Is our world struggling to identify Gender Roles?

Is our world struggling to identify Gender Roles?

A gender role is a set of social and behavioral norms that are generally considered appropriate for either a man or a woman in a social or interpersonal relationship.

Gender roles vary widely between cultures and even in the same cultural tradition have differed over time and context. There are differences of opinion as to which observed differences in behavior and personality between genders are entirely due to innate personality of the peron and which are due to cultural or social factors, and are therefore the product of socialization, or to what extent gender differences are due to biological and physiological differences.

Views on gender-based differentiation in the workplace and in interpersonal relationships have often undergone profound changes as a result of feminist and/or economic influences, but there are still considerable differences in gender roles in almost all societies. It is also true that in times of necessity, such as during a war or other emergency, women are permitted to perform functions which in “normal” times would be considered a male role, or vice versa.

Gender has several definitions. It usually refers to a set of characteristics that are considered to distinguish between male and female, reflect one’s biological sex, or reflect one’s gender identity. Gender identity is the gender(s), or lack thereof, a person self-identifies as; it is not necessarily based on biological sex, either real or perceived, and it is distinct from sexual orientation. It is one’s internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or a boy or girl). There are two main genders: masculine (male), or feminine (female), although some cultures acknowledge more genders. Androgyny, for example, has been proposed as a third gender. Some societies have more than five genders, and some non-Western societies have three genders – man, woman and third gender. Gender expression refers to the external manifestation of one’s gender identity, through “masculine,” “feminine,” or gender-variant or gender neutral behavior, clothing, hairstyles, or body characteristics.


A person’s gender role is composed of several elements and can be expressed through clothing, behaviour, choice of work, personal relationships and other factors. These elements are not concrete and have evolved through time (for example women’s trousers).

Traditionally only feminine and masculine gender roles existed, however, over time many different acceptable male or female gender roles have emerged. An individual can either identify themselves with a subculture or social group which results in them having diverse gender roles. Historically, for example, eunuchs had a different gender role because their biology was changed.

A woman publicly witnessing at a Quaker meeting seemed an extraordinary feature of the Religious Society of Friends, worth recording for a wider public. Engraving by Bernard Picart, ca 1723.

Androgyny, a term denoting the display of both male and female behaviour, also exists. Many terms have been developed to portray sets of behaviors arising in this context. The masculine gender role in the West has become more malleable since the 1950s. One example is the “sensitive new age guy”, which could be described as a traditional male gender role with a more typically “female” empathy and associated emotional responses. Another is the metrosexual, a male who adopts or claims to be born with similarly “female” grooming habits. Some have argued that such new roles are merely rebelling against tradition more so than forming a distinct role. However, traditions regarding male and female appearance have never been concrete, and men in other eras have been equally interested with their appearance.

The popular conceptualization of homosexual men, which has become more accepted in recent decades, has traditionally been more androgynous or effeminate, though in actuality homosexual men can also be masculine and even exhibit machismo characteristics. One could argue that since many homosexual men and women fall into one gender role or another or are androgynous, that gender roles are not strictly determined by a person’s physical sex. Whether or not this phenomenon is due to social or biological reasons is debated. Many homosexual people find the traditional gender roles to be very restrictive, especially during childhood.

Also, the phenomenon of intersex people, which has become more publicly accepted, has caused much debate on the subject of gender roles. Many intersexual people identify with the opposite sex, while others are more androgynous. Some see this as a threat to traditional gender roles, while others see it as a sign that these roles are a social construct, and that a change in gender roles will be liberating.

According to sociology research, traditional feminine gender roles have become less relevant in Western society since industrialization started. For example, the cliché that women do not follow a career is obsolete in many Western societies. On the other hand, the media sometimes portrays women who adopt an extremely classical role as a subculture.

