Gender RolesChildren learn from their parents and society the conception of”feminine” and “masculine.” Much about these conceptions is not biological atall but cultural. The way we tend to think about men and women and their genderroles in society constitute the prevailing paradigm that influences out thinking.
Riane Eisler points out that the prevailing paradigm makes it difficult for usto analyze properly the roles of men and women in prehistory “we have a culturalbias that we bring to the effort and that colors our decision-making processes.”Sexism is the result of that bias imposed by our process of acculturation.Gender roles in Western societies have been changing rapidly in recentyears, with the changes created both by evolutionary changes in society,including economic shifts which have altered the way people work and indeedwhich people work as more and more women enter the workforce, and by perhapspressure brought to make changes because of the perception that the traditionalsocial structure was inequitable. Gender relations are a part of thesocialization process, the initiation given the young by society, teaching themcertain values and creating in them certain behavior patterns acceptable totheir social roles. These roles have been in a state of flux in Americansociety in recent years, and men and women today can be seen as having expandedtheir roles in society, with women entering formerly male dominions and menfinding new ways to relate to and function in the family unit.When I was growing up a woman was never heard of having a job other thana school teacher or seamstress. Our(women’s)job was to take careof the house. We had a big garden out back from which we got mostof our vegetablesA garden is a lot of work you knowWe also had tomake clothes when there were none to be had(hand-me- downs)Gender can be defined as a social identity consisting of the role aperson is to play because of his or her sex.
There is a diversity in male andfemale roles, making it impossible to define gender in terms of narrow male andfemale roles. Gender is culturally defined, with significant differences fromculture to culture. These differences are studied by anthropologists toascertain the range of behaviors that have developed to define gender and on theforces at work in the creation of these roles. The role of women in Americansociety was conditioned by religious attitudes and by the conditions of lifethat prevailed through much of American history. The culture of Europe andAmerica was based for centuries on a patriarchal system in which exclusiveownership of the female by a given male was considered important, with theresult that women were regulated to the role of property with no voice in theirown fate. The girl-child was trained from birth to fit the role awaiting her,and as long as compensations were adequate, women were relatively content:”For Example, if in return for being a man’s property a woman receiveseconomic security, a full emotional life centering around husband and children,and an opportunity to express her capacities in the management of her home, shehas little cause for discontent.”While this statement is arguable in the way it assumes that women arenot discontented under such circumstances, it is clear that for most of historywomen were expected to be content with this sort of life and were trained forthat purpose. Clearly, circumstances of family life have changed in the modernera.
Industry has been taken out of the home, and large families are no longereconomically possible or socially desired. The home is no longer the center ofthe husband’s life, and for the traditional wife there is only a narrowing ofinterests and possibilities for development: “Increasingly, the woman findsherself without an occupation and with an unsatisfactory emotional life.”Thechange in sex roles that can be discerned in society is closely tied withchanges in the structure of the family. Changes in both family structure andsex roles over the last century have produced the ferment we still see today,and one of the problems with the changing role of women is the degree to whichsociety perceives this is causing unwanted changes in the family, though it isjust as true that changes in the family have altered the roles of women.As women entered the early 1990s, they faced a number of problems.
Most of these problems have been around for some time, and women have challengedthem and even alleviated them without solving them completely. They areencountered in the workplace, in the home, in every facet of life. Women havemade advances toward the equality they seek only to encounter a backlash in theform of religious fundamentalism, claims of reverse discrimination by males, andhostility from a public that thinks the women’s movement has won everything itwanted and should thus now be silent. Both the needs of women today and thebacklash that has developed derive from the changes in social and sexual rolesthat have taken place in the period since World War II. These changes involvethe new ability of women to break out of the gender roles created for them by apatriarchal society.The desperation women feel has been fed throughout history by thepractice of keeping women in their place by limiting their options. This wasaccomplished on one level by preventing women from gaining their the sort ofeducation offered to men, and while this has changed to a great extent, thereare still inequalities in the opportunities offered to men as opposed to women.
