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Gender roles are separate patterns of personality traits, mannerisms, interests, attitudes, and behaviors that are regarded as either "male" or "female" by one's culture. Gender roles are largely a product of the way in which one was raised and may not be in conformance with one's gender identity. Research shows that both genetics and environment influence the development of gender roles. As society changes, its gender roles often also change to meet the needs of the society. To this end, it has been suggested that androgynous gender roles in which both females and males are expected to display either expressive (emotion-oriented) or instrumental (goal-oriented) behaviors as called for by the situation may be better for both the individual and the society in many ways. However, this is not to say that traditional roles, reversed roles, or anything in between are inherently bad. More research is needed to better understand the influences of genetics and environment on the acquisition of gender roles and the ways in which different types of gender roles support the stability and growth of society.

Keywords Androgyny; Culture; Dyad; Gender; Gender Identity; Gender Role; Gender Stereotype; Norms; Sex; Socialization; Society; Subject; Twin Study

Sex, Gender


Gender roles have changed in many ways throughout history as well as within recent memory. In the 1950s, for example, little girls were said to be made of "sugar and spice and everything nice" and wore pastel organdy dresses and gloves to church. In the 1960s and 1970s, however, this all changed for many women; bras were discarded, and patched jeans became de rigueur. In fact, each succeeding generation has brought with it differing expectations for how men and women should act within society. Despite these changes, however, the truth is that modern society still has expectations for how men and women are to act. Although we may be more open to exceptions than were past generations, there still are expected norms of behavior for women and men in society.

Gender vs. Sex

In biosocial terms, gender is not the same as sex. Gender refers to the psychological, social, cultural, and behavioral characteristics associated with being female or male. Gender is defined by one's gender identity and learned gender role. Sex, on the other hand, refers in this context to the biological aspects of being either female or male. Genetically, females are identified by having two X chromosomes and males by having an X and a Y chromosome. In addition, sex can typically be determined from either primary or secondary sexual characteristics. Primary sexual characteristics comprise the female or male reproductive organs (i.e., the vagina, ovaries, and uterus for females and the penis, testes, and scrotum for males). Secondary sexual characteristics comprise the superficial differences between the sexes that occur with puberty (e.g., breast development and hip broadening for women and facial hair and voice deepening for men).

Biology as Gender Role Determinant

It is relatively easy to see that biology has an impact on gender and the subsequent actions and behaviors that are thought to be more relevant to either females or males. For example, no matter how much a man might want to experience giving birth, the simple fact is that he cannot, except as an observer. From this fact it is easy (if not necessarily logical) to assume that biology is destiny and, therefore, women and men have certain unalterable roles in society—for example, that women are the keepers of home and hearth because of their reproductive role, while men are the protectors and providers because of their relatively greater size and strength. However, before concluding that biology is destiny in terms of gender roles, it is important to understand that not only do gender roles differ from culture to culture, they also change over time within the same culture. Early 20th-century American culture emphasized that a woman's role was in the home. As a result, many women did not have high school educations and never held jobs; instead, they quite happily raised families and supported their husbands by keeping their households running smoothly. Nearly a century later, this gender role is no longer the norm (or at least not the only acceptable norm) and sounds quite constricting to our more educated, career-oriented 21st-century ears. If biology were the sole determinant of gender roles, such changes would not be possible.

Culture as Gender Role Determinant

In 21st-century United States culture, gender roles continue to be in a state of flux to some extent, although traditional gender roles still apply in many quarters. For example, boys are often encouraged to become strong, fast, aggressive, dominant, and achieving, while traditional roles for girls are to be sensitive, intuitive, passive, emotional, and interested in the things of home and family. However, these gender roles are culturally bound. For example, in the Tchambuli culture of New Guinea, gender roles for women include doing the fishing and manufacturing as well as controlling the power and economic life of the community. Tchambuli women also take the lead in initiating sexual relations. Tchambuli men, on the other hand, are dependent, flirtatious, and concerned with their appearance, often adorning themselves with flowers and jewelry. In the Tchambuli culture, men's interests revolve around such activities as art, games, and theatrics (Coon, 2001). If gender roles were completely biologically determined, the wide disparity between American and Tchambuli gender roles would not be possible. Therefore, it must be assumed that culture and socialization also play a part in gender role acquisition.

