Gender role

Gender role
During World War II, women performed roles some of which would otherwise have been considered male jobs
Models in Shanghai

Gender roles refer to the set of social and behavioral norms that are considered to be socially appropriate for individuals of a specific sex in the context of a specific culture, which differ widely between cultures and over time. There are differences of opinion as to whether observed gender differences in behavior and personality characteristics are, at least in part, due to cultural or social factors, and therefore, the product of socialization experiences, or to what extent gender differences are due to biological and physiological differences.[1]

Views on gender-based differentiation in the workplace and in interpersonal relationships have often undergone profound changes as a result of feminist and/or economic influences, but there are still considerable differences in gender roles in almost all societies. It is also true that in times of necessity, such as during a war or other emergency, women are permitted to perform functions which in "normal" times would be considered a male role, or vice versa.

Gender has several definitions. It usually refers to a set of characteristics that are considered to distinguish between male and female, reflect one's biological sex, or reflect one's gender identity. Gender identity is the gender(s), or lack thereof, a person self-identifies as; it is not necessarily based on biological sex, either real or perceived, and it is distinct from sexual orientation. It is one's internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or a boy or girl).[2] There are two main genders: masculine (male), or feminine (female), although some cultures acknowledge more genders. Androgyny, for example, has been proposed as a third gender.[3] Some societies have more than five genders,[4] and some non-Western societies have three genders – man, woman and third gender.[5] Gender expression refers to the external manifestation of one's gender identity, through "masculine," "feminine," or gender-variant or gender neutral behavior, clothing, hairstyles, or body characteristics.[6]


Gender role theory

Gender role theory posits that boys and girls learn the appropriate behavior and attitudes from the family and overall culture they grow up with, and so non-physical gender differences are a product of socialization. Social role theory proposes that the social structure is the underlying force for the gender differences. Social role theory proposes that the sex-differentiated behavior is driven by the division of labor between two sexes within a society. Division of labor creates gender roles, which in turn, lead to gendered social behavior.

The physical specialization of the sexes (Eagly et al., 2004) is considered to be the distal cause of gender roles. Men’s unique physical advantages in terms of body size and upper body strength provided them an edge over women in those social activities that demanded such physical attributes such as hunting, herding and warfare. On the other hand, women’s biological capacity for reproduction and child-bearing is proposed to explain their limited involvement in other social activities. Such divided activity arrangement for the purpose of achieving activity-efficiency led to the division of labor between sexes. Social role theorists have explicitly stressed that the labor division is not narrowly defined as that between paid employment and domestic activities, rather, is conceptualized to include all activities performed within a society that are necessary for its existence and sustainability. The characteristics of the activities performed by men and women became people's perceptions and beliefs of the dispositional attributes of men or women themselves. Through the process of correspondent inference (Gilbert, 1998), division of labor led to gender roles, or gender stereotype. Ultimately, people expect men and women who occupy certain position to behave according to these attributes.

These socially constructed gender roles are considered to be hierarchical and characterized as a male-advantaged gender hierarchy (Wood & Eagly, 2002). The activities men were involved in were often those that provided them with more access to or control of resources and decision making power, rendering men not only superior dispositional attributes via correspondence bias (Gilbert, 1998), but also higher status and authority as society progressed. The particular pattern of the labor division within a certain society is a dynamic process and determined by its specific economical and cultural characteristics. For instance, in an industrial economy, the emphasis on physical strength in social activities becomes less compared with that in a less advanced economy. In a low birth rate society, women will be less confined to reproductive activities and thus more likely to be involved in a wide range of social activities. The beliefs that people hold about the sexes are derived from observations of the role performances of men and women and thus reflect the sexual division of labor and gender hierarchy of the society (Eagly et al., 2000).

The consequences of gender roles and stereotypes are sex-typed social behavior (Eagly et al., 2004) because roles and stereotypes are both socially shared descriptive norms and prescriptive norms. Gender roles provide guides to normative behaviors that are typical, ought-to-be and thus “likely effective” for each sex within certain social context. Gender roles also depict ideal, should-be, and thus desirable behaviors for men and women who are occupying a particular position or involving in certain social activities. Put is another way, men and women, as social beings, strive to belong and seek for approval by complying and conforming to the social and cultural norms within their society. The conformity to social norms not only shapes the pattern, but also maintains the very existence of sex-typed social behavior (Eagly et al., 2004).

In summary, social role theory “treats these differing distributions of women and men into roles as the primary origin of sex-differentiated social behavior, their impact on behavior is mediated by psychological and social processes” (Eagly, 1997), including “developmental and socialization processes, as well as by processes involved in social interaction (e.g., expectancy confirmation) and self-regulation” (Eagly et al., 2004).

Social construction of gender difference

This[who?] perspective proposes that gender difference is socially constructed (see Social construction of gender difference). Social constructionism of gender moves away from socialization as the origin of gender differences; people do not merely internalize gender roles as they grow up but they respond to changing norms in society.[7] Children learn to categorize themselves by gender very early on in life. A part of this is learning how to display and perform gendered identities as masculine or feminine. Boys learn to manipulate their physical and social environment through physical strength or other skills, while girls learn to present themselves as objects to be viewed.[8] Children monitor their own and others’ gendered behavior. Gender-segregated children's activities creates the appearance that gender differences in behavior reflect an essential nature of male and female behavior.[9]

Judith Butler,[10] in works such as Gender Trouble and Undoing Gender, contends that being female is not "natural" and that it appears natural only through repeated performances of gender; these performances in turn, reproduce and define the traditional categories of sex and/or gender. A social constructionist view looks beyond categories and examines the intersections of multiple identities, the blurring of the boundaries of essentialist categories. This is especially true with regards to categories of male and female that are typically viewed by others as binary and opposites of each other. By deconstructing categories of gender, the value placed on masculine traits and behaviors disappears. However, the elimination of categories makes it difficult to make any comparisons between the genders or to argue and fight against male domination.

