Cross Cultural Studies in Gender

Topics: Gender, Gender role, Sociology Pages: 6 (1911 words) Published: June 15, 2013
Discuss cross cultural studies in gender roles

Most research into gender roles has occurred in Western societies, and generally shows a clear divide in gender roles, most encouraging masculine behaviour in boys, and feminine behaviour in girls. However, in order to further explore the idea of nature vs. nurture (biological vs. social approach); it is important to research gender roles in a variety of countries. If clear themes, it may indicate that gender role development is nature, as would show that men are similar to men across the whole world, and likewise for females, showing there must be something determining the way men work, whereas if there are clear culture differences, it would imply social factors determine gender.

Cross cultural research has been explored for many years by anthropologists. Some of the earliest work came from Margret Mead in the 1930’s. Comparing three Papua New Guinean tribes, the Arapesh, the Mundugumor and the Tchambuli, she discovered different behaviours displayed by both men and women in each individual tribe. In the Arapesh, men and women were seen to be gentle, responsive- fitting the Western stereotype as feminine. In the Mundugumor tribe, she found males and females to violent and aggressive- the Western stereotype of masculinity and finally in the Tchambuli tribe, she found role reversal to Western stereotypes, as males were more emotionally dependant and flirtatious, whereas the females were dominant, impersonal and definite. Although at first, Mead concluded that her research showed that gender roles came through cultural determinism as big differences were found between males and females in different cultures, implying that gender roles were driven by social factors. However, after later analysis and extending her research to look at other tribes in Samoa, she changed her view (1949) to that her research actually showed cultural determinism, as despite differences in the roles males and females played in each society, in all the societies she looked at men were more aggressive than the women, contributing to the idea that gender role is determined by nature, as there are some behaviours which are innate and universal, e.g. aggression in men, but that degree to which they are expressed is relative to the particular culture. This fits under the biosocial approach, as her research suggests there are some behaviours which are universal, but the degrees to which these behaviours are expressed depends on social factors, such as culture. Mead’s study was a natural experiment, meaning the tribes were observed in their usual environment, suggesting she was noting their true behaviour. However, her method has been heavily criticised by other psychologists such as Freeman (1984). Her research was conducted through interviews and observations of the tribes, but Freeman who also worked with Samoan tribes was told that Mead provided the tribesmen with what she wanted them to say. Although this questions the validity of her research, in later years there has been lots of cross cultural research to show differences and similarities and divisions of labour and behaviour by gender in every society (Munroe and Munroe 1975). Further research to support the nature side of the argument is from Whiting and Edwards 1975. Through looking at 11 non-western societies, they found that gender roles were organised in similar ways across a range of traditional cultures. They found girls were encouraged to spend more time with their mothers and were more likely to be given domestic and childcare jobs, whereas the boys were likely to be assigned jobs outside the house such as herding animals. This lead to girls spending more time with younger infants and adults, whereas boys spent more time with their peers, and so It seemed younger girls were found to be more responsible and nurturing than boys who in early adolescence began to get more responsibility. Whiting and Edwards concluded that the...
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