Society as Gender Role Determinant

Socialization is the process by which individuals learn to differentiate between what society regards as acceptable and unacceptable behavior and act in a manner that is appropriate for the needs of the society. The socialization process for teaching gender roles begins almost immediately after birth, when infant girls are typically held more gently and treated more tenderly than are infant boys, and continues as the child grows, with both mothers and fathers usually playing more roughly with their male children than with their female children. As the child continues to grow and mature, little boys are typically allowed to roam a wider territory without permission than are little girls. Similarly, boys are typically expected to run errands earlier than are girls. Whereas sons are told that "real boys don't cry" and are encouraged to control their softer emotions, girls are taught not to fight and not to show anger or aggression. In general, girls are taught to engage in expressive, or emotion-oriented, behaviors, while boys are taught to engage in instrumental, or goal-oriented, behaviors. When the disparity between the way they teach and treat their daughters and sons is pointed out to many parents, they often respond that the sexes are naturally different not only biologically but behaviorally as well.

Gender-Specific Toys

The teaching of gender roles does not only come through obvious verbal teaching from parents and other elders in society; it also occurs in more subtle ways as well. Many people have observed that children's toys are strongly gender-typed. Girls are often given "girl" toys such as dolls, play kitchens, and similar toys that teach them traditional, socially approved gender roles for when they grow up. Boys, on the other hand, are often given sports equipment, tools, and toy trucks, all of which help prepare them to act within traditional male gender roles. Even if nothing is ever said to children about the gender-appropriateness of these toys, research has shown that by the time they reach school age, many children have already come to believe that professions such as physician, pilot, and athlete are the domain of men, while women are supposed to have careers as nurses, secretaries, or mothers (Coon, 2001).

To investigate the influence of gender-specific toys on the development of gender roles, Caldera and...

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Traditional Gender Roles

The events of the past decade of the millennium have had a significant influence on the gender roles. Study of gender has emerged as a central trend in sociology. Sociologists must account for effects of the millennium recession and the global patterns. This paper documents the evidence for the traditional gender roles (Aalberg& Jenssen, 2007). It is important to link sociological explanation of gender with other disciplines such as sexuality in order to understand the traditional concepts of gender.

Sociology is concerned with the human behavior and how it is shaped by the group life. Research on gender indicates that the social interactions in the society are influenced by gender. Explanation of gendering has formed a foundation of the theoretical and empirical studies (Morris, 2006). The paper will provide evidence of constant reinforcement of the gender roles. Additionally, the paper will explain the changing gender roles in the society.

A role is an expected behavior, which is associated with the social status. Societal norms dictate the gender roles since they are the rules that determine the privileges and responsibilities that the social status accords to a person. Female and males, daughters and sons, and mothers and fathers are statuses that are attached to the gender roles. The social status of the mother calls for a certain set of roles such as loving, nurturing, home making and self-sacrifice. The social status of the father calls for the expected role of the breadwinner or the main provider for the family.

Fathers are also disciplinarians, hands on person and the highest decision making authority. The society allows for some levels of flexibility of the gender roles such that in times of rapid change, the clarity of the society-imposed gender roles is always at a flux (Morris, 2006). The most important change in the United States labor market is the increase of women in the labor force.

Mothers are moving towards employment and the traditional gender roles are always changing. The changes in gender roles leads to a situation whereby the society becomes normless since the traditional gender roles have changed and new norms are yet to be developed. For instance, the change in gender roles from home based unpaid role to permanent employment in organizations led to a norm less situation. This was particularly aggravated since the mothers with preschool children were on the forefront of the change.

Before the onset of the modern colonial family, the gender roles were specifically different from the usual. Families were larger and the concept of the nuclear family was nonexistent. Working was done in the communal manner whereby the families would work towards a common goal. If it were construction, all members of the extended family would play their role in the project (Aalberg& Jenssen, 2007). Everyone’s input was set even though the men were the main technical people as it is today.

