Historically, there has been a more or less strict division of men’s and women’s gender roles in life, to which the vast majority of people used to confirm. Most typically, females were viewed as the ones who had to look after the children, husband, and household. Males, on the other side, were considered the breadwinners and, as such, were not supposed to do any work about the house or look after their children.
Women were not allowed to become soldiers, obtain higher education, and enter some professions that were regarded as “non-feminine.” Meanwhile, a man would have been judged or even ridiculed if he wanted to do some creative work. All of these prejudices are slowly vanishing, giving way to the freedom of expression for both sexes. However, this process of transformation is not easy, and it is necessary to discuss the major issues related to gender roles in society, as well as analyze the possible ways of overcoming the difficulties.
The Traditional Understanding of Gender Roles in Society
Gender roles are commonly grounded in various expectations that people, groups, or societies have of some individuals depending on their sex and society’s beliefs and values concerning gender. As Blackstone remarks, gender roles are generated by the interaction between people and the environment (335). As a result, these interactions suggest some hints concerning what kind of behavior is treated as suitable for what gender. The appropriateness of such role division is, thus, dictated by a society’s assumptions about dissimilarities between sexes (Blackstone 335).
It is highly crucial to differentiate between the terms “gender” and “sex” in the context of the current analysis. Gender is a social concept, whereas sex is a biological one. Thus, sex refers to a person’s primary sex characteristics, and gender is related to values and meanings ascribed to different sexes (Blackstone 335). Gender is contingent on the biological division into males and females, but it also involves the social appraisal of masculinity and femininity.
Since the concept of gender is created socially, gender is considered to be a social construction. This social characteristic is reflected in individuals’ and societies’ inclination to ascribe specific traits or values to people based solely on their sex. An interesting aspect of this relation is that gender role are the ones that women and men are presumed to fulfill based on their sex (Blackstone 336). Because of the traditional belief that females are more “nurturing” than males, women are commonly associated with such type of behavior (Blackstone 336).
One of the most typical beliefs about a woman’s role is that she should nurture her family and not engage in any employment besides full-time household work. On the other hand, men are traditionally associated with leadership, so the common gender role of a male is to make family decisions and provide for the family financially (Blackstone 336). Although these beliefs have existed for many centuries, the past several decades allowed for more freedom in identifying gender perspectives.
Housework as Related to Gender Roles
One of the reasons for the traditional gender role division is concerned with children’s upbringing. Since childhood, girls perform more household chores than boys do. In developing countries, this type of work includes looking after children, washing dishes, cooking, cleaning the house, and bringing water or fuel (Wikle 17). In developed countries, the amount of housework is smaller, but still, it is commonly performed by girls rather than boys.
On the one hand, as Wikle remarks, housework can be quite beneficial: it develops time management and increases social skills (18). On the other hand, too much work about the house may distract a child from pursuing some educational goals. In developing countries, girls do more housework than boys, and the amount of this work grows with age (Wikle 18). In the US, boys are reported to be engaged in household chores 6% less often than girls (Wikle 20). These data indicate that girls are already viewed as the “nurturing” kind since the very childhood. It is no wonder that society expects that women will take care of the whole family since it trains females to do so from an early age.
Modern Views on Gender Roles
The twenty-first century altered traditional views on gender roles, allowing for some alternative approaches. Various disciplines suggest their views on role division, thus giving ecological, biological, sociological, and feminist perspectives (Blackstone 336). According to the sociological theory, feminine and masculine roles are learned, and these roles are not necessarily linked to females’ and males’ biological characteristics.
The feminist approach, which is related to the sociological one, states that if the functions are learned, they can also be unlearned (Blackstone 336). Thus, feminists consider that it is possible to create entirely new roles. A particular emphasis in feminist perspective is put on the fact that gender roles are not only about behavior. Feminists argue that the division of responsibilities has a great effect on the distribution of power among society members.
One of the problems in gender role division is the losses experienced by each party in case a marriage collapses. Because men tend to have more power and financial independence due to women staying at home and looking after children, females frequently find themselves in a difficult financial situation when they separate from their partners (Blackstone 337). A similar issue concerns the division of work duties among men and women. Males tend to occupy managing positions more often than females. However, this tendency is gradually changing, giving more freedom to women and letting them feel more confident and independent.
