Gender Roles


Children learn from their parents and society the conception of
"feminine" and "masculine." Much about these conceptions is not biological at
all but cultural. The way we tend to think about men and women and their gender
roles in society constitute the prevailing paradigm that influences out thinking.
Riane Eisler points out that the prevailing paradigm makes it difficult for us
to analyze properly the roles of men and women in prehistory "we have a cultural
bias that we bring to the effort and that colors our decision-making processes."
Sexism is the result of that bias imposed by our process of acculturation.

Gender roles in Western societies have been changing rapidly in recent
years, with the changes created both by evolutionary changes in society,
including economic shifts which have altered the way people work and indeed
which people work as more and more women enter the workforce, and by perhaps
pressure brought to make changes because of the perception that the traditional
social structure was inequitable. Gender relations are a part of the
socialization process, the initiation given the young by society, teaching them
certain values and creating in them certain behavior patterns acceptable to
their social roles. These roles have been in a state of flux in American
society in recent years, and men and women today can be seen as having expanded
their roles in society, with women entering formerly male dominions and men
finding new ways to relate to and function in the family unit.

When I was growing up a woman was never heard of having a job other than
a school teacher or seamstress. Our(women\'s)job was to take care
of the house. We had a big garden out back from which we got most
of our vegetables…A garden is a lot of work you know…We also had to
make clothes when there were none to be had(hand-me- downs)

Gender can be defined as a social identity consisting of the role a
person is to play because of his or her sex. There is a diversity in male and
female roles, making it impossible to define gender in terms of narrow male and
female roles. Gender is culturally defined, with significant differences from
culture to culture. These differences are studied by anthropologists to
ascertain the range of behaviors that have developed to define gender and on the
forces at work in the creation of these roles. The role of women in American
society was conditioned by religious attitudes and by the conditions of life
that prevailed through much of American history. The culture of Europe and
America was based for centuries on a patriarchal system in which exclusive
ownership of the female by a given male was considered important, with the
result that women were regulated to the role of property with no voice in their
own fate. The girl-child was trained from birth to fit the role awaiting her,
and as long as compensations were adequate, women were relatively content:

"For Example, if in return for being a man\'s property a woman receives
economic security, a full emotional life centering around husband and children,
and an opportunity to express her capacities in the management of her home, she
has little cause for discontent."

While this statement is arguable in the way it assumes that women are
not discontented under such circumstances, it is clear that for most of history
women were expected to be content with this sort of life and were trained for
that purpose. Clearly, circumstances of family life have changed in the modern
era. Industry has been taken out of the home, and large families are no longer
economically possible or socially desired. The home is no longer the center of
the husband\'s life, and for the traditional wife there is only a narrowing of
interests and possibilities for development: "Increasingly, the woman finds
herself without an occupation and with an unsatisfactory emotional life." The
change in sex roles that can be discerned in society is closely tied with
changes in the structure of the family. Changes in both family structure and
sex roles over the last century have produced the ferment we still see today,
and one of the problems with the changing role of women is the degree to which
society perceives this is causing unwanted changes in the family, though it is
just as true that changes in the family have altered the roles of women.
As women entered the early 1990s, they faced a number of problems.
Most of these problems have been around for some time, and women have challenged
them and even alleviated them