An Analysis of the Evolution of Gender Roles

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How Father Met Mother

Unfortunately, it is only through the television, movies, books and magazines that I am given access to certain eras or periods in history that seem so distant yet so paradoxically near as well. A great example of such a period would be the 1980’s. I say this because first, I was born in 1992, about three years off from 1989. And secondly, many of the societal contributions and cultural influences made in the 1980’s are still prevalent in today’s society. Michael Jackson, who made his name in the 1980’s, is still considered to be the epitome of a music pop star by majority of today’s musicians. Another element of the 1980’s that I find interesting to tackle is gender dynamics. Many of us, I included, have always wondered how our parents dated? Where did they go to hang-out? What were the norms and values upheld by teenagers during that era? And how far has the 21st century teenager shaped and molded reality fitting for an era of extensive independence and liberal thinking.

The evolution of gender roles, in my opinion, is the root of the drastic difference between the lifestyles of a 1980’s teen as compared to its 2012 counterpart. Obviously, I never lived in the 1980’s, but based on what people have said and what I have seen through the various outlets of media, I think I can offer a fair evaluation of what it was like to be a teenager in the 1980’s. Gender typing, the process of acquiring gender role characteristics, continued its evolution during that decade. One major proponent of that change was the content of television programming. Media is an evident agent of the social learning theory. People learn about their appropriate gender behavior by observing and watching television personalities acting in certain ways. In the 1950’s, through the continuous serial which was regularly shown in the afternoon, television was society’s glue. In a decade when men were obligated to work while wives maintained the house and kids, television was used to preserve such a structure. Daytime shows reinforced gender roles especially those of women. Because of this, husbands were assured that their wives would stay at home to fulfill their roles and not engage in anything displeasing like extra-marital affairs. That physical object which aims to empower people with independence and openness of mind to a world of realities was also a tool used to retain an existing structure of life. The way of life, especially of late 1980’s females, changed due in large part to the shift of television focus, from legal drama, family discord to younger characters and social issues. And because of this, relative to earlier decades, being a 1980’s teen was probably less regulated by unchangeable societal structures and expectations as much as the psychological changes taking place resulting from an increasingly independent world.

Although older studies trivialize the impact culture has on gender roles, more and more studies have suggested otherwise. I would describe the 1980’s culture as one of a communal experience. The first images that come to mind when I think about the 1980’s include hanging out at each other's houses, having sleepovers, going roller skating, watching MTV, checking out girls at the mall, playing softball, going on family vacations. Devoid of the influx of technological innovation that the 21st century individual constantly witnesses, 1980’s teens simply did more things together. But more times than not, these groups of teenagers were distinguishable by their gender. I’m guessing parties were more like soirets with the girls on one side of the disco club and the guys on the other. Groups were gender dominated. One group of friends would be made up of jocks while another was a bunch of valley girls. So, in other words, teens lived out a communal experience defined by gender identity, in the sense that it wasn’t only their sex that segregated them into different groups but their own sense of gender. Some...
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