So this week I am choosing to write about gender. In addition to this course and several others, I’m also taking a sociology class on the topic of marriage and family. Last week we covered a chapter about the sociology of gender, gender roles, stereotypes, scripts, etc. So I thought I would take this as an opportunity to discuss gender a little more in depth on the blog. I might also add here that I’m talking about gender not sex. Sex refers to the biological and physical characteristics, and gender refers to a socially constructed concept in which roles, behaviors, etc. are deemed “appropriate” according to society determined by one’s biological sex. However, I personally view gender as a more fluid concept. I tend to break away from the traditional binary of man and woman and accept that not everyone will fall into these two rigid categories.
So, let me begin by addressing gender roles and their possible reasons for existence in today’s society. Gender roles definitely still exist and are still enforced within society most likely due to a combination of theories, including social learning theory, symbolic interaction theory, and feminist theory just to name a few. Social learning theory suggests that people learn attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors through social interaction. Children learn through a series of direct or indirect rewards or punishments when they behave according to different gender roles. They also learn through observation and imitation, which seems plausible because children definitely pick up on behaviors exhibited by friends, siblings, parents, etc. Another explanation for the existence of gender roles is the theory of symbolic interaction. This theory suggests that gender roles are socially constructed to aid in social situations. Thus, we accommodate our behavior consciously and unconsciously to other people’s gender role expectations.
Another theory, feminist theory, suggests that gender scripts, or how society says someone is supposed to act based on his or her sex, are socially constructed concepts. These gender roles also tend to favor men and discriminate women. I personally agree with feminist theory the most; however, for me this theory is not limited to equality for women but also includes equal scrutiny of damaging male stereotypes. Society’s attempt to create the “masculine” and “feminine” concepts are discriminatory to all. Although these theories offer potential explanations as to why gender roles exist, they do not explain why humans continue to enforce said gender roles despite knowing how damaging stereotypes can be when applied to other groups.
My main issue with gender roles is that they don’t allow for individuality or “breaking the norm.” Some women may choose to work rather than be stay at home mothers and are looked down on because they do not comply with society’s standards. This of course assumes that a woman even chooses to have kids. Some women choose to not have children or get married at all, again breaking away from the ideology that “all women are meant to be mothers and wives.” The same can be said about men’s gender stereotypes of being the macho, aggressive, breadwinner of the family. Both stereotypes of men and women suggest that anything outside of them is unsuccessful and “not normal.” This is extremely dangerous to personal and societal growth in that it reinforces a standard of “normalcy,” which cannot be applied to everyone.
I participated in a debate in another class with a women who largely subscribed to the idea of gender roles as positive and necessary. She believed that women should act like ladies, and men who were stay-at-home dads were “lazy and unacceptable.” That’s in quotes because it’s exactly what she said. She also noted that their were distinct differences between what a man and woman “could and couldn’t do.” She suggested that her husband did not know how to braid their daughter’s hair, so he depended upon her to take care of this task. Likewise, she herself could not change the oil in her car or operate the weed-eater, and thus relied upon her husband to complete those tasks. She attributed these differences in knowledge as being differences due to gender, which I completely disagree with. I have long hair, so I know how to braid my hair. I have a car, so I know how to change my oil. Neither are because I’m a woman but because I’ve chosen to educate myself on subjects that are relevant to day-to-day human life. Further, I was unable to understand her reasoning that stay at home moms are okay but stay at home dads are “lazy and unacceptable.” It seemed rather illogical and hypocritical quite frankly. If the woman chooses to work a high enough paying job, and the father is able to stay home a provide care for the children, how is that any different? Being a man or woman doesn’t preclude someone from being able to work to provide for the family or to provide care for the family. There is no logical evidence that suggests this.
I would love to hear anyone else’s thoughts on this topic.