Gender Roles

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Gender roles can be defined as the behaviors and attitudes expected of male and female members of a society by that society. Different cultures impose different expectations upon the men and women who live in that culture. We are taught by our families, peers, and media what roles we are to play as a male or female from birth. In the United States, there have been many changes to our traditional gender roles even in the last decade. Now there are more women working outside of home and more men staying at home to care for their children.

A child's earliest exposure to what it means to be male or female comes from their parents or caretakers. From the time their children are babies, parents treat sons and daughters differently, dressing infants in gender-specific colors, giving gender-differentiated toys, and expecting different behavior from boys and girls. (Witt, 1997)

Little girls are expected to play with dolls and little boys are expected to play with trucks. Girls are encouraged by their parents to participate in activities such as cooking and cleaning while boys are encouraged to participate in more physical activities such as playing outside working on cars. While a girl might want to work on the car or a boy might want to help in the kitchen, some parents might not think to encourage that type of activity in their children because they have also learned these gender roles from their parents and so on. Susan D. Witt writes in her article, “Children even deny the reality of what they are seeing when it does not conform to their gender expectations”. (Witt, 1997) A child might not be able to believe that his mother can be a doctor or lawyer because he might believe that to be a man’s job. Children also develop a sexual stereotype at a very young age. They may use these sexual stereotypes to differentiate between male and female. To a child, long hair means female while short hair means male.

These gender roles are then enforced through the...
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