Women take on many roles that were traditionally reserved for men, as well as behaviors and fashions, which may cause pressure on many men to be more masculine and thus confined within an even smaller gender role, while other men react against this pressure. For example, men’s fashions have become more restrictive than in other eras, while women’s fashions have become more broad. One consequence of social unrest during the Vietnam War era was that men began to let their hair grow to a length that had previously (within recent history) been considered appropriate only for women. Somewhat earlier, women had begun to cut their hair to lengths previously considered appropriate only to men.

Social construction of gender difference

This perspective proposes that gender difference is socially constructed. Social constructionism of gender moves away from socialization as the origin of gender differences; people do not merely internalize gender roles as they grow up but they respond to changing norms in society.

Social constructs are generally understood to be the by-products of countless human choices rather than laws resulting from Divine Will or nature. This is not usually taken to imply a radical anti-determinism, however. Social constructionism is usually opposed to essentialism, which instead defines specific phenomena in terms of inherent and transhistorical essences independent of conscious beings that determine the categorical structure of reality.

A major focus of social constructionism is to uncover the ways in which individuals and groups participate in the construction of their perceived social reality. It involves looking at the ways social phenomena are created, institutionalized, known, and made into tradition by humans. The social construction of reality is an ongoing, dynamic process that is (and must be) reproduced by people acting on their interpretations and their knowledge of it.

Because social constructs as facets of reality and objects of knowledge are not “given” by nature, they must be constantly maintained and re-affirmed in order to persist. This process also introduces the possibility of change: what “justice” is and what it means shifts from one generation to the next.

Children learn to categorize themselves by gender very early on in life. A part of this is learning how to display and perform gendered identities as masculine or feminine. Boys learn to manipulate their physical and social environment through physical strength or other skills, while girls learn to present themselves as objects to be viewed. Children monitor their own and others’ gendered behavior. Gender-segregated children’s activities creates the appearance that gender differences in behavior reflect an essential nature of male and female behavior.

Judith Butler, in works such as Gender Trouble and Undoing Gender, contends that being female is not “natural” and that it appears natural only through repeated performances of gender; these performances in turn, reproduce and define the traditional categories of sex and/or gender.

A social constructionist view looks beyond categories and examines the intersections of multiple identities, the blurring of the boundaries of essentialist categories. This is especially true with regards to categories of male and female that are typically viewed by others as binary and opposites of each other. By deconstructing categories of gender, the value placed on masculine traits and behaviors disappears. However, the elimination of categories makes it difficult to make any comparisons between the genders or to argue and fight against male domination.

Our world has is in a transitional period of change, and with that comes many new ‘issues’. The challenge for all of our inhabitants on this planet, both male and female is to work on themselves as individuals, regardless of age, gender, or sexuality?

Here is a fun question for the MEN of our WORLD: “Are you MAN enough to be a NURSE?”

Women in nearly all societies around the world at disadvantaged from the moment they are born simply because the rules have been written to favor males. For a very long time women in the US were relegated to the private sphere, if they had the class privilege, and men were expected to be in the public sphere. Again, the dichotomy here public/private reinforces what is important and what is “personal” and therefore unimportant, respectively.

The male norm of reference (ie. when someone says, “Think of a person,” most people think of a man) means that women are expected to be able to physically and emotionally act like men if they are to compete in the public sphere while men who wish to stay home and care for their children, though ridiculed for their choices, are not expected to give up their “masculine” traits.

Sports and physical strength is the best example of this. Over and over again in opposition to the idea that men and women should be equal is the statement that men and women are not physically equal. True. Yet, the definition of what physical strength is was written to describe a man! Practically all sports were invented by men and then when women cannot best men at their own game they are considered undeserving of equality???

FEMINIST ACTIVIST says: “I am not advocating all women disregard their feminine traits or men throw off their masculinities, rather, I want everyone to be free to be who s/he is without coercion from society telling them they are too this or not enough that. The world would not exist without balance, and socially constructed gender roles brazenly defy any balance within an individual because certain qualities have been labeled as being “boys only” or “girls only.”

Every single one of us needs to embrace the “feminine” and “masculine” traits within us and not being afraid to flout tradition.

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