7400.602 Family in Lifespan Perspective
Topic 3  Gender Roles: Foundation for Heterosexual Intimacy

There are both similarities and differences between men and women.  Some research shows that men and women are similar in areas in which we once thought they were different.  Men and women seem to react to events with similar emotions, but women are prone to describe their reactions in more emotional terms.  Women and men seem to be quite similar in terms of responses to erotic stimuli.  Differences between men’s and women’s tendency to cooperate appear to be extremely small.  Finally, there appear to be few, if any gender differences in men’s and women’s tendencies toward conformity.

Men and women differ in numerous ways, including women’s longer average life span and the way their brains process information.

  • It is not true that male abilities are generally superior to those of females. 
  • It appears universally true that men are more aggressive than women.  However, we need to note that there are different kinds of situations and different kinds of aggression.
  • Females are more relationship oriented than males.  Males tend to value independence more than females do, while females value connectedness and intimacy more than males do.
  • Gender differences exist in nonverbal behavior.  Women are more skilled at interpreting nonverbal behavior.  Conflict theorists explain this as a protective measure.  From an early age, females seem to use eye contact to communicate intimacy more than do males.
  • All gender differences must be kept in perspective

Concepts of Status and Role in Social Interaction

  • Definitions - Our society is constructed by linking social positions with roles
  • Status is a position in society that carries with it certain distinct behaviors and abilities.
  • Role is the behavioral definition required by persons occupying certain statuses.
Gender Roles are the behaviors required by persons occupying the Male or Female Status


Thus two people who are married are linked together by virtue of the social, personal, and emotional value they hold for each other
The social position (status) of wife is linked to the social position of husband by a collection of behaviors called a roles.  Thus any wife-husband pairing will have some common characteristics, if that pair is to be useful to the individuals AND useful to society.  Rather than seek out important services and need-meeting behaviors outside the relationship, wives and husbands do for each other, perform an array of important tasks for each other, hold each other's confidence, provide for their family as a team.  Marriage then, is a necessary part of the larger social institution we call Family.

In all aspects of society, whether we approve or not, people differentiate between groups of individuals based on the individual's occupancy of several roles:

  • age -Adults vs. Children, Young vs. Old
  • race and ethnicity- Blacks vs. Whites, Irish vs. Scottish
  • gender - Boys vs. Girls, Male vs. Female.

Gender is the broad concept by which we divide the human population into two groups.

Gender - the concept of maleness or femaleness is: - basic in all social interactions. - refers to: physical characteristics social behaviors self-image psychological tendencies behavioral tendencies abilities that serve to differentiate genders

Gender is the basis of dating, courtship, marriage, and the production and nurturance of children. Three interacting/interrelated factors influencing differences in gender role behavior:

  • 1. biology - chromosomes, genes, and hormones
  • 2. culture - gender-role socialization
  • 3. gender identity - the sense of oneself as a male or female.
What are Gender (Sex) Roles?
We need to distinguish among sex, gender, gender role, and gender-role orientation.  Sex is biology; gender refers to males and females as social creatures; gender role refers to the behavior associated with being either male or female, and gender-role orientation refers to the conception of oneself as having some combination of masculine and feminine traits.

Traditionally the differences between the sexes have been well defined.

  • There are four distinct norms that are the basis for the male gender role: “no sissy stuff,” “the big wheel,” “the sturdy oak,” and “give ‘em Hell.”
  • Women have been traditionally identified as being less direct, more dependent, and more likely to resort to emotions in influencing other people.
  • To some extent, these traditional male and female roles are stereotypes.  But, even though our ideas about gender roles have been changing, many people still react to others on the basis of those traditional roles.

Few if any people have conformed precisely to the traditional roles.  Most people have some combination of instrumental and expressive traits of each role.  An individual can be androgynous: they are aggressive, competitive, and independent, but they are also gentle and sensitive.

From the moment of birth, through an incredibly complex process of socialization, from the first peek at baby's bottom, gender role reinforcement begins for Girls (ribbons, pink blankets, softness) and for Boys (hockey jerseys, blue blankets, toughness)

Clothing styles, environments, colors, hair styles, parental treatment, toy selection are all means of reinforcement of Gender Roles.

  • girls are allowed a little more flexibility than boys early on
  • later on girls are forced into more rigid roles
  • "Sissy" to a boy is much more dangerous than "tomboy" is to girls of early school age.
  • boys don't cry
  • girls don't hit
  • girls get dolls
  • boys get action figures
Gender Role is a part that an individual plays as a social actor, including the patterns of feeling and behavior deemed appropriate or inappropriate by others because of the individual's assigned sex - male or female. Gender Identity is a composite of all the rights and obligations warranted to an individual by virtue of their assigned sex. While Sex is ascribed at birth, Gender is achieved and accepted through successful accomplishment of developmental tasks.

