In recent years, there have been significant shifts in society, including the increasing number of female students aspiring to careers in science and technology. Such instances signify the changing male and female roles in contemporary society. Gender roles refer to the behaviors men and women exhibit that are influenced by the prevailing cultural norms (Alesina, Giuliano, and Nunn, 2013). They determine how people are supposed to think, speak, and interact with others. Traditionally, there were ideas that people should behave in specific ways based on their sex, although these identities have become irrelevant over time. In early human society, there was a need to organize the tasks that men and women would perform. A majority of modern societies today do not require such categorizations as people can perform the same tasks, and this makes gender-specific behaviors irrelevant.
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In most societies today, gender is a defining aspect of a person’s identity. It has a significant influence on the life of a person from the moment they are born, and people enact its social and cultural significance at every level. Individuals tend to lean to the behaviors that society encourages (Lebel et al. 2019). From the moment that a person is born, they are treated differently due to genitalia. Specifically, male and female babies are dressed in different shapes and colors of clothing. In the same way, parents react differently to their infants and even their friends and family will convey identical behaviors after they receive the news that the child is a boy or girl.
To gain a clearer comprehension of the impact of society on male and female roles, it is necessary to understand gender, which is “ the amount of masculinity or femininity found in a person” (Oakley 2015:116). It has more cultural and psychological connotations as opposed to biological constructs. For this reason, the concept emerges as a result of human interactions with each other as well as the environment. However, it relies significantly on the biological differences between males and females. Since gender is constructed socially, it is usually considered a social construction. This is illustrated by the fact that people and society ascribe specific traits and values to persons because of their sex, although they differ from one society to another.
Broadly speaking, gender roles entail those behaviors that are expected of men and women on the basis of their sex. In Western societies, there is a traditional belief that females are supposed to be nurturing. One of the ways a woman can do this is to work full-time at home to nurture her family and avoid being employed. In contrast, the traditional occupation of men is in leadership making them the heads of their households and actively supporting their families both financially and in making decisions. To date, these perspectives are still embraced in numerous spheres in society, although they are now challenged by modern notions that ascribe distinct roles to people regardless of their sex.
Various perspectives try to explain gender roles in society. The feminist notion holds that they are not merely ideas regarding the appropriate behavior for males and females, but are also associated with the distinct power levels that people hold in society. For instance, since men are required to maintain economic control over themselves and their families, they have more influence. Interestingly, Watson and Grotewiel (2016) find that accepting the traditional beliefs of feminine roles is linked to more self-silencing. Women who subscribe to such behaviors do so because they want to be aligned with their cultural values, even when they are aware of the inequities.
Gender roles are also linked to the expectations of men and women in society. Specifically, males and females are expected to perform distinct duties and occupy different positions in the workplace (Qing 2020). Most corporations today operate from a perspective that aligns with traditional beliefs. For instance, most companies will give parental leave advantages to the mothers and deny any applications by fathers. This may also explain the gender income gap: “traditional gender role attitudes have a significantly negative correlation with women’s education levels, labor force participation rates, working hours, and occupational status” (Qing 2020:21). This is because men are considered better leaders and can make more rational decisions.
As some of the instances demonstrates, gender roles are sometimes influenced by particular stereotypes. These regard the understanding of males and females that is either too generalized or simplified. People tend to make their judgments about the appropriate male or female behaviors based on misconceptions. Blazina (1997) argues that the feminist perspective drives a majority of the stereotypical masculine behaviors. On the one hand, women are usually considered emotional, and this influences their ability to make rational decisions. On the other hand, men are seen as being more task-oriented and less emotional. This is a stereotype that even affects the types of jobs popular for women such as secretaries while men occupy leadership roles.
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Structural Functionalism Theory
The structural-functional theory is premised on the perspective that any society should find a way to perpetuate itself for survival. Based on this view, the place of men and women in society is not based on biological traits but is instead influenced by what the culture needs (Mumporeze 2020). The central notion in this proposition is an organization that is focused on accomplishing a particular goal. In traditional societies, the objective was achieved through the division of labor in a group that made it possible for communities to produce things that would be utilized by others. As people found themselves in specific groups, they also shared a similar experiences. The organization in societies that placed males in the breadwinner position and females in domestic capacity was meant to assist the children to prepare for their future as adults. Consequently, the construction of gender roles created a stable society as every person comprehends how their position is linked to a larger group.
The structural-functional theory explains the socialization of the nuclear family. Traditionally, people lived in large groups and everything was communal, including property ownership and raising children. However, there were significant shifts in this organization, and people began to live as nuclear families in independent dwellings. As a result, the roles of the woman and man changed to attain stability and became the medium used to socialize children into the ways of the world. Even today, the adult feminine role is primarily in the management of the household while males focus more on the occupational world. Men still support their loved ones financially and, therefore, have to get good jobs to do this. With this, there also emerged distinct roles where the family became a unity with its fundamental function being the socialization of a child to ensure that they will be able to carry on the structure.
From the structural-functional theory, it is clear that parents remain the primary agents of socialization and this occurs in several stages. To attain the required stability, the fathers socialize the sons while mothers work with their daughters. In their work on the structural-functional theory, Bales and Parsons (2014) refer to men as being instrumental while women are expressive. These categorizations explain the distinct roles of males and females. Men usually have an external concentration that emphasizes the well-being of the family that is attained through an income and provide status. In contrast, women have an internal focus and are usually concerned with maintaining family relationships.
Gender roles are based on the expectations of individuals and society on a person based on their sex. They are a product of the interaction between a person and their environment, and they provide cues about the appropriate behavior. Traditionally, women have been required to behave in ways that are nurturing, and this explains why they are primarily focused on managing the household. In contrast, men have been considered leaders and this is why they are the heads of their households. Although there have been significant changes in society, some of these perspectives have been persistent and contribute to gender inequities. For instance, there is a huge income gap between males and females and unfair company policies. The structural-functional theory emphasizes that the need for stability and organization led to the division of labor. It also considers the nuclear family as a stable unit that serves to socialize children to enable them to carry on society’s structure. Society should reconsider some of the gender roles to close the gap and give people equal opportunities to thrive and explore.
Alesina, Alberto, Paola Giuliano, and Nathan Nunn. 2013. “On the Origins of Gender Roles: Women and the Plough.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 128(2):469-530.
Bales, Robert F., and Talcot Parson. Family, Socialization, and Interaction Process. London: Routledge.
Blazina, Chris. 1997. “Fear of the Feminine in the Western Psyche and the Masculine Task of Disidentification: Their Effect on the Development of Masculine Gender Role Conflict.” The Journal of Men’s Studies 6(1):55-68.
Lebel, Phimphakan, Louis Lebel, Darunee Singphonphrai, Chatta Duangsuwan, and Yishu Zhou. 2019. “Making Space for Women: Civil Society Organizations, Gender and Hydropower Development in the Mekong Region.” International Journal of Water Resources Development 35(2):305-325.
Mumporeze, Nadine. 2020. “When a Mother is Employed, Her Children Suffer A Quantitative Analysis of Factors Influencing Attitudes Towards Women’s Employment and Gender Roles in Rwanda.” Journal of International Women’s Studies 21(1):47-67.
Oakley, Ann. 2015. Sex, Gender and Society. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.
Qing, Shisong. 2020. “Gender Role Attitudes and Male-Female Income Differences in China.” The Journal of Chinese Sociology 7(12):1-23.
Watson, Laurel B., and Morgan Grotewiel. 2016. “The Protective Role of Commitment to Social Change in the Relationship between Women’s Sexist Experiences and Self-Silencing.” Sex Roles, 75:139-150.