However, the colonial and Christian backed notion of the family unit led to the creation of a new norm in the society, which placed the men as main providers for their family. The extended family was increasingly becoming annihilated from the decision making process since most of the economic changes did not permit them to work in a certain manner. Creation of the ideal family was solely dependent on the newly formed norms. These norms of the patriarchal society have dominated the society leading to the development of a certain perception of the gender roles until recently when their fundamental foundations have been tested.

Key concepts in gender

Statuses and roles in the society allow the people to live in consistent and predictable manner (Aalberg& Jenssen, 2007). The roles and statuses work hand in hand with the established norms to prescribe the behavior of the society and ease the interaction between the people that occupy different social statuses and roles regardless of whether the interacting parties have prior encounters with each other.

Predictability is insidious since when the normative roles are too rigid, the freedom of action is greatly hindered. Rigid definition of the social roles has led to the development of stereotypes concerning the gender roles whereby the oversimplification of the conceptions of the people that belong to the same social statuses leads to the discrimination of other people. However, in rare occasions, the stereotypes can include positive aspects.

Traditional stereotypes of the gender roles are developed according to the traits that the social groups are supposed to possess. Women are presented as flighty and beyond the control. This assertion is mainly developed due to biological fact that they possess ranging hormones that predisposes them to unpredictable emotional based judgments. The assignment of the aforementioned stereotypes is uncalled for since there is a tendency of developing sexist attitudes towards the women (Aalberg& Jenssen, 2007).

The society is at risk of assuming that the women are inferior due to the inability of acting rationally. It is important to note that not only women experience negative gender based stereotypes. The prominence of the negative stereotypes on women comes from the fact that the social statuses occupied by women are more stigmatized than the ones occupied by men. For instance, women are more likely to occupy statuses inside and outside the home setting that are deemed inferior compared to the men. The beliefs of inferiority of women due to their biological make up are traditionally reinforced and later used as a basis for sexist discrimination.

Sexism thrives on the patriarchal systems, which have male dominance and overt discrimination of women. Patriarchy exhibits male centered norms hence it is androcentric. Sexist beliefs are reinforced when patriarchy and androcentricism combine to propel the notion that the gender norms are biological and permanent. For instance, the belief those women are unsuitable for any other role apart from the domestic chores has been a major hindrance of development among the societies in the developing world. This is the case mainly because there is a preference of the male children when it comes to education opportunities. The perception has led to the installation of the male members of the society as the authors, disseminators and enforcers of the gender based roles.

Gender vs. Sex

There has always been a considerable level of confusion regarding the differences between sex and gender. However, increasing research has led to the development of more awareness on the major aspects that distinguish sex from gender. Sex is biological since it focuses on the anatomical features that distinguish a male from female and vice versa. The biological definition of the females and males focuses on the genetically make up, hormones, anatomy and other features that come from the physiology.

Gender is a social construct. It is the social and cultural aspects of the male and female that have been propounded though the different social contexts. Sex only applies in the distinction of the male and female while gender determine who is masculine or feminine. Sex is ascribed to the person at the time of birth while gender has to be learnt from the norms and practices of the society.

Evidence reinforcing traditional gender roles

Media stereotypes

Gender roles are evident in the mainstream media. Media prays women as nurturing and gentle since they have to take care of other members of the society. They are often concerned with their appearance and that have to ensure that they have the right appearance and poise since it is required of them to ascribe to the norms imposed on them by the society. Women are also depicted as emotional and they make their decisions according to how they feel even when the evidence points out that the decision based on feelings is unattainable.

Men are depicted as logical since they try to attain the best outcome out of the situation that they are undergoing. Competitiveness is a major aspect of the male gender role that comes out in the media. For instance, men watch and participate in rough sports to display their competitiveness. Men are also displayed as aloof in that they work alone towards the attainment of a certain goal. However, when they work in a group, there is always a high degree of dominance of the group decisions by a certain member. This member is the alpha male and is independent. The media also sells the proposition that men are more dominant over the women. The media portrays the women as emphatic more than it portrays their male counterparts.

