A gender role is defined as a set of perceived behavioral norms associated particularly with males or females, in a given social group or system. It can be a form of division of labour by gender. It is a focus of analysis in the social sciences and humanities. Gender is one component of the gender/sex system, which refers to "The set of arrangements by which a society transforms biological sexuality into products of human activity, and in which these transformed needs are satisfied" (Reiter 1975: 159). All societies, to a certain effect, have a gender/sex system, although the components and workings of this system vary markedly from society to society.
Culture and gender roles
Ideas of appropriate behavior according to gender vary among cultures and era, although some aspects receive more widespread attention than others. An interesting case is described by R.W. Connell in Men, Masculinities and Feminism:
"There are cultures where it has been normal, not exceptional, for men to have homosexual relations. There have been periods in 'Western' history when the modern convention that men suppress displays of emotion did not apply at all, when men were demonstrative about their feeling for their friends. Mateship in the Australian outback last century is a case in point."
In Western society, people whose gender appears masculine and whose inferred and/or verified external genitalia are male are often criticized and ridiculed for exhibiting what the society regards as a woman's gender role. For instance, someone with a masculine voice, a five o'clock shadow (or a fuller beard), an Adam's apple, etc., wearing a woman's dress and high heels, carrying a purse, etc., would most likely draw ridicule or other unfriendly attention in ordinary social contexts (the stage and screen excepted). It is seen by some in that society that such a gender role for a man is not acceptable. This, and other societies, impose expectations on the behaviour of the members of society, and specifically on the gender roles of individuals, resulting in prescriptions regarding gender roles.
It should be noted that some societies are comparatively rigid in their expectations, and other societies are comparatively permissive. Some of the gender signals that form part of a gender role and indicate one's gender identity to others are quite obvious, and others are so subtle that they are transmitted and received out of ordinary conscious awareness.
Gender roles and feminism
Most feminists argue that traditional gender roles are oppressive for women. They believe that the female gender role was constructed as an opposite to an ideal male role, and helps to perpetuate patriarchy.
For approximately the last 100 years women have been fighting for the same rights as men (especially around the turn from 19th to 20th century with the struggle for women's suffrage and in the 1960s with second-wave feminism and radical feminism) and were able to make changes to the traditionally accepted feminine gender role. However, most feminists today say there is still work to be done.
Furthermore, there has been a perception of Western culture, in recent times, that the female gender role is dichotomized into either being a "stay at home-mother" or a "career woman". In reality, women usually face a double burden: The need to balance job and child care deprives women of spare time. Whereas the majority of men with university educations have a career as well as a family, only 50 percent of academic women have children. The double burden problem was introduced to scientific theory in 1956 by Myrdal and Klein in their work "Women's two roles: Home and work," published in London.
This definition is part of a series that covers the topic of Women's Issues. The Official Guide to Women's Issues is Jacquie Hale. Jacquie Hale guides women to live a healthy, wealthy, and balanced life. Her expertise in health issues comes from her experience as a medical technologist and natural health consultant.
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