Talcott Parsons' view

Working in the United States, Talcott Parsons[11] developed a model of the nuclear family in 1955, which at that place and time was the prevalent family structure. It compared a strictly traditional view of gender roles (from an industrial-age American perspective) to a more liberal view.

The Parsons model was used to contrast and illustrate extreme positions on gender roles. Model A describes total separation of male and female roles, while Model B describes the complete dissolution of gender roles.[12] (The examples are based on the context of the culture and infrastructure of the United States.)

Model A – Total role segregation Model B – Total integration of roles
Education Gender-specific education; high professional qualification is important only for the man Co-educative schools, same content of classes for girls and boys, same qualification for men and women.
Profession The workplace is not the primary area of women; career and professional advancement is deemed unimportant for women For women, career is just as important as for men; equal professional opportunities for men and women are necessary.
Housework Housekeeping and child care are the primary functions of the woman; participation of the man in these functions is only partially wanted. All housework is done by both parties to the marriage in equal shares.
Decision making In case of conflict, man has the last say, for example in choosing the place to live, choice of school for children, buying decisions Neither partner dominates; solutions do not always follow the principle of finding a concerted decision; status quo is maintained if disagreement occurs.
Child care and education Woman takes care of the largest part of these functions; she educates children and cares for them in every way Man and woman share these functions equally.

However, these extreme positions are rarely found in reality; actual behavior of individuals is usually somewhere between these poles. The most common 'model' followed in real life in the United States and Britain is the 'model of double burden' (See Gender roles and feminism below).[citation needed]

According to the interactionist approach, roles (including gender roles) are not fixed, but are constantly negotiated between individuals. In North America and southern South America, this is the most common approach among families whose business is agriculture.

Gender roles can influence all kinds of behaviors, such as choice of clothing, choice of work and personal relationships, e.g., parental status (See also Sociology of fatherhood).


Roundhouse wipers at lunch, Chicago & North Western Railroad, 1943. Women took on men's jobs during World War II in the USA and elsewhere.

The process through which the individual learns and accepts roles is called socialization. Socialization works by encouraging wanted and discouraging unwanted behavior. These sanctions by agents of socialization such as the family, schools, and the media make it clear to the child what is expected of the child by society. Mostly, accepted behavior is not produced by outright reforming coercion from an accepted social system. In some other cases, various forms of coercion have been used to acquire a desired response or function.

Homogenization vs. ethnoconvergence difference

It is claimed[by whom?] that even in monolingual, industrial societies like much of urban North America, some individuals do cling to a "modernized" primordial identity, apart from others and with this a more diverse gender role is recognized or developed. Some intellectuals, such as Michael Ignatieff, argue that convergence of a general culture does not directly entail a similar convergence in ethnic, social and self identities. This can become evident in social situations, where people divide into separate groups by gender roles and cultural alignments, despite being of an identical "super-ethnicity", such as nationality.

Changing norms of socialization: Louis XV in 1712, wearing the customary clothes of unbreeched boys, would be considered "cross-dressed" in the 21st century.

Within each smaller ethnicity, individuals may tend to see it perfectly justified to assimilate with other cultures including sexuality and some others view assimilation as wrong and incorrect for their culture or institution. This common theme, representing dualist opinions of ethnoconvergence itself, within a single ethnic or common values groups is often manifested in issues of sexual partners and matrimony, employment preferences, etc. These varied opinions of ethnoconvergence represent themselves in a spectrum; assimilation, homogenization, acculturation, gender identities and cultural compromise are commonly used terms for ethnoconvergence which flavor the issues to a bias.

Often it is in a secular, multi-ethnic environment that cultural concerns are both minimalized and exacerbated; Ethnic prides are boasted, hierarchy is created ("center" culture versus "periphery") but on the other hand, they will still share a common "culture", and common language and behaviors. Often the elderly, more conservative-in-association of a clan, tend to reject cross-cultural associations, and participate in ethnically similar community-oriented activities.

Anthropology and evolution

The idea that differences in gender roles originate in differences in biology has found support in parts of the scientific community. 19th-century anthropology sometimes used descriptions of the imagined life of paleolithic hunter-gatherer societies for evolutionary explanations for gender differences. For example, those accounts maintain that the need to take care of offspring may have limited the females' freedom to hunt and assume positions of power.

More recently, sociobiology and evolutionary psychology have explained those differences in social roles by treating them as adaptations. This approach, too, is considered controversial.

Due to the influence of (among others) Simone de Beauvoir's feminist works and Michel Foucault's reflections on sexuality, the idea that gender was unrelated to sex gained ground during the 1980s, especially in sociology and cultural anthropology. This view claims that a person could therefore be born with male genitals but still be of feminine gender. In 1987, R.W. Connell did extensive research on whether there are any connections between biology and gender role[13] and concluded that there were none. However, there continues to be debate on the subject. Simon Baron-Cohen, a Cambridge Univ. professor of psychology and psychiatry, claims that "the female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy, while the male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems."

Dr. Sandra Lipsitz Bem is a psychologist who developed the gender schema theory to explain how individuals come to use gender as an organizing category in all aspects of their life. It is based on the combination of aspects of the social learning theory and the cognitive-development theory of sex role acquisition. In 1971, she created the Bem Sex Role Inventory to measure how well you fit into your traditional gender role by characterizing your personality as masculine, feminine, androgynous, or undifferentiated. She believed that through gender-schematic processing, a person spontaneously sorts attributes and behaviors into masculine and feminine categories. Therefore, an individual processes information and regulate their behavior based on whatever definitions of femininity and masculinity their culture provides.[14]

The current trend in Western societies toward men and women sharing similar occupations, responsibilities and jobs suggests that the sex one is born with does not directly determine one's abilities[citation needed]. While there are differences in average capabilities of various kinds (E.g. physical strength) between the sexes[citation needed], the capabilities of some members of one sex will fall within the range of capabilities needed for tasks conventionally assigned to the other sex.

