Gender role

"Sex roles" redirects here. For the scientific journal, see Sex Roles (journal).
Gender symbols. The red is the female Venus symbol. The blue represents the male Mars symbol.

A gender role is a set of societal norms dictating the types of behaviors which are generally considered acceptable, appropriate, or desirable for people based on their actual or perceived sex or sexuality. Gender roles are usually centered on conceptions of femininity and masculinity, although there are exceptions and variations. The specifics regarding these gendered expectations may vary substantially among cultures, while other characteristics may be common throughout a range of cultures. There is ongoing debate as to what extent gender roles and their variations are biologically determined, and to what extent they are socially constructed.

Various groups, most notably the feminist movement, have led efforts to change aspects of prevailing gender roles that they believe are oppressive or inaccurate.

The term gender role was first coined by John Money in 1955, during the course of his study of intersex individuals, to describe the manners in which these individuals expressed their status as a male or female in a situation where no clear biological assignment existed.


The World Health Organization (WHO) defines gender roles as "socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women".[1] Debate continues as to what extent gender and its roles are socially constructed (i.e. non-biologically influenced), and to what extent "socially constructed" may be considered synonymous with "arbitrary" or "malleable".[2][3][4][5][6] Therefore, a concise authoritative definition of gender roles or gender itself is elusive.

Some systems of classification, unlike the WHO's, are non-binary or gender queer, allowing for more than two possible gender classifications.[7][8] Gender roles are culturally specific, and while most cultures distinguish only two (boy and girl or man and woman), others recognize more. Androgyny, for example, has been proposed as a third gender.[9] Other societies have claimed to see more than five genders,[10] and some non-Western societies have three genders – man, woman and third gender.[11] Some individuals (not necessarily being from such a culture) identify with no gender at all.[12]

It is important to note that many transgender people reject the idea that they are a separate third gender, and identify simply as men or women.[13] However, biological differences between (some) trans women and cisgender women have historically been treated as relevant in certain contexts, such as sport.[8]

Gender role - defined as referring in some sense to cultural expectations according to an understood gender classification - should not be confused with gender identity, the internal sense of one's own gender, which may or may not align with categories offered by societal norms. The point at which these internalized gender identities become externalized into a set of expectations is the genesis of a gender role.[14][15]

Because of the prevailing gender role of general subordination, women were not granted the right to vote in many parts of the world until the 19th or 20th centuries, some well into the 21st.[16] Women throughout the world, in myriad respects, do not enjoy full freedom and protection under the law (see Women's rights). Contrariwise because of the prevailing perception of men as primarily breadwinners, they are seldom afforded the benefit of paternity leave.[17]

However, for some individuals gender roles may provide a positive effect, and their absence may prove difficult: while gender roles may be used as deleterious gender stereotypes, they can offer a clear avenue to verify and structure socially accepted behavior. Additionally, holding the view of one's self as fulfilling prescribed gender roles has been correlated with increased self-esteem.[18] The flip side of this is that not holding that view can lead to lower self-esteem. As Kelsey Beckham, who self-identifies as gender neutral, phrased it:

"It just makes me feel separated from society, when we have to keep talking about it. It’s like — am I even human?...I mean, I know I’m not normal."[19]

Theories of the social construction of gender

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

Some theories - which are collectively termed social construction theories - claim that gender behavior is mostly due to social conventions, although opposing theories, such as some theories in evolutionary psychology, contest this.

Most children learn to categorize themselves by gender by the age of three.[20] From birth, children learn gender stereotypes and roles from their parents and environment. In a traditional view, males learn to manipulate their physical and social environment through physical strength or dexterity, while girls learn to present themselves as objects to be viewed.[21] Social constructionists claim for example that gender-segregated children's activities create the appearance that gender differences in behavior reflect an essential nature of male and female behavior.[22]

Gender 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."[23] According to Gilbert Herdt, gender roles arose from correspondent inference, meaning that general labour division was extended to gender roles.

Socially constructed gender roles are considered to be hierarchical, and are characterized as a male-advantaged gender hierarchy by social constructionists.[24] The term patriarchy, according to researcher Andrew Cherlin, defines "a social order based on the domination of women by men, especially in agricultural societies".[25]

According to Eagly et al., the consequences of gender roles and stereotypes are sex-typed social behavior [26] because roles and stereotypes are both socially shared descriptive norms and prescriptive norms.

Judith Butler,[27] 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.

Talcott Parsons' view

Working in the United States, Talcott Parsons[28] 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) with 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.[29] (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 structured positions become less a liberal-individualist society, and the actual behavior of individuals is usually somewhere between these poles. 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).

Geert Hofstede's views

In Greek mythology, Heracles is synonymous with Apollonian masculinity.

Geert Hofstede, a Dutch researcher and social psychologist who dedicated himself to the study of culture, sees culture as "broad patterns of thinking, feeling and acting" in a society[30] In Hofstede’s view, masculinity and femininity differ in the social roles that are associated with the biological fact of the existence of the two sexes: masculinity and femininity refer to the dominant sex role pattern in the vast majority of both traditional and modern societies, males being more assertive and females more nurturing.[31]

Femininity: "Femininity stands for a society in which social gender roles overlap: Both men and women are supposed to be modest, tender, and concerned with the quality of life."[32]

Masculinity: "Masculinity stands for a society in which social gender roles are clearly distinct: Men are supposed to be assertive, tough, and focused on material success; women are supposed to be more modest, tender, and concerned with the quality of life."[32]

Hofstede's Feminine and Masculine Culture Dimensions states:

Masculine cultures expect men to be assertive, ambitious and competitive, to strive for material success, and to respect whatever is big, strong, and fast. Masculine cultures expect women to serve and care for the non-material quality of life, for children and for the weak. Feminine cultures, on the other hand, define relatively overlapping social roles for the sexes, in which, in particular, men need not be ambitious or competitive but may go for a different quality of life than material success; men may respect whatever is small, weak, and slow.[33]

In feminine cultures, modesty and relations are important characteristics. This differs from in masculine cultures, where self-enhancement leads to self-esteem. Masculine cultures are individualistic, and feminine cultures are more collective because of the significance of personal relationships.

'The dominant values in a masculine society are achievement and success; the dominant values in a feminine society are caring for others and quality of life'.[34]

Albert Ellis' views

In the 1940s, Albert Ellis studied eighty-four cases of mixed births and concluded that 'while the power of the human sex drive may possibly be largely dependent on physiological factors... the direction of this drive does not seem to be directly dependent on constitutional element'. In the development of masculinity, femininity, and inclinations towards homosexuality or heterosexuality, nurture matters a great deal more than nature.[35]

John Money's views

"In the 1950s, John Money, along with colleagues took up the study of intersexuals, who, Money realized 'would provide invaluable material for the comparative study for bodily form and physiology, rearing, and psychosexual orientation'."[36] "Money and his colleagues used their own studies to state in the extreme what these days seems extraordinary for its complete denial of the notion of natural inclination."[36]

They concluded that gonads, hormones, and chromosomes did not automatically determine a child's gender role.[35] Among the many terms he coined was gender role which he defined in a seminal 1955 paper as "all those things that a person says or does to disclose himself or herself as having the status of boy or man, girl or woman."[37]

In recent years, the majority of Money's theories regarding the importance of socialization in the determination of gender have come under intense criticism, especially in connection with the false reporting of success in the "John/Joan" case, later revealed to be David Reimer.[38][39][40]

Candace West and Don H. Zimmerman's views

West and Zimmerman developed an interactionist perspective on gender beyond its construction as "roles." For them, gender is "the product of social doings