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Gender Roles

By sqadmen May 18, 2013 1200 Words
Introduction
Gender roles are a set of social and behavioral norms that are generally considered appropriate for men or women in a social or interpersonal relationship. We are not sure when this practice started but pink and blue begins this lifelong process in the 21st century (Lindsey, 2005). As my research evolves, I plan to examine gender roles in various aspects of 21st century life: workplace, relationships, parenting, voting, consumer behavior, etc.  Since this is such a broad topic, my research will likely lead to a paper with a more narrow focus. For now, I've chosen references which are established articles on this broader topic. This research will likely become more focused as I develop the paper.  Origin of Gender Roles

The gender roles have evolved a great deal from the onset of the human civilization which started as hunter gathers. The males were primarily responsible to provide food, shelter and protection while the women looked after the offspring and took care of the tribe. The Functionalist perspective explains this fairly non-overlapping segregation of gender roles in the pre-industrial society. Evolution of Gender Roles

For a considerable period of time there was little or no interaction between the different civilizations and therefore each society developed its own distinct culture and the socialization process. The local socio-economic factors, religious beliefs, legal and political factors had huge impact of the development of gender roles. In the initial years of the 21st century the agents of socialization had a very narrow, local and a limited impact. These agents were the family, peers, the school and then the workplace. However, industrialization changed all that in a number of ways. The advent of mass production and television were two agents that have had a profound and a global impact on the evolution of gender roles. Mass production of cigarettes forced the capitalists to find new markets and smoking cigarettes by women in public was not only considered a taboo but was also illegal in New York. Then the famous “Torches of Freedom” campaign was launched and the rest is history. A single campaign changed the gender roles for ever in a matter of days. Similarly traditional media like television and now the internet have made transmission of information, news and ideas so fast and accessible that barriers and differences in the gender roles across cultures, races, religions, societies and geographies are reducing at a very rapid pace. Social media has turned out to be a radically effective platform that holds promise for much more change, ranging from the equalization of gender roles through the empowerment of women to promotion of cultural understanding between different societies (Lo & Rama, 2012) and eventually the reduction of gender role differences across nations, religions and jurisdictions. The functionalist perspective was also used to justify male dominance and gender stratification in the United States in the 1950s and is still used in a large number of developing and under-developing countries. However, the short comings of the perspective are easily evident in a number of existing family systems like economically backward households and even African-American households (Lindsey, 2005). Contemporary families of the 21st century no longer fit the functionalist model. It would be prudent to point out that gender should not be confused with sex. The terms have a fairly standardized meaning in the context of sociology. While Sex refers to biological characteristics, Gender refers to social, cultural and psychological traits linked to males and females through a particular social context. “Sex is an ascribed status because a person is born with it, but gender is an achieved status because it must be learned.” (Lindsey, 2005) Gender Roles and its Representation in the 21st Century

The representation of gender roles has seen a gradual shift over the years in media which is also a manifestation of the societal changes that have happened across the world although to different degrees. While men were shown pursuing careers of high status women were largely confined to domestic roles or low status jobs. The stereotype was also evident in the commercials. However, that has changed with women prominently featuring in business news channels, authoritatively talking about stocks and bonds which were erstwhile turfs of men. Similar gender stereotypes which were present during schooling which led to a significant difference in the coursework and later career options between boys and girls are being corrected now. White women students experienced negatively biased academic environment in which they were regarded as less serious and capable than make students (Kay Bussey & Bandura, 1999). In the developing countries the divide runs even deeper where educating the girl child is not even considered necessary, ignored due to financial compulsions and even due to religious extremism. The case of Malala Yousufzai in Pakistan shows the gravity of the situation in which our society is due to the practice of strong stereotyping of gender roles (Brumfield, 2012). While languages and arts are a forte for the girls and the quantitative field are dominated by the boys the divide is gradually reducing. While it will take time to change the inherent mindset which leads to such biases and building and using cultural capital (Dumais, 2002) to facilitate better academic results for girls, steps such incentivizing academic pursuits for women in quantitative areas and for men in arts and languages has helped in reducing the divide. Another important factor that has contributed to the changed gender roles in the 21st century is lower birthrates and increasing lifespan. Both the factors have created a need for purposeful pursuits that provide satisfaction to one’s life long after the offspring’s have left home. As a result women have been educating themselves more vigorously and have been entering the workforce in ever larger numbers. At the same time they have been entering the workforce in areas which were earlier dominated by men. This change has had a profound impact on the gender role with respect to parenting. In a number of scenarios it can be seen that males are sharing or even taking complete responsibility of taking care of the offspring’s leading to a significant overlap between the gender roles. Politics and the right to vote which was an important parameter on which the gender roles differed even in the 20th century is not present anymore in most of the countries (developed and developing included). A number of them have even run for the highest offices at the biggest powers successfully. Women’s suffrage is explicitly stated as a right under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, adopted by the United Nations in 1979. However, the distinction is still present in certain regions like the Middle-East. Although, even the Middle-East is witnessing such stereotypical practices being challenged. In late September 2011, King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud declared that women would be able to vote and run for office starting in 2015. At the same time it might be surprising to note that women enjoyed the voting rights in a number of Asian countries like India, Pakistan, and Turkey etc. much before it being granted in a number of European countries like Switzerland, Liechtenstein in 1959.

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