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Essay/Term paper: The limitations of gender roles

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Psychology

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The Limitations of Gender Roles
Just how different are men and women? Everyone acknowledges that there are significant differences between males and females, even if they are only physical. Others see not only the physical but also the social, emotional and intellectual differences between male and female. Gender roles by definition are the social norms that dictate what is socially appropriate male and female behavior. In early American culture it was common for a women's job to be a submissive homemaker in clear contrast to the males aggressive breadwinner role. The seventies marked the beginning of the Woman's Movement and the end of the ideals we held on what it is to be a "man" and what it is to be a "woman". Women were no longer like the stereotypical homemaker, always offering a hot meal for her family, but were instead out burning bras and protesting inequality. No one disputes that the Women's Movement began but there is a disagreement on whether or not it should come to an end.
One of the Women's Movement primary goals was to invalidate gender roles in the sense that women were secondary to men. The fact that gender roles exist is indisputable. Gender roles influence women and men in virtually every area of life including family and occupation. Early into childhood girls and boys are treated differently in families, schools and other institutions. Girls are encouraged to play with dolls and playhouse type of toys while boys will often play with trucks and army toys.
Boys are played with in a rough manner and told to "tough it out" when they get hurt. Girls are taught to be more passive and expressive with their feelings. Whether these gender roles are fair or not, is where the argument begins.
Does the fact that we are treated differently based on our sex prevent us from

reaching equality or are we treated differently because we are different by nature? We are indeed raised differently, but does the fact that a boy is given a blue room and a girl is given a pink room mean that a girl is being sleighted? The outdated, sexist gender roles that dehumanize women are extinct, the ones that presently exist are the ones that are true. "Males are better in math while females are better in English. Women master language skills better than men, while men are better at organizing objects in a spatial layout". Gender roles are present but they are not beneficiary to either sex. Women are portrayed as physically weaker, but that is because as a general rule they are physically weaker. It is not so much an evil conspiracy by "the man" but an observation of an obvious fact.
It has been proven that gender roles are not something that society determines, but that nature determines. A recent story that has hit the media illustrates this point. "John" was born a normal baby boy, however in a tragic accident his penis was damaged beyond repair by a circumcision that went wrong. The parents then decided the childs best shot at normal life was as an anatomically correct woman and therefore the baby was castrated. This case became a landmark in sex research during the 1970's, in that sexual identity exists in a kind of continuum and that nurture is more important than nature in determining gender roles. Experts thought babies are born gender neutral, catch them early enough and you can make them what you want. What the doctors and the parents did not know was that the celebrated sex change success story was, in fact a total failure.
"John" rejected anything remotely feminine. He refused to wear dresses, make up, and when the time came he tried to refuse to take any hormones that would give a feminine figure. "John" did not know that he was born a boy. He only knew that, "…something was wrong." The fact that he instinctively tried to take on a masculine role, even when everyone in his environment was telling him to do the opposite, proves that there are undeniable differences between the sexes. These differences should be celebrated instead of being ignored, after all in the end they all balance out.
On the other side of that, is the argument that gender is a part of our culture integrated into our being and does in fact give men an edge. "Gender is a social structure that has its origins in the development of human culture, not in biology or procreation….As is true of other institutions genders history can be traced, its structure examined, and its changing effects researched". Traditional gender role ideology has reflected male dominance and bias. For example, having been trained like most American boys to dread the accusation of doing anything "like a girl" men were said to grow into the assumption that women were valueless, natural prey. It is true that women are physically weaker, not because nature intended them to be but because women are discouraged from building muscle and resembling a man's figure. "In a great many cultures women are taught to depend on others, not themselves, for protection from bodily harm. Women are not taught to defend themselves from strangers because fathers and husbands fear the consequences themselves". This trend demonstrates the fear that males hold in that a woman is dangerous with to much power.
Traditional gender roles for the woman include, nurturance, dependence and emotional expressiveness, this socialization rooted from the placement of male and female in separate roles.
Emotionally, this is impacting on the woman because she has to teach other females how to be caretakers. Furthermore, women are taught to be self sacrificing, passive victims. As a result of this, a woman's identity is based on how well she serves others. Men are encouraged to venture out and establish a place in the world, women are encouraged to stand behind them and clean up their mess. Seen in this light equality does not really apply.
In conclusion, Gender equality has been a social concern since man has step foot on earth. When we think of gender equality discrimination is the first thought, which comes to mind. Gender Roles by definition are the social norms that dictate what is socially appropriate male and female behavior. The argument begins between these two sides in which the stated gender roles in society, are they fair on both sides or do they in fact discriminate against the two sexes. Men are taught to be stoic in times of stress and women are taught to be helpless and needy. This is how our society expects men to behave. Maybe, in the near future as a culture we will use gender transcendence, in which as a people we will abandon our "assigned" gender idea, so that other aspects of life become separated and gender free.

Works Cited
Gorman, Christine. "A Boy without a Penis." Time Magazine 24 March 1997: 2-3.
Lahey, Benjamen. Psychology. Boston: McGraw Publishers, 1998.  

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