Susan Brownmiller writes:The sad history of prohibitions on women’s learning is too well known tobe recorded here. . . In much of the world women are barred from advancedknowledge and technical trainingYet opening the world of business with new opportunities for women does notdissipate much of this frustration because both men and women continue to beruled by their early training, by the acculturation process which decides forthem what sort of existence they will have. This can result in feelings ofguilt when their reality and the image they have been taught from childhood donot mesh.It would be a mistake to see changing gender roles in society asthreatening only to males who dominate that society. Such changes also threatenmany women who have accepted more traditional roles and see change as a threat.”I don’t know how your mother does it all.
. . I think time are harder for womenthese days.
. . so many choices.”This response is not new. When women firstunited for the right to vote at the beginning of this century, they were opposedby women’s groups who wanted things to remain as they were. Many of these womenwere ladies of means and social position in society:The main burden of their argument was that woman suffrage placed anadditional and unbearable burden on women, whose place was in the home. . .
These arguments are heard today from religious fundamentalists who believe thatthe women’s movement is a threat to the family. The fact is that the family haschanged and that the traditional family structure of homemaker, husband asbreadwinner, and children bow constitutes only 10 percent of families. The rolefor women has expanded with more women in the workplace and with a variety offamily structures with new roles for all members of the family. Business hasbeen slow to change and to acknowledge the new family, and for all thecomplaints about the women’s movement as anti-family, the movement has insteadfollowed the trend of placing the family in the forefront of addressing familyissues as vital to women.There is much evidence that boys and girls are treated differently formbirth, and this fact has been noted in every world culture:It may never be possible to separate out the precise effects ofphysiology and cultural conditioning on human beings. Not only do theyindividually influence people but they interact with each other and with eachperson’s unique essence to affect human behavior.
To accord with the reality ofthis complex interplay of factors, and to accord with an increasingly complexexternal world, feminists ask simply for options in life styles.Those stuck in sexism, however, cannot grant even the simple request to ask whywomen are inferior. The reason sexism exists at all is because of anacculturation process which subtly creates it, and it is perpetuated in part forthat reason and also because perceived changes in the roles and status of womencreate a backlash based on fear of change.Surveys have shown that identical resumes or scholarly articles arerated lower if the applicant is though to be a woman rather than a man: “Man’ssuccess is more likely to be attributed to ability and woman’s to luck.”Whileadvances have been made over the last decade, the challenge remains for the next,and “as long as women constitute small minorities in nontraditional employmentcontexts, substantial obstacles will remain.”The women in the workplace mustwork harder to succeed than their male counterparts, and once they havesucceeded they have to deal with the envy and anxiety this arouses. Women whodo not advance only confirm the stereotype for others:The perception remains that women can’t make it by conventionalstandards, or are less committed to doing so. In either event, they donot seem to warrant the same investment in training, assistance,and promotion opportunities as their male counterparts.
Feminist theorists have been calling for some time for a change in thepolitical climate. They want more than just more women in office and thepolitical arena; they want a new type of political thinking, one that empowerspeople rather than government and that addresses the issues that are ofimportance to men and women:If we can eliminate the false polarities and appreciate the limits andtrue potential of women’s power, we will be able to join with men–follow or leadin the new human politics that must emerge beyondreaction. This new human liberation will enable us to take back theday and the night, and use the precious and limited resources of ourearth and the limitless resources of our human capital to erect new kinds ofhomes for all our dreams. . .
The perception the public has had on the role of men and women isoutdated and has been for some time, but public attitudes change slowly even inthe face of overwhelming evidence. More than 40 years ago, anthropologistMargaret Mead noted the way the West had developed its concept of male andfemale:There has long been a habit in Western civilization of men to havea picture of womanhood to which women reluctantly conformed,and for women to make demands on man to which men adjustedeven more reluctantly. This has been a accurate picture of the way inwhich we have structured our society, with women as keepers of thehouse who insist that the man wipe their feet on the door-mat, and menas keepers of women in the house who insist that their wivesshould stay modestly indoors.Today, people are far less willing to accept these artificial roles evenreluctantly, and this includes the provision keeping women in the home and outof the public arena. To have more women in office it is necessary to have morewomen run.As noted, public views change more slowly than the reality of genderroles. They will continue to change slowly as long as we continue acculturatingchildren with the same sexual stereotypes that have so long prevailed. It isnecessary that we address this issue from early childhood, with parentsdemonstrating a different view of gender and sexual roles just as the school andchurch should take a part in eliminating the old stereotypes in favor of a morereasonable and equitable way to view both men and women.Social Issues