The media is more likely to display women as sex objects as opposed to the men. Media is awash with necessary images of women that create a surreal expectation. The female body is normally used to advertise things that are sexual in nature. For instance, the video games display women with large breasts and attractive. Their role to the development of the plot is usually limited since they are only in the video game for their sexual aspects (Aalberg& Jenssen, 2007).

There is also constant pressure among the women to attain certain standards of beauty due to the constant reinforcement of some perceptions of what makes one beautiful. Some of the media content places pressure on women on not only their bodies but also their attractiveness and marital status through content full of beautiful, young and single women (Morris, 2006). Women often dress in a provocative manner compared to men due to the media imposed stereotype that the women have to maintain a certain appearance.

Media programs display the teenage girls as overtly passive. The teenage girl in the media is concerned with her appearance, shopping or relationships, which are superficial topics. The teenage girls that stray from the norm always end up being outlasted since they chose better topics such as career development. The irony of this stereotype is that the girls are the ones that are responsible for hindering their own development while the society seems innocent (Morris, 2006). The reality is that the society has engineered the societal norms with accuracy and there is no way that one can distance the society role in the media stereotype creation.

Media also reinforces the traditional roles of the women and men by indicating the men as the better-paid employees in the organization. The media has the ability to come up with the right approach to the women but it seeks to propound the real life experiences of the women. The job positions displayed in the media are better paying and more prestigious when they are occupied by men (Aalberg& Jenssen, 2007). The occasional strong woman figure is juxtaposed with a lower cadre employee with a sense of amiability and social acceptance. The media will make the lower cadre employee look better in the audience compared to the executives. The executives are always displayed as sad members of the society whose life rotates around the work situation.

Their distinction from the job is highly unlikely since they exist only to work since they cannot fulfill the traditional roles (Morris, 2006). The conspicuous effort of the media to display the women in certain manner has led to the propulsion of the notion that there are some roles that the women have to fulfill failure of which they have to accept the description accorded to them as empty mechanistic people (Morris, 2006). The homemakers in the media are lauded for their selfless efforts in the sustenance of the family unit and their knack for performance. This leads to the reinforcement of the traditional gender role for the women as the homemakers due to their nurturing role. Downplaying the input of the single executive in the workplace is a sexist move meant to propound the notion that women re inferior to men.

Effects of exposure to media

Media is a major influencer among the young generation members. The children that are exposed to multiple gender images will most likely adopt the stereotype since it is a norm. Fewer children will work with the counter stereotype. The stereotypes have negative effects of lowering the self-esteem and dignity of women. Some of them are changing their outlook since they have mounting dissatisfaction with their bodies (Aalberg& Jenssen, 2007). Images of lonely and isolated executives have the effect of hindering the career development among women.

The media reinforced gender roles regarding the behavior of men and women leading to entrenchment of the practices of the society along the gender roles. Studies indicate that TV viewership can reinforce the attitudes of the women towards themselves and subjects such as career. The consistent messages passed through the mainstream media have two effect, in the first instance; the consistent messages can reinforce the traditional beliefs such that the women that were trying to work against the grain are forced to conform to the traditional perceptions of the gender roles. The second effect of the media is the creation of new perceptions of gender whereby there are new aspects of gender that all the women learn. Changing perceptions can alter the gender roles if they are strong enough.

In conclusion, traditional gender roles persist due to the increasing reinforcement of the said roles by the media. Media depiction of the two genders leads to the reinforcement of the traditional gender roles whereby the boys are termed to be different from the girls. The media also portrays what becomes of the women or men that do not work according to the gender roles since they become pariahs in the society (Aalberg& Jenssen, 2007). In order to be a member of the society, a person is forced to conform to the gender roles.


Aalberg, T. & Jenssen, A.T. (2007). Gender stereotyping of political candidates: An experimental study of political communication, Nordicom Review, 28, 17-32.
Morris, P. (2006,). Gender in print advertisements: A snapshot of representations from around the world. Media Report to Women, 34, 13-20.


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