In addition, research at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center has also shown that gender roles may be biological among primates. Yerkes researchers studied the interactions of 11 male and 23 female Rhesus monkeys with human toys, both wheeled and plush. The males played mostly with the wheeled toys while the females played with both types equally.[15] Psychologist Kim Wallen has, however, warned against overinterpeting the results as the color and size of the toys may also be factors in the monkey's behavior.[16]

Changing roles

A person's gender role is composed of several elements and can be expressed through clothing, behaviour, choice of work, personal relationships and other factors. These elements are not concrete and have evolved through time (for example women's trousers).

Traditionally only feminine and masculine gender roles existed, however, over time many different acceptable male or female gender roles have emerged. An individual can either identify themselves with a subculture or social group which results in them having diverse gender roles. Historically, for example, eunuchs had a different gender role because their biology was changed.

A woman publicly witnessing at a Quaker meeting seemed an extraordinary feature of the Religious Society of Friends, worth recording for a wider public. Engraving by Bernard Picart, ca 1723.

Androgyny, a term denoting the display of both male and female behaviour, also exists. Many terms have been developed to portray sets of behaviors arising in this context. The masculine gender role in the West has become more malleable since the 1950s. One example is the "sensitive new age guy", which could be described as a traditional male gender role with a more typically "female" empathy and associated emotional responses. Another is the metrosexual, a male who adopts or claims to be born with similarly "female" grooming habits. Some have argued that such new roles are merely rebelling against tradition more so than forming a distinct role. However, traditions regarding male and female appearance have never been concrete, and men in other eras have been equally interested with their appearance. The popular conceptualization of homosexual men, which has become more accepted in recent decades, has traditionally been more androgynous or effeminate, though in actuality homosexual men can also be masculine and even exhibit machismo characteristics. One could argue that since many homosexual men and women fall into one gender role or another or are androgynous, that gender roles are not strictly determined by a person's physical sex. Whether or not this phenomenon is due to social or biological reasons is debated. Many homosexual people find the traditional gender roles to be very restrictive, especially during childhood. Also, the phenomenon of intersex people, which has become more publicly accepted, has caused much debate on the subject of gender roles. Many intersexual people identify with the opposite sex, while others are more androgynous. Some see this as a threat to traditional gender roles, while others see it as a sign that these roles are a social construct, and that a change in gender roles will be liberating.

According to sociology research, traditional feminine gender roles have become less relevant in Western society since industrialization started[citation needed]. For example, the cliché that women do not follow a career is obsolete in many Western societies. On the other hand, the media sometimes portrays women who adopt an extremely classical role as a subculture. Women take on many roles that were traditionally reserved for men, as well as behaviors and fashions, which may cause pressure on many men to be more masculine and thus confined within an even smaller gender role, while other men react against this pressure. For example, men's fashions have become more restrictive than in other eras, while women's fashions have become more broad. One consequence of social unrest during the Vietnam War era was that men began to let their hair grow to a length that had previously (within recent history) been considered appropriate only for women. Somewhat earlier, women had begun to cut their hair to lengths previously considered appropriate only to men.

Some famous people known for their androgynous appearances in the 20th century include Brett Anderson, Gladys Bentley, David Bowie, Pete Burns, Boy George, Norman Iceberg, k.d. lang, Annie Lennox, Jaye Davidson, Marilyn Manson, Freddie Mercury, Marlene Dietrich, Mylène Farmer, Gackt, Mana (musician), Michael Jackson, Grace Jones, Marc Bolan, Brian Molko, Julia Sweeney (as Pat), Genesis P-Orridge, Prince and Kristen McMenamy.


The world turned upside down, by Israhel van Meckenem the Younger. The wife is holding the sceptre and the man is spinning.

Ideas of appropriate behavior according to gender vary among cultures and era, although some aspects receive more widespread attention than others. R.W. Connell in Men, Masculinities and Feminism claims:

"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."

Other aspects, however, may differ markedly with time and place. In pre-industrial Europe, for example, the practice of medicine (other than midwifery) was generally seen as a male prerogative. However, in Russia, health care was more often seen as a feminine role. The results of these views can still be seen in modern society, where European medicine is most often practiced by men, while the majority of Russian doctors are women.

In many other cases, the elements of convention or tradition seem to play a dominant role in deciding which occupations fit in with which gender roles. In the United States, physicians have traditionally been men, and the few people who defied that expectation received a special job description: "woman doctor". Similarly, there were special terms like "male nurse", "woman lawyer", "lady barber", "male secretary," etc. But in the former Soviet Union countries, medical doctors are predominantly women, and in Germany and Taiwan it is very common for all of the barbers in a barber shop to be women. Also, throughout history, some jobs that have been typically male or female have switched genders. For example, clerical jobs used to be considered a men's jobs, but when several women began filling men's job positions due to World War II, clerical jobs quickly became dominated by women. It became more feminized, and women workers became known as "typewriters" or "secretaries". There are many other jobs that have switched gender roles. Many jobs are continually evolving as far as being dominated by women or men.

In Western society, people whose gender appears masculine are sometimes ridiculed for exhibiting what the society regards as a woman's gender role[citation needed]. 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[17]). It is seen by some in that society that such a gender role for a man is not acceptable.[18] 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.


