The professor asks a question in class. What is male? What is female? There were many answers given, however the professor said there were no right or wrong answers. This is because, what one considers or perceives as male or female, is based on the kind of gender role that they were exposed to while they were children. For instance if they were taught that girls dressed and behaved in a certain way then that is what they associate feminine with. It is also what they use to distinguish between masculine and feminine.
Gender refers to the state of being either male or female. On the other hand, a gender role can be defined as a set of perceived behavioral norms associated with the different sexes, males or females in a given social system. Consequently, it is through gender roles that attitudes and behaviors are used in the stereotypical classification of boys and girls. For instance, it is openly concluded that girls are better fitted cooking and cleaning while the boys are the handy ones creating and fixing. Simply put, gender role is the behaviors and attitudes that are expected of the males and females in any society by that society (Adler, 1993).
According to the environmentalist view of sex-role identity, a child learns sex-typed behavior the same way he or she learns any other type of behavior: through a combination of rewards and punishment, indoctrination, observation of others, and modeling during the socialization process. Depending on particular cultures, men and women have different roles assigned to them. Socialization is defined as the process through which boys and girls learn and accept the roles that are assigned to them. The family is considered to be the main agent of socialization for the simple fact that it is the very first place that children are taught and get to learn of their roles and places within the wider society. Thus, gender roles are learned during the socialization process and serve the purpose of influencing subsequent behaviors and attitudes in adulthood. Concomitantly, the people who influence our gender roles the most are our parents. This is because they serve as our very first teachers. They not only teach us how to walk and talk rather they also teach us certain attitudes and behaviors. To a great extent, parents hold the traditional definitions of what males and females should be like which they transfer to their children. Case in point, boys are expected not to cry. In the instance that they do cry parents tend not to respond. On the other hand if I am a girl and I cry, I am more likely to have all the attention diverted to me. More over, it is very likely that I will be cuddled and comforted. As a girl it is almost certain that parents expect that I will be more emotional. The fact that boys are not comforted or cuddled when they cry could be a way of teaching them that they are first of all not supposed to cry and that they are supposed to be tough.
To great extent girls grow up knowing that they are better suited to be nurses while the boys should be doctors. This can be attributed to the fact that boys are encouraged to try out new things and explore while the girls are sheltered. Traditionally, the woman’s place is the home and the kitchen by extension. Consequently, as a girl is growing up her mother will more often than not assign her household chores and duties. Traditionally, this the role that the girls should take up (Gender roles, 2008).
Toys are regarded to influence and reinforce the gender role in children. In most families, it is not uncommon that children play with different toys. For the girls, the Barbie doll is the toy of choice. Also, the girls have play houses where they recreate the family home setup playing imitating and mimicking their mothers. On the other hand, for the boys it is trucks, trains, GI Joes or any action superhero from batman to Spiderman. As far the books are concerned, the girls have sleeping beauty and Cinderella while the boys have comic books again with super hero characters. (Rose, 2008) These are gendered toys. Through these toys, children have it ingrained in them just what sex roles they are supposed to play. For the girl, she learns that her place is in the home taking care of the family and looking pretty. Through the books, she learns that the man is supposed to be in charge. Concurrently boys learn that they are supposed to take charge and fight any one who may challenge their authority. They learn that fighting and violence is necessary to protect one’s honor. Evidently, the toys set the children very early in life on the role that society expects them to play.
As children are growing up, they are often in contact with their parent. Consequently, it is the parents, more so the same sex parents, who become examples, role models and mentors. When a girl grows up watching her mother play sports and fix things around the house, she grows up with knowledge that it is ok for girls to participate in such activities. Whatever children watch and learn from their parents, they integrate it into their definitions of what to male or female is. Apart from parents, relatives, neighbors and peers also influence children in their role behaviors (Gender roles, 2008).
According to Aronson, Wilson and Akert, a stereotype is defined as a generalization about a group. Consequently, similar characteristics are assigned to the members of the group despite the fact that the members may be different. (2005) Schools can be defined as gendered landscapes. This is for the simple reason that it is in the school setting that gender roles are able to play themselves out with the teachers as the agents. Thus, after gender roles are learnt in the family set up, it is schools where they are reinforced. The teachers pass information to the children on what is expected of them. For instance, teachers encourage girls to be quiet and still while the boys are expected and allowed to be loud and aggressive (Gender roles, 2008).
Sex stereotyping is used to refer to the assumptions that people make with regards to how boys and girls should behave or act. Sex stereotyping can be reduced through the adoption of the Talcot model that advocates for the integration of the different sex roles. In this case, in the family setting it would be better if the children were assigned the same chores. In the schools setup, with co education, girls and would be taught the same contents and same qualifications set for them. More over, girls and boys should be allowed to share in tasks equally without allowing for the boys to dominate. The socialization process needs to change so that androgynous behavior in children can be fostered. Getting to children to identify what they associate to be either male or female may work to help the children recognize what stereotypes are and how they occur. This is a step in the helping to eliminate stereotypes. It has to begin by the children learning to avoid it themselves and not propagating even in future when they are grown (Marsh, 2004).
One is born either male or female. However, it is society through the process of socialization that inculcates in us the gender roles that we play throughout our lives. It is these gender roles that dictate our attitudes and behaviors. For instance, that girls will behave in particular ways and will take up different roles and occupations from those taken up by boys. Apart from our parents from whom we learn our gender roles, teachers and peers also important influences. Concurrently, schools and toys used by both boys and girls serve to reinforce the gender role. While the gender roles may give us an identity they may also result in stereotyping. That is, making assumptions on how one should behave based on their sex. It is important that stereotyping is reduced and androgyny encouraged. this can only be achieved by first changing the way we socialize our children and everything will follow from there. Gender roles are not essentially negative but they can be when they are used to stereotype and ultimately hinder boys and girls from achieving their full potential.
- Adler, L. (1993). International handbook on gender roles, Westport CT: Greenwood press.
- Aronson, E., Wilson, T. D. & Akert, R. (2005). Social Psychology 5th ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
- Gender roles. (2008). Web.
- Marsh, C. (2004). Key concepts for understanding curriculums. New York: Routledge.
- Rose Catherine, (2008). Gender roles in the Cinderella story. The Guardian. Web.