1998: 4) in their discussion of what they refer to as a 'matrix of domination,' we too conceive that class, race, and gender represent "multiple, interlocking levels of domination that stem from the societal configurations of these structural relationships. These patterned actions, in turn, affect [ing] individual consciousness, group interaction, and individual and group access to institutional power and privileges.'"[98] "Patterns of offending by men and by women are notable both for their similarities and for their differences. Both men and women are more heavily involved in minor property and substance abuse offenses than in serious crimes like robbery or murder. However, men offend at much higher rates than women for all crime categories except prostitution. This gender gap in crime is greatest for serious crime and least for mild forms of lawbreaking such as minor property crimes." [99]

The impact of feminism on gender roles

The first wave of feminism was successful to bringing the right of vote to women. This success was due to the contributions of the “Suffrage Movement” in the early 1900s.

The second wave of feminism had a lot of women theorizing gender roles as well as their explanation on why society is constructed in this specific patriarchal way.

Andrea Dworkin was the founder of a feminism named the “radical feminism”. This is defined by the campaigns with the effects of the sex-roles attributes in pornography. Her main concern on this topic was that pornography violated the civil rights of women and implied their passiveness because of the “physical possession of the female is the natural right of the male” (Laughey, 2007). She also stated that because of the hypodermic needle theory, the impact of the degrading images towards women give men a direct impact into provoking men into acts of sexual violence and of rape. This theory is also applied by the learning from models experiment created by Bandura named the Bobo doll Experiment where children see adults acting in an aggressive matter towards the Bobo Doll, and the children re-enact exactly the same violent acts upon the Bobo doll that they have seen from the adults before them. The impact was greater when the adult was the same sex as the child, which demonstrates wanting to identify themselves in the character seen (Bandura, 1961). The roles demonstrated from pornography are conclusive of the male as dominant and the woman as passive (Russell, 2004).

Laura Muvley argued that the mainstream Hollywood industry portray women as “passive objects of male sexual desire” (Laughey, 2007). When watching on-screen programming, the audience identify themselves with the dominant, heroic character which is almost always male. This is what Muvley calls “masculinization” of the spectator. When there are women heroes, the men feel threatened because they are no longer signified as a sexual object or a helpless being (damsel in distress in the movie). The fact that women have the role of a brave and strong being in movies has broken the power of patriarchal identification.

Mass-produced fantasies for women were explained by two feminists. Firstly, Tania Modleski theorized the success of soap operas with having the women viewers having their fantasized desires fulfilled that cannot be accomplished by their reality: an oppressive environment. Women could identify themselves with the ideal woman character, and repress the villainess character which they saw as their negative image of self. While this villainess role as a woman is a character that is universally hated, a male villain is seen as dark and alluring, therefore perceived as a good thing by the female audience. Secondly, Janice Radway emphasized the importance of books for women because it provided an escape. This “escape reading” let way to the freedom associated in the storyline in which they are inputting themselves, and forgetting the daily role of domesticity of their reality. Freedom of lecture was for them a utopian bliss.

Structural feminism was constructed by Angela McRobbie, who created this feminism by combining structuralism and feminism. She focused on the effects of media on teenage girls. According to McRobbie, there were four codes that implied the reinforcement of the housewife role and the division of the public sphere with the private sphere. Her first code was aimed at heterosexual relationships, emphasizing that “the right man is better than the right job” (Laughey, 2007), dissuading the female population of striving for more than just love. The second code was created by editors of media like magazines, individualising the reader’s problems to make them seem as though they need to conform to the norms demanded by society. This concept is called competitive individualism. The code of fashion and beauty is also important for the reason that appearance is portrayed as more important than intelligence and personality. Women are taught to constantly consume and keep up-to-date with the latest fashions and fads and get into a materialistic mindset (Bunting, 2009). The last code would be of pop music which mostly used the need for romance in teenagers life to their advantage to shape their perception of this. (Laughey, 2007).

The third wave of feminism had the goal to bring together political ideas of the second wave and enforced the idea of personal choice to women. This empowerment put masculinity into crisis. Women are now more present in employment and are on the same foot to compete with men for professional and management careers (Johnston, 2013). With this new role of working women, comes the role of masculinity changing also. The “New Man” is now known as a softer and tender way of masculinity which is now the new norm (Laughey, 2007).

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External links

  • International Foundation (For) Gender Education,
  • Gender PAC.
  • Career advancement for professional women returners to the workplace
  • Men and Masculinity Research Center (MMRC), seeks to give people (especially men) across the world a chance to contribute their perspective on topics relevant to men (e.g., masculinity, combat sports, fathering, health, and sexuality) by participating in Internet-based psychological research.
  • The Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity (Division 51 of the American Psychological Association): SPSMM advances knowledge in the psychology of men through research, education, training, public policy, and improved clinical practice.
  • Gender Stereotypes - Changes in People's Thoughts, A report based on a survey on roles of men and women.
  • Gender Communication Barriers and Techniques, Strategic Communications, Stanford Graduate School of Business. Serves to help develop communication skills.

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