In the USA, single men are greatly outnumbered by single women at a ratio of 100 single women to every 86 single men,[19] though never-married men over age 15 outnumber women by a 5:4 ratio (33.9% to 27.3%) according to the 2006 US Census American Community Survey. This very much depends on age group, with 118 single men per 100 single women in their 20s, versus 33 single men to 100 single women over 65.[20]

The numbers are different in other countries. For example, China has many more young men than young women, and this disparity is expected to increase.[21] In regions with recent conflict such as Chechnya, women may greatly outnumber men.

In a cross-cultural study by David Buss, men and women were asked to rank certain traits in order of importance in a long-term partner. Both men and women ranked "kindness" and "intelligence" as the two most important factors. Men valued beauty and youth more highly than women, while women valued financial and social status more highly than men.[22]


Masculine and feminine cultures and individuals generally differ in how they communicate with others. For example, feminine people tend to self-disclose more often than masculine people, and in more intimate details. Likewise, feminine people tend to communicate more affection, and with greater intimacy and confidence than masculine people. Generally speaking, feminine people communicate more and prioritize communication more than masculine.

Traditionally, masculine people and feminine people communicate with people of their own gender in different ways. Masculine people form friendships with other masculine people based on common interests, while feminine people build friendships with other feminine people based on mutual support. However, both genders initiate opposite-gender friendships based on the same factors. These factors include proximity, acceptance, effort, communication, common interests, affection and novelty.

Context is very important when determining how we communicate with others. It is important to understand what script it is appropriate to use in each respective relationship. Specifically, understanding how affection is communicated in a given context is extremely important. For example, masculine people expect competition in their friendships. They avoid communicating weakness and vulnerability. They avoid communicating personal and emotional concerns. Masculine people tend to communicate affection by including their friends in activities and exchanging favors. Masculine people tend to communicate with each other shoulder-to-shoulder (e.g. watching sports on a television).[citation needed]

In contrast, feminine people do not mind communicating weakness and vulnerability. In fact, they seek out friendships more in these times. For this reason, feminine people often feel closer to their friends than masculine people do. Feminine people tend to value their friends for listening and communicating non-critically, communicating support, communicating feelings of enhances self-esteem, communicating validation, offering comfort and contributing to personal growth. Feminine people tend to communicate with each other face-to-face (e.g. meeting together to talk over lunch).

Communicating with a friend of the opposite gender is often difficult because of the fundamentally different scripts that masculine people and feminine people use in their friendships. Another challenge in these relationships is that masculine people associate physical contact with communicating sexual desire more than feminine people. Masculine people also desire sex in their opposite-gender relationships more than feminine people. This presents serious challenges in cross-gender friendship communication. In order to overcome these challenges, the two parties must communicate openly about the boundaries of the relationship.

Communication and gender cultures

A communication culture is a group of people with an existing set of norms regarding how they communicate with each other. These cultures can be categorized as masculine or feminine. Other communication cultures include African Americans, older people, Indian Native Americans, gay men, lesbians, and people with disabilities.[23] Gender cultures are primarily created and sustained by interaction with others. Through communication we learn about what qualities and activities our culture prescribes to our sex.

While it is commonly believed that our sex is the root source of differences and how we relate and communicate to others, it is actually gender that plays a larger role.[23] Whole cultures can be broken down into masculine and feminine, each differing in how they get along with others through different styles of communication. Julia T. Wood's studies explain that "communication produces and reproduces cultural definitions of masculinity and femininity."[23] Masculine and feminine cultures differ dramatically in when, how and why they use communication

Communication styles

Deborah Tannen’s studies found these gender differences in communication styles (where men more generally refers to masculine people, and women correspondingly refers to feminine people):[24]

  • Men tend to talk more than women in public situations, but women tend to talk more than men at home.
  • Women are more inclined to face each other and make eye contact when talking, while men are more likely to look away from each other.
  • Men tend to jump from topic to topic, but women tend to talk at length about one topic.
  • When listening, women make more noises such as “mm-hmm” and “uh-huh”, while men are more likely to listen silently.
  • Women are inclined to express agreement and support, while men are more inclined to debate.

The studies also reported that in general both genders communicated in similar ways. Critics, including Suzette Haden Elgin, have suggested that Tannen's findings may apply more to women of certain specific cultural and economic groups than to women in general. Although it is widely believed that women speak far more words than men, this is actually not the case.

Julia T. Wood[23] describes how "differences between gender cultures infuse communication." These differences begin at childhood. Maltz and Broker’s[25] research showed that the games children play contribute to socializing children into masculine and feminine cultures. For example, girls playing house promotes personal relationships, and playing house does not necessarily have fixed rules or objectives. Boys, however, tended to play more competitive team sports with different goals and strategies. These differences as children make women operate from assumptions about communication and use rules for communication that differ significantly from those endorsed by most men. Wood produced the following theories regarding gender communication:

  • Misunderstandings stem from differing interaction styles
  • Men and women have different ways of showing support, interest and caring
  • Men and women often perceive the same message in different ways
  • Women tend to see communication more as a way to connect and enhance the sense of closeness in the relationship
  • Men see communication more as a way to accomplish objectives
  • Women give more response cues and nonverbal cues to indicate interest and build a relationship
  • Men use feedback to signal actual agreement and disagreement
  • For women, "ums" "uh-huhs" and "yeses" simply mean they are showing interest and being responsive
  • For men, these same responses indicate is agreement or disagreement with what is being communicated
  • For women, talking is the primary way to become closer to another person
  • For men, shared goals and accomplishing tasks is the primary way to become close to another person
  • Men are more likely to express caring by doing something concrete for or doing something together with another person
  • Women can avoid being hurt by men by realizing how men communicate caring
  • Men can avoid being hurt by women by realizing how women communicate caring
  • Women who want to express caring to men can do so more effectively by doing something for them or doing something with them
  • Men who want to express caring to women can do so more effectively by verbally communicating that they care
  • Men emphasize independence and are therefore less likely to ask for help in accomplishing an objective
  • Men are much less likely to ask for directions when they are lost than women
  • Men desire to maintain autonomy and to not appear weak or incompetent
  • Women develop identity within relationships more than men
  • Women seek out and welcome relationships with others more than men
  • Men tend to think that relationships jeopardize their independence
  • For women, relationships are a constant source of interest, attention and communication
  • For men, relationships are not as central
  • The term "Talking about us" means very different things to men and women
  • Men feel that there is no need to talk about a relationship that is going well
  • Women feel that a relationship is going well as long as they are talking about it
  • Women can avoid being hurt by realizing that men don't necessarily feel the need to talk about a relationship that is going well
  • Men can help improve communication in a relationship by applying the rules of feminine communication
  • Women can help improve communication in a relationship by applying the rules of masculine communication
  • Just as Western communication rules wouldn't necessarily apply in an Asian culture, masculine rules wouldn't necessarily apply in a feminine culture, and vice versa.

Finally, Wood describes how different genders can communicate to one another and provides six suggestions to do so.

  1. Individuals should suspend judgment. When a person finds his or herself confused in a cross-gender conversation, he or she should resist the tendency to judge and instead explore what is happening and how that person and their partner might better understand each other.
  2. Recognize the validity of different communication styles. Feminine tendency to emphasize relationships, feelings and responsiveness does not reflect inability to adhere to masculine rules for competing any more than masculine stress on instrumental outcomes is a failure to follow feminine rules for sensitivity to others. Wood says that it is inappropriate to apply a single criterion - either masculine or feminine - to both genders' communication. Instead, people must realize that different goals, priorities and standards pertain to each.
  3. Provide translation cues. Following the previous suggestions helps individuals realize that men and women tend to learn different rules for interaction and that it makes sense to think about helping the other gender translate your communication. This is especially important because there is no reason why one gender should automatically understand the rules that are not part of his or her gender culture.
  4. Seek translation cues. Interactions can also be improved by seeking translation cues from others. Taking constructive approaches to interactions can help improve the opposite gender culture's reaction.
  5. Enlarge your own communication style. By studying other culture's communication we learn not only about other cultures, but also about ourselves. Being open to learning and growing can enlarge one's own communication skills by incorporating aspects of communication emphasized in other cultures. According to Wood, individuals socialized into masculinity could learn a great deal from feminine culture about how to support friends. Likewise, feminine cultures could expand the ways they experience intimacy by appreciating "closeness in doing" that is a masculine specialty.
  6. Wood reiterates again, as her sixth suggestion, that individuals should suspend judgment. This concept is incredibly important because judgment is such a part of Western culture that it is difficult not to evaluate and critique others and defend our own positions. While gender cultures are busy judging other gender cultures and defending themselves, they are making no headway in communicating effectively. So, suspending judgment is the first and last principle for effective cross-gender communication.

Gender stereotypes

Stereotypes create expectations regarding emotional expression and emotional reaction. Many studies find that emotional stereotypes and the display of emotions "correspond to actual gender differences in experiencing emotion and expression."[1]

Stereotypes generally dictate how and by whom and when it is socially acceptable to display an emotion. Reacting in a stereotype-consistent manner may result in social approval while reacting in a stereotype-inconsistent manner could result in disapproval. It should be noted that what is socially acceptable varies substantially over time and between local cultures and subcultures.

According to Niedenthal et al.:[2]

  • Women are more emotionally expressive.
  • Women are more emotionally responsive.
  • Women are more empathetic.
  • Women are more sensitive to others' feelings.
  • Women are more obsessed with having children.
  • Women express their feelings without constraint, except for the emotion of anger.
  • Women pay more attention to body language.
  • Women judge emotions from nonverbal communication better than men do.
  • Women express more love, fear, and sadness.
  • Women laugh, gaze, and smile more.
  • Women anticipate negative consequences for expressing anger and aggression.
  • Men are more obsessed with sex.
  • Men are overwhelmed by women's expressions of emotion.
  • Men express more anger.
  • Men are stoic.
  • Men show emotion to communicate dominance.

Virginia Woolf, in the 1920s, made the point: "It is obvious that the values of women differ very often from the values which have been made by the other sex. Yet it is the masculine values that prevail" (A Room of One's Own, N.Y. 1929, p. 76). Sixty years later, psychologist Carol Gilligan was to take up the point, and use it to show that psychological tests of maturity have generally been based on masculine parameters, and so tended to show that women were less 'mature'. She countered this in her ground-breaking work, In a Different Voice, (Harvard University Press, 1982), holding that maturity in women is shown in terms of different, but equally important, human values.

Communication and sexual desire

Mets, et al.[26] explain that sexual desire is linked to emotions and communicative expression. Communication is central in expressing sexual desire and "complicated emotional states," and is also the "mechanism for negotiating the relationship implications of sexual activity and emotional meanings." Gender differences appear to exist in communicating sexual desire.

For example, masculine people are generally perceived to be more interested in sex than feminine people, and research suggests that masculine people are more likely than feminine people to express their sexual interest. This can be attributed to masculine people being less inhibited by social norms for expressing their desire, being more aware of their sexual desire or succumbing to the expectation of their gender culture. When feminine people employ tactics to show their sexual desire, they are typically more indirect in nature.

Various studies show different communication strategies with a feminine person refusing a masculine person's sexual interest. Some research, like that of Murnen,[27] show that when feminine people offer refusals, the refusals are verbal and typically direct. When masculine people do not comply with this refusal, feminine people offer stronger and more direct refusals. However, research from Perper and Weis[28] showed that rejection includes acts of avoidance, creating distractions, making excuses, departure, hinting, arguments to delay, etc. These differences in refusal communication techniques are just one example of the importance of communicative competence for both masculine and feminine gender cultures.


As long as a person's perceived physiological sex is consistent with that person's gender identity, the gender role of a person is so much a matter of course in a stable society that people rarely even think of it. Only in cases where an individual has a gender role that is inconsistent with his or her sex will the matter draw attention. Some people mix gender roles to form a personally comfortable androgynous combination or violate the scheme of gender roles completely, regardless of their physiological sex. People who are transgender have a gender identity or expression that differs from the sex which they were assigned at birth.[6] The Preamble of The Yogyakarta Principles cite the idea of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women that "States must take measures to seek to eliminate prejudices and customs based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of one sex or on stereotyped roles for men and women." for the rights of transgender people.


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.

Numerous studies and statistics show that even though the situation for women has improved during the last century, discrimination is still widespread: women earn an average of 77 cents to every one dollar men earn ("The Shriver Report", 2009), occupy lower-ranking job positions than men, and do most of the housekeeping work.[29] There are several reasons for the wage disparity. Studies have indicated that many jobs that were traditionally perceived as "masculine" usually have longer hours, necessitate long periods of exposure to the elements, are higher risk, and require a fair amount of physical strength[citation needed].

A recent (October 2009) report from the Center for American Progress, "The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything" tells us that women now make up 48% of the US workforce and "mothers are breadwinners or co-breadwinners in a majority of families" (63.3%, see figure 2, page 19 of the Executive Summary of The Shriver Report).[30]

A recent article in The New York Times indicated that gender roles are still prevalent in many upscale restaurants. A restaurant's decor and menu typically play into which gender frequents which restaurant. Whereas Cru, a restaurant in New York's, Greenwich Village, "decorated in clubby brown tones and distinguished by a wine list that lets high rollers rack up breathtaking bills," attracts more men than women, places like Mario Batali's, Otto, serves more women than men, as a result that the restaurant has been "designed to be more approachable, with less swagger." Servers of both men and women at the same table still often go with the assumption that the male is the go-to person, as far as who receives the check and makes the wine decisions, but this appears to be a trend that is being used with more caution, especially with groups of younger people. Restaurants that used to cater to more men or women are now also trying to change their decor in the hopes of attracting broader equity.[31]


Note that many people consider some or all of the following terms to have negative connotations.

  • A male adopting (or who is perceived as adopting) a female gender role might be described as effeminate, foppish, or sissy. Even more pejorative terms include mollycoddled, milksop, sop, mamma's boy, namby-pamby, pansy, fru-fru, girlie-boy, girlie-man, and nancy boy.
  • A female adopting (or who is perceived as adopting) a male role might be described as butch, a dyke, a tomboy, or as an amazon (See amazon feminism). More pejorative terms include battleaxe.

Sexual orientation

The demographics of sexual orientation in any population is difficult to establish with reasonable accuracy. However, some surveys suggest that a greater proportion of men than women report that they are exclusively homosexual, whereas more women than men report being bisexual.[32]

Studies have suggested that heterosexual men are only aroused by images of women, whereas some women who claim to be heterosexual are aroused by images of both men and women.[33] However, different methods are required to measure arousal for the anatomy of a man versus that of a woman.

Traditional gender roles include male attraction to females, and vice versa. Gay, lesbian and bisexual people, among others, usually don't conform to these expectations. An active conflict over the cultural acceptability of non-heterosexuality rages worldwide. (See Societal attitudes towards homosexuality.) The belief or assumption that heterosexual relationships and acts are "normal" is described — largely by the opponents of this viewpoint — as heterosexism or in queer theory, heteronormativity. Gender identity and sexual orientation are two separate aspects of individual identity, although they are often mistakenly conflated in the media.[6]

Perhaps it is an attempt to reconcile this conflict that leads to a common assumption that one same-sex partner assumes a pseudo-male gender role and the other assumes a pseudo-female role. For a gay male relationship, this might lead to the assumption that the "wife" handled domestic chores, was the receptive sexual partner during sex, adopted effeminate mannerisms, and perhaps even dressed in women's clothing. This assumption is flawed, as many homosexual couples tend to have more equal roles, and the effeminate behavior of some gay men is usually not adopted consciously, and is often more subtle.[citation needed] Feminine or masculine behaviors in some homosexual people might be a product of the socialization process, adopted unconsciously due to stronger identification with the opposite sex during development. The role of both this process and the role of biology is debated.

The existence of these separate identities (dominant masculine vs. more passive feminine), where present, can establish the dynamics of the relationship, according to the heterosexual patterns; this is not always the case, especially in relationships with less clearly defined sexual/identity roles. A related assumption is that all androphilic people, including gay men, should or do adopt feminine mannerisms and other gender-role elements, and that all gynophilic people, including lesbians, should or do adopt masculine mannerisms and other gender-role elements; it is unclear how bisexuality fits into this framework, but it can be assumed they have a tendency towards both gender roles as they do in sexuality, towards both sexes. However, this idea is based on generalizations of homosexual people, which tend to be biased, as feminine gays and masculine lesbians are more widely visible than masculine gays or feminine lesbians.

Same-sex domestic partners also challenge traditional gender roles because it is impossible to divide up household responsibilities if both partners attempt to fill the same gender role. Like all live-in couples, same-sex partners usually do come to some arrangement with regard to household responsibilities. Sometimes these arrangements do assign traditional female responsibilities to one partner and traditional male responsibilities to the other, but non-traditional divisions of labor are also quite common. For instance, cleaning and cooking, traditionally both female responsibilities, might be assigned to different people. Some people do adopt the sexual role of bottom or top, due to their own sexual identity or for convenience; but this is not universal, and does not necessarily correspond to assignment of household responsibilities. Most of gay couples in real life are versatile.

Cross-dressing is often restricted to festive occasions, though people of all sexual orientations routinely engage in various types of cross-dressing either as a fashion statement or for entertainment. Distinctive styles of dress, however, are commonly seen in gay and lesbian circles. These fashions sometimes emulate the traditional styles of the opposite gender (For example, lesbians who wear t-shirts and boots instead of skirts and dresses, or gay men who wear clothing with traditionally feminine elements, including displays of jewelry or coloration), but others do not. Fashion choices also do not necessarily align with other elements of gender identity. Some fashion and behavioral elements in gay and lesbian culture are novel, and do not really correspond to any traditional gender roles, such as rainbow jewelry or the gay techno/dance music subculture. In addition to the stereotypically effeminate one, another significant gay male subculture is homomasculinity, emphasizing certain traditionally masculine or hypermasculine traits. (See Sexuality and gender identity-based cultures)

The term dyke, commonly used to mean lesbian, sometimes carries associations of a butch or masculine identity, and the variant bulldyke certainly does. Other gender-role-charged lesbian terms include lipstick lesbian, chapstick lesbian, and Stone Femme. "Butch," "femme," and novel elements are also seen in various lesbian subcultures.

External social pressures may lead some people to adopt a persona which is perceived as more appropriate for a heterosexual (For instance, in an intolerant work environment) or homosexual (for instance, in a same-sex dating environment), while maintaining a somewhat different identity in other, more private circumstances. The acceptance of new gender roles in Western societies, however, is rising.[34] However, during childhood and adolescence, gender identities which differ from the norm are often the cause of ridicule and ostracism, which often results in psychological problems. Some are able to disguise their differences, but others are not. Even though much of society has become more tolerant, gender roles are still very prevalent in the emotionally charged world of children and teenagers, which makes life very difficult for those who differ from the established norms.

The role of ideology in enculturation

High levels of agreement on the characteristics different cultures to males and females reflects consensus in gender role ideology. The Nordic countries are among the most egalitarian modern societies concerning gender roles, whereas the most traditional roles are found in Nigeria, Pakistan, and India.[citation needed] Men and women cross-culturally rate the ideal self as more masculine than their self.[citation needed] The American difference on spatial reasoning between males and females does not apply in all cultures. One example of where it does not is the Inuit culture in Canada. Male superiority is found in tight, sedentary, agriculturally based cultures, while females are superior in cultures that are loose, nomadic, and hunter-gathering based. US females are more conforming to others than are males.[citation needed] Males are more aggressive in all cultures for which data exists.[citation needed] This is related to, but not solely determined by, age and hormones though some researchers would suggest that women are not necessarily less aggressive than men but tend to show their aggression in more subtle and less overt ways (Bjorkqvist et al. 1994, Hines and Saudino 2003). Male aggression may be a "gender marking" issue breaking away from the instruction of the mother during adolescence. Native American gender roles depend on the cultural history of the tribe.[35]

Criminal justice

A number of studies conducted since the mid-90s have found direct correlation between a female criminal’s ability to conform to gender role stereotypes, particularly murder committed in self-defense, and the severity of their sentencing.[36][37][38][39]

In prison

The following tendencies have been observed in U.S. prisons - not internationally. Gender roles in male prisons go further than the "Don't drop the soap"-joke. The truth is that some prisoners, either by choice or by force, take on strict 'female roles' according to prison set guidelines. For instance, a 'female' in prison is seen as timid, submissive, passive, and a means of sexual pleasure. When entering the prison environment some inmates "turn out" on their own free will, meaning they actively pursue the 'female role' in prison to gain some form of social power and/or prestige. Other, unlucky inmates, are forced to partake in 'female role' activities through coercion; the most common means being physical abuse. The inmates that are forced to "turn out" are commonly referred to as "punks". Other terms used to describe 'female' inmates are "girls", "kids", and "gumps". Some of the labels may be used as a means of describing one's ascribed status. For example, a "kid" is one that is usually dominated by their owner, or "daddy". The "daddy" is usually one with a high social status and prestige within the prison (E.g. gang leader). The "female" gender role is constructed through the mirror image of what the inmates perceive as a male. For instance, inmates view men as having strength, power, prestige, and an unyielding personality. However, the inmates don't refer to the female guards, who have power and prestige over the inmates, as males. The female guards are commonly referred to as "dykes", "ditch lickers", and lesbians. These roles are also assumed in female prisons.[40]

Women who enter prison society often voluntarily enter into lesbianism, as a means of protection from gangs or stronger females. In doing so, they will take on the submissive role to a dominant female in exchange for that dominating female keeping them safe. Those who do not enter voluntarily into lesbianism might at one time or another be group raped, to introduce them into that circle, and sometimes they will be referred to as sheep, meaning anyone can have them. It is to avoid that status that most female inmates choose a mate, or allow themselves to be chosen as a mate, which can make them available to only a minimal number of partners during their incarceration, as opposed to a large number. So, in a sense, an inmate undergoes a "female role" in the prison system either by choice or by yielding to excessive coercion, and it is that yielding that terms the once male inmates as "females", and which identifies the stronger females in a female prison system as "males".[40]

See also


  1. ^ "What do we mean by "sex" and "gender"?". World Health Organization. Retrieved 2009-09-29. 
  2. ^ Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. ‘’GLAAD Media Reference Guide, 7th Edition”, ‘’GLAAD’’, USA, May 2010. Retrieved on 2011-02-23.
  3. ^ (Maccoby, E.E., Sex differences in intellectual functioning, 1966.; Bem S.L., 1975)
  4. ^ Graham, Sharyn (2001), Sulawesi's fifth gender, Inside Indonesia, April–June 2001.
  5. ^ Roscoe, Will (2000). Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America. Palgrave Macmillan (June 17, 2000) ISBN 0-312-22479-6
    See also: Trumbach, Randolph (1994). London’s Sapphists: From Three Sexes to Four Genders in the Making of Modern Culture. In Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History, edited by Gilbert Herdt, 111-36. New York: Zone (MIT). ISBN 978-0-942299-82-3
  6. ^ a b c Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. ‘’GLAAD Media Reference Guide, 8th Edition. Transgender Glossary of Terms”, ‘’GLAAD’’, USA, May 2010. Retrieved on 2011-03-01.
  7. ^ Deustch, F. M. (2007). Undoing gender. ‘’Gender and Society, 21,’’ 106-127.
  8. ^ Cahill, S. E. (1986). Childhood socialization as recruitment process: Some lessons from the study of gender development. In P. Alder and P. Alder. (Eds). ‘’Sociological studies of child development.’’ Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.
  9. ^ Fenstermaker, S. & West, C. (2002). ‘’Doing gender, doing difference: Inequality, power, and institutional change.’’ New York, NY; Routledge; p. 8
  10. ^ Butler, J. (1990). ‘’Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity.’’ New York; Routledge.
  11. ^ Franco-German TV Station ARTE, Karambolage, August 2004.
  12. ^ Brockhaus: Enzyklopädie der Psychologie, 2001.
  13. ^ Connell, Robert William: Gender and Power, Cambridge: University Press 1987.
  14. ^ Bem,S.L.(1981). Gender schema theory:A cognitive account of sex typing. Psychological Review,88,354–364
  15. ^ Yerkes Researchers Find Sex Differences in Monkey Toy Preferences Similar to Humans[dead link]
  16. ^ "Male monkeys prefer boys' toys". doi:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2008.03.008. Retrieved 2010-04-17. 
  17. ^ Box Office Mojo, LLC (1998). "Cross Dressing / Gender Bending Movies". Box Office Mojo, LLC. Retrieved 2006-11-08. 
  18. ^ The Human Rights Campaign (2004). "Transgender Basics". The Human Rights Campaign. Archived from the original on November 9, 2006. Retrieved 2006-11-08. 
  19. ^ Men hold the edge on gender gap odds' Oakland Tribune October 21, 2003
  20. ^ Facts for features: Valentine’s Day U.S. Census Bureau Report February 7, 2006
  21. ^ '40m Bachelors And No Women' The Guardian March 9, 2004
  22. ^ 'Polygamy Proposal for Chechen Men' BBC January 13, 2006
  23. ^ a b c d Wood, J. T. (1998). Gender Communication, and Culture. In Samovar, L. A., & Porter, R. E., Intercultural communication: A reader. Stamford, CT: Wadsworth.
  24. ^ Tannen, Deborah (1990) Sex, Lies and Conversation; Why Is It So Hard for Men and Women to Talk to Each Other? The Washington Post, June 24, 1990
  25. ^ Maltz, D., & Borker, R. (1982). A cultural approach to male-female miscommunication. In J. Gumperz (Ed.), Language and social identity (pp. 196-216). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  26. ^ Metts, S., Sprecher, S., & Regan, P. C. (1998). Communication and sexual desire. In P. A. Andersen & L. K. Guerrero (Eds.) Handbook of communication and emotion. (pp. 354-377). San Diego: Academic Press.
  27. ^ Perot and Byrne Murnen SK, Perot A, Byrne D. Coping with unwanted sexual activity: Normative responses, situational determinants, and individual differences. Journal of Sex Research. 1989;26(1):85–106.,
  28. ^ Perper, T., & Weis, D. L. (1987). Proceptive and rejective strategies of U.S. and Canadian college women. The Journal of Sex Research, 23, 455-480.
  29. ^ Kiger, Kiger; Riley, Pamela J. (July 1, 1996). "Gender differences in perceptions of household labor". The Journal of Psychology. Retrieved 2009-10-23. 
  30. ^ Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress (October 19, 2009). "The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything". Center for American Progress. Retrieved 2009-10-23. 
  31. ^ The New York Times."Old Gender Roles With Your Dinner?" Oct. 8, 2008.
  32. ^ Statistics Canada, Canadian Community Health Survey, Cycle 2.1. off-site links: Main survey page.
  33. ^ Pas de Deux of Sexuality Is Written in the Genes
  34. ^ According to John Money, in the case of androgen-induced transsexual status, "The clitoris becomes hypertrophied so as to become a penile clitoris with incomplete fusion and a urogenital sinus, or, if fusion is complete, a penis with urethra and an empty scrotum" (Gay, Straight, and In-Between, p. 31). At ovarian puberty, "menstruation through the penis" begins (op. cit., p. 32). In the case of the adrenogenital syndrome, hormonal treatment could bring about "breast growth and menstruation through the penis" (op. cit., p. 34). In one case an individual was born with a fully formed penis and empty scrotum. At the age of puberty that person's own physician provided treatment with cortisol. "His breasts developed and heralded the approach of first menstruation, through the penis".
  35. ^ C. André Christie-Mizell. The Effects of Traditional Family and Gender Ideology on Earnings: Race and Gender Differences. Journal of Family and Economic Issues 2006. Volume 27, Number 1 / April, 2006.
  36. ^ Chan, W. (2001). Women, Murder and Justice. Hampshire: Palgrave.
  37. ^ Hart, L. (1994). Fatal Women: Lesbian Sexuality and the Mark of Aggression. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  38. ^ Ballinger, A. (1996.) The Guilt of the Innocent and the Innocence of the Guilty: The Cases of Marie Fahmy and Ruth Ellis. In Wight, S. & Myers, A. (Eds.) No Angels: Women Who Commit Violence. London: Pandora.
  39. ^ Filetti, J. S. (2001). From Lizzie Borden to Lorena Bobbitt: Violent Women and Gendered Justice. Journal of American Culture, Vol.35, No. 3, pp.471–484.
  40. ^ a b John M. Coggeshall: The Best of Anthropology Today: ‘Ladies’ Behind Bars: A Liminal Gender as Cultural Mirror

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