Gender roles and Gender Identity are important because:
    • self-identity and self-esteem are partially dependent on the successful achievement of one's gender.
    • social and relational expectations demand it.
    • happiness and life-satisfaction is partially dependent on successful gender performance.
    • understanding of gender role. effects on limiting our progress as individuals and as a species may inform our choices in life.
The Cause of Gender Roles : Biology or Culture?
One of the controversies surrounding gender roles is whether they reflect human nature, or do gender roles reflect socialization, the way in which children are nurtured?  Those who stress nature may prefer to use the term sex role, which suggests that the differences are innate.  Sociologists are more likely to use the term gender role, because prevailing evidence shows that male-female differences reflect nurture as much as, or perhaps even somewhat more than, they do nature.  Sigmund Freud set forth an influential case for the biological basis of gender roles.  Those who draw on research about the brain and hormones also stress innate biological differences.  In the final analysis, behavior has both a biological and a social component. Most social scientists argue that nurture is an important part of gender-role behavior.  Symbolic interactionists and systems theorists both stress the importance of roles in shaping human behavior.  Looking at other cultures, we also find deviations from traditional roles in America .  Most of the traits and behaviors identified as masculine or feminine in a society are not innate; a few tendencies are innately linked to gender, but social factors can virtually eliminate the effects of these tendencies; and whatever innate differences exist, they are quantitative rather than qualitative.
There is some objective evidence that differences between the sexes exist:
  • -most truck drivers are male, most nurses female - although there are male nurses and female truckers.
  • -the primary caregivers of children are usually women.
  • -men make more money for the same job than do women.
  • -women as a group consistently score lower on mathematics and science achievement tests - men score lower on verbal and language.
  • -men are prone to aggressive, assertive, inexpressive actions, while women are prone to passive, expressive ones.
But are these differences biological or social in nature?

The biology argument suggests that we are predetermined to behave in sex appropriate fashion.
  • Thus women are weak physically, where men are strong.
  • Women are verbal, where men are action oriented.
  • Women are scheming, men are direct.
  • Women are nurturant, men are instrumental.
  The culture argument suggests that we learn sex appropriate behaviors from those around us - conventional wisdom.
  • Thus women are weak because of thousands of years of evolution in which they did not consistently perform physical tasks.
  • Women are verbal and scheming because men have afforded themselves the social, political, and economic resources.
  • Women have to align themselves with a powerful man to achieve in those arenas.
  • Women are nurturant because the have been delegated nurturing responsibilities.
    C. Which is true? Both - There are biological differences
  • GENETIC DIFFERENCE - girls "xx", boys "xy"
  • HORMONAL DIFFERENCE - testosterone (aggression) and androgen are higher in males -estrogen and others are higher in women.
  • GONADAL DIFFERENCE - ovaries and testes
  • GENITAL DIFFERENCE - penis/clitoris.
  • REPRODUCTIVE DIFFERENCE - babies/cigars. Effective contraceptives reduce the social significance of this one.
Primary gender characteristics are biological imperatives and include ovulation, menstruation, gestation, and lactation in the female and sperm production and spitting in the male. Secondary gender characteristics occur as a result of hormones and differentiate men and women in terms of the norm in skeletal structure, musculature, and hair distribution.

Differences due to culture however are constant and powerful. Traditional male and female behavior in American culture is not traditional in other cultures, showing us that "feminine" and "masculine" behaviors are culturally affected.  Different cultures have different value placed on gender. Males most often inherit power, and keep it. Sometimes this is not the case. This is the PATRIARCHY argument that men have afforded themselves most of the power in society.

The most important sources of gender-role socialization are family, school, and the mass media.

