Gender Roles in Society Essay

Gender Roles in Society Essay

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“Boys will be boys, and girls will be girls”: few of our cultural mythologies seem as natural as this one. But in this exploration of the gender signals that traditionally tell what a “boy” or “girl” is supposed to look and act like, Aaron Devor shows how these signals are not “natural” at all but instead are cultural constructs. While the classic cues of masculinity—aggressive posture, self-confidence, a tough appearance—and the traditional signs of femininity—gentleness, passivity, strong nurturing instincts—are often considered “normal,” Devor explains that they are by no means biological or psychological necessities. Indeed, he suggests, they can be richly mixed and varied, or to paraphrase the old Kinks song “Lola,” “Boys can be girls and girls can be boys.” Devor is dean of social sciences at the University of Victoria and author of Gender Blending: Confronting the Limits of Duality (1989), from which this selection is excerpted, and FTM: Female-to-Male Transsexuals in Society (1997).

The clusters of social definitions used to identify persons by gender are collectively known as “femininity” and “masculinity.” Masculine characteristics are used to identify persons as males, while feminine ones are used as signifiers for femaleness. People use femininity or masculinity to claim and communicate their membership in their assigned, or chosen, sex or gender. Others recognize our sex or gender more on the basis of these characteristics than on the basis of sex characteristics, which are usually largely covered by clothing in daily life.
These two clusters of attributes are most commonly seen as mirror images of one another with masculinity usually characterized by dominance and aggression, and femininity by passivity and s...


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...socially directed hormonal instructions which specify that females will want to have children and will therefore find themselves relatively helpless and dependent on males for support and protection. The schema claims that males are innately aggressive and competitive and therefore will dominate over females. The social hegemony of this ideology ensures that we are all raised to practice gender roles which will confirm this vision of the nature of the sexes. Fortunately, our training to gender roles is neither complete nor uniform. As a result, it is possible to point to multitudinous exceptions to, and variations on, these themes. Biological evidence is equivocal about the source of gender roles; psychological androgyny is a widely accepted concept. It seems most likely that gender roles are the result of systematic power imbalances based on gender discrimination.9

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