Even now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, there is a widely held opinion among many sociologists and psychologists that gender is the set of biological and social characteristics that distinguishes men from women. The word “social” is crucial in this case. In fact, physical characteristics of a person cannot be connected with his behavior in the society. This belief was subjected to heavy criticism by many representatives of feminist movement, additionally, some prominent psychologists, such as Freud for instance questioned the validity of this theory.
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The main problem is that in fact, we are living in the so-called “gender prison”, because a set of biological characteristics predetermines our behavior. Every person, who attempts to deviate from this tradition, is usually viewed as abnormal. We are often forced to perform certain functions in the society, just on the basis of our sex qualification. It is often called gender roles; however, in fact is a deep-rooted stereotype, which is very difficult to break (Chafetz).
Our major task is to show how the roles of women in the American society and all over the world, have evolved over the last 150 years. Moreover, we should compare and contrast these roles, especially contrasting them with the male sex, because without it our analysis will be incomplete. Certainly, the role of woman in the USA has undergone considerable change, but some remainders of earlier sexism are still very palpable even now. This issue has to be explored from various standpoints, such as for instance political, educational, and cultural. Besides, it is of the utmost importance to trace the relationships between a man and a woman in the family. We have to show how these interaction changed during the twentieth century. Finally, it is necessary show, how cultural concept of woman has evolved; we have to make a comparative analysis of the present day picture with that one of the nineteenth century.
Overall, nineteenth century can be called as patrilineal culture. In the most general sense, it can be understood as the system, tracing the title through the male line. It also implies certain behavior of both sexes. Certainly, according to this tradition, men occupy the dominant position. We cannot say that that twenty-first century can be referred as matrilineal culture. What we have now is some transition period. However, it is not which turn the situation will take even in the near future.
Regarding the political influence of the fair sex (though even such innocent expression may seem as sexism), one should bear in mind that the in the United States, suffrage was granted to women only at the beginning of the twentieth century (1920) by the Nineteenth Amendment. If we speak about the nineteenth century, we can undoubtedly say that the role of women in politics was reduced to a minimum. Some women, protesting against such legislation were even arrested. Womens claims were often parodied, for at that moment it seemed as something inconceivable. This thesis can be applied not only to the United States but also to other developed counties such as for instance France, or the United Kingdom.
It stands to reason that nowadays women do have a chance to affect countys policy, especially if we are speaking about the United States, but it should be mentioned that a woman, who attempts to participate in politics, is usually looked down upon, even by other representatives of the fair sex. We may observe a very interesting phenomenon; some women still do not realize that they actually have a right to make a difference. In this respect, we can mention that the political role of women still leaves much to be desired. Although, it is possible to single out many examples refuting this statement, for instance, Margaret Thatcher or Indira Gandhi, these are just sparse exceptions, which only prove the rule. In addition to that, women in many countries do not even have a right to vote and politics is still dominated by men.
As far as the educational aspect is this issue is concerned, we can say that during the nineteenth century, woman could not go to college or university. Not that it was prohibited de jure, in there was no such law, which prevented women from entering into any institution of higher education. The main problem is that women were not supposed to do it. Every attempt to deviate from this tradition was usually perceived as something outrageous. It is worth mentioning that not only men opposed to such unusual phenomenon as an educated woman, even some representatives of the fair sex believed that it was insane.
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For example, at the beginning of the nineteenth century it was believed that a woman should not join college or university, just because she had no need to do it. In fact, their education usually comprised some smatterings of foreign language (in particular French), superficial knowledge of arts and music. According to the views, held in the then American society, professional qualification was useful only for a man.
Certainly, now at the beginning of the twenty-fist century, women have larger prospects for education, but some kind of stereotyping is still quite noticeable. For example, even now a woman, who gives preference to the techniques or sciences in contrast to arts or humanities, often seems to be rather unusual to say the least. In many counties, a woman is not supposed to receive education, just because her position in the family does not require it. These two aspects have always been closely intertwined. In fact, feminists all over the world have always tried to attract the attention of the society to this issue.
If we attempt to compare the position (or probably it would be better to say role) of women in the family, we should analyze this issues from various perspective, such as for example, financial dependence or independence and the duties of both partners. In the nineteenth century, the role of breadwinner or moneymaker was usually performed by men. In fact, a woman was entirely dependant on her husband. Additionally, existing legislation supported this idea. Marries Womans Property Act was signed into law only at the beginning of the twentieth century. Considering this fact, it will not be a far-fetched conclusion to say that decision-making was usually done without representatives of the fair sex. Actually, a woman was reduced only to cleaning, cooking, washing. Such notions as wife and housewife were practically interchangeable. Regarding her role in the upbringing of children, one should always bear in mind that every important decision was also made by the husband(Lepwski, 123).
Naturally, over the last one hundred years the situation has undergone dramatic change, because nowadays a woman can “earn her living” (just a century ago the possessive pronoun “her” was practically unacceptable in this expression). Additionally, sometimes partners can switch their roles. A housewife can sometimes turn into a househusband, (even this word seems unusual).
The last aspect that we should discuss is the popular image of a woman, because it does not exactly coincide with that one of the nineteenth century. Even such expressions as fair sex or weaker sex are not appropriate now. The image of fragile, vulnerable, and defenseless has gone into thin air. Now a woman has to be very strong in order to protect herself from other people. Additionally very often a woman is independent from the stronger sex not only on from financial point of view, but also in terms of societal position.
In this regard, we can mention the famous book “Self-made Man”. This book was perceived with indignation by the majority of the male population. This autobiographical novel focuses on the attempts of the author to become a man, not in terms of physical appearance, but also in terms of behavior. In addition to that, this novel raised a storm of among some women, who believed that this action was outrageous (Vincent, 22).
Thus, having traced the genesis of womens roles in the society, we can arrive at the conclusion that present day view on this problem rejects the interconnection between physical characteristics of a person and his social behavior. In addition to that, we should mention role of a present day woman considerably differs from that one of the nineteenth century. However, some gender roles stereotypes are still noticeable nowadays. In particular, the idea of a strong woman is often perceived as unacceptable, even by some women.
- Chafetz, JS. Masculine/Feminine or Human? An Overview of the Sociology of Sex Roles. Itasca, Illinois: F. E. Peacock, 1974.
- Changing Roles, Unchanging Perceptions and Institutions: Traditionalism and its Impact on Women and Globalization in Muslim Societies in Asia. Muslim World; 2007, Vol. 97 Issue 3, p479-507, 29p
- Lepowsky, Maria. Fruit of the Motherland: Gender in an Egalitarian Society. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.
- Norah Vincent. “Self-made Man: One Woman’s Journey Into Manhood and Back Again”. Thorndike Pr, 2006.
- “Update: Feminism” Facts.Com. Chabot College Library. 2008