  • The impact of socialization can be demonstrated through the phenomenon of body image among men and women.  Dissatisfaction based on body image illustrates how we learn various cultural ideals in the family, in school, and from the media.  Women tend to be more dissatisfied with their image than are men.
  • Our earliest exposure to what it means to be masculine and feminine comes from our parents, who teach gender roles by the different ways they tread their male and female children. 
  • Schools teach equality between the sexes if they group boys and girls together and apply the same standards to both, but in practice, such equal treatment is absent.  The differential treatment of males and females tends to continue even into college.
  • The media are also influential in shaping our notions of appropriate gender roles.  Television is probably the most influential of all the media, and it often supports traditional conceptions of gender roles.
Theoretically:
  • Social Learning Theory - -children are rewarded for conforming to their parent's (i.e., societies) expectations and are punished for behavior that meets with disapproval. (disapproved behavior is extinguished).
  • Differential socialization holds that male children undergo quite different socialization than do females. Fathers seem to be the deciding factor in the early years of life; while both parents support the division in later childhood. -role models "peers" parents media.
  • The Feminist Critique of sex role socialization: -power and control are the real social motives behind the division of sex roles / division of labor.  Not simply differential socialization - there is no motivation for men to relinquish any of their power and control to women (abortion issues, equal pay issues, child care issues).
Gender roles vary over time and among societies.  Gender-role orientations also change over time and may even vary over an individual’s life span. Evidence exists that people are becoming less traditional in their attitudes about gender roles.  In essence, those who reject the traditional model tend to affirm more egalitarian roles.  Traditional roles are not dead, however.  Both men and women show some evidence of lingering traditionalism.  This lingering traditionalism is also seen in attitudes.  Clearly, there is a good deal of traditionalism even while some change is also in evidence.
The Feminist Power analysis
  • -men have power and privilege by virtue of their sex
  • -it is in men's interest to maintain that power
  • -men occupy and actively exclude women from powerful positions (economic and political)
  • -feminine roles and cultural values are the product of oppression. Idealization of them is dysfunctional to change. V. Beyond Gender Roles - the nineties
A. Social Science now believes that ANDROGYNY is the gender role of choice.

Two dimensions of life:

  • Expressive and Instrumental
  • warmth and assertiveness
  • empathy and rationality
  • independence and intimacy
These are better served if they coexist in a single individual. The person who possess both kinds of traits is better suited to cope with the demands of modern life. Males can express their feelings well and are more nurturant than once thought possible. Women can be assertive, task oriented, skilled at problem solving and self-reliant than once thought proper.

Gender Roles and Family Relationships

A. Traditional sex roles inhibits the full range of emotional expression and interaction.

  • Males - inexpressive, action oriented, instrumental (no help necessary)  Won't stop the car to ask directions.
  • Females - nurturant, passive, helpless in a crisis.
Confining sex role expectations can restrict personal and family development - don't forget we live in a society that expects women to work (Economy) and expects them to care for kids (Family) and expects them to develop intelligence (Education).  Confining sex role expectations can restrict a couple's sexual relationship as well - who initiates, who's on top, who's on first.  The Parent-Child relationship can also be restricted by traditional sex roles. Uninvolved fathers - allows mom to take the blame for all children's mistakes. B. Changing Sex Roles - In the past 15 years or so, American Culture has become Feminized to a great extent.

The most important change in recent history to move our society away from traditional sex roles is the massive movement of women in to the PAID LABOR FORCE. With it comes other changes, such as changes in child care schedules, who buys the weekly groceries, who does the laundry, who makes decisions. Due to: Economic Reasons - More women in the work force - Higher unemployment among men Demographic Reasons Highly geographically mobile Political Reasons - More awareness of women's rights caused the image of Masculinity and Femininity to change -we are moving towards a "task" oriented before: "when the family does well, I do well" Now: "when I do well, the family benefits." When wives move into the labor force, husbands like it. But husbands have not significantly increased the time they devote to domestic tasks. (nationally).

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy - W.I. Thomas gave us the Situational Hypothesis: Things that are perceived as real, will be real in their consequences. If we think we are weak, dependent, unskilled, we will act accordingly. If we think we are a tough ass, we will proceed as such.

Gender Identity - is the core of one's self-image. Beginning to take form at about age three, gender identity results from the perception of one's anatomical characteristics and the perception of the way one is treated by others. Gender identity is the inward experience of gender role. Gender role is the outward expression of gender identity. Important differences depend on one’s gender-role orientation.

  • Women tend to have a different conversational style than men.  Gender-role orientation affects such things as our ability to handle conflict and the way in which we will try to influence someone.
  • Symbolic interactionists define self-concept as the totality of the beliefs and attitudes you have about yourself.  Research consistently indicates that both males and females who are high in masculine traits have higher self-esteem than others.  
  • Masculinity tends to be associated with such things as high self-esteem, high levels of adjustment, subjective well-being, and less depression and anxiety.  At the same time, feminine traits are not a handicap, because androgynous individuals have both the masculine and feminine traits and the same advantages as masculine types in terms of self-concept and mental health.

 Gender-role orientation may be more important than whether one is male or female in explaining differences in relating to someone intimately.