Expectations for Marriage in Modern Society
It is noted by researchers that the traditional gender role division has a negative impact on both girls’ and boys’ development into adulthood. As Dastalgir remarks, children grow up to have an erroneous understanding of their social roles. Most of all, it happens so because society fails to find a distinction between biological and sociological aspects of role divisions (Dastalgir). However, other scholars note that the situation has improved greatly. In research on attitudes and expectations for marriage, Ogletree mentions that gender roles have evolved lately (71). Moreover, with such a shift, it is also possible that the potential advantages and limitations of marriage can be altered for both males and females.
Men’s greater participation in childcare and housework may be associated with higher satisfaction from marriage. Research performed by Ogletree gives insight into modern males’ and females’ attitudes toward marriage (71). In particular, the scholar notes that women’s views are less sexist and more egalitarian than men’s. Out of 144 respondents, 51% rated both spouses working full time and dividing childcare equally as “likely” or “very likely” (Ogletree 71).
At the same time, 27% of men reported that they would not likely perform childcare responsibilities and let their spouse work full-time. Among women, the likelihood of staying at home and looking after children constituted 85%, only 15% of participants saying that they found such a situation “very unlikely” (Ogletree 71). These data indicate that modern society is ready to alter traditional beliefs about gender roles. More and more people, both men and women, realize that they should not dedicate their lives to justifying stereotypes existing in societies. Rather, everyone should be able to do what he or she prefers without being scorned for their choices.
The Media Representation of Gender Roles
It is not only a matter of looking after children and performing household duties that are at the core of modern gender role division. Throughout history, men’s prevalence at leadership posts made them look more desirable as partners and business representatives. As a result, it is difficult for women to gain the same level of respect at work even if they do the same job as men. An article by Rittenhouse discusses the challenges met by females who want to reach more representation on screen and in the boardroom.
The author remarks that men appear on TV ads twice as often as women do (Rittenhouse). What is more, one-fourth of ads portray only men, while the number of women-only ads reaches as little as 5%. Research indicates that as many as 66% of women are likely to switch off their TV when they see a stereotyped ad (Rittenhouse). Thus, this aspect of modern gender role division needs more serious consideration.
Women are trying to oppose the underrepresentation of their gender in the media. Such movements as #TimesUp and #MeToo have become “catalysts” of change, making agencies take a “hard look” at business (Rittenhouse). One of the possible approaches is employing more females in creative roles. A recent LinkedIn research indicates that in 2017, 33% of all chief creative officers were women (Rittenhouse). Thus, it is crucial to increase the representation of females not only in creative job posts but also in the ad business.
Both genders should be equally represented in major creative events and projects. It is important for everyone to understand that biases must not be allowed in any sphere of social life. It is unacceptable that many female creative directors still have to “always double-check for stereotypes and misinterpretations of women roles” (Rittenhouse). All possible efforts should be made to eliminate biased opinions, and it is good to know that some actions are already being taken.
The traditional understanding of gender role division used to be rather harsh on individuals who had to conform to society’s expectations of men and women. However, modern approaches allow for more freedom of expression and enable both sexes to participate in major social activities equally. While these are only initial steps to building equality in gender roles, they are quite significant both for the present and the future. It is high time for humankind to realize that people’s functions and responsibilities should not be based solely on their biological sex. Both women and men should have the right to choose which social functions to perform and at what point in their lives.
Blackstone, Amy. “Gender Roles and Society.” Human Ecology: An Encyclopedia of Children, Families, Communities, and Environments, edited by Julia R. Miller et al., ABC-CLIO, 2003, pp. 335-338.
Dastagir, E. Alia. “Gender Stereotypes Are Destroying Girls, and They’re Killing Boys.” USA Today. 2017. Web.
Ogletree, Shirley M. “Gender Role Attitudes and Expectations for Marriage.” Journal of Research on Women and Gender, vol. 5, 2014, pp. 71-82.
Rittenhouse, Lindsay. “Powerful Female Creatives Are Challenging Representation on Screen and in the Boardroom.” Adweek. 2018. Web.
Wikle, Jocelyn. “Patterns in Housework and Childcare Among Boys and Girls.” Journal of Research on Women and Gender, vol. 5, 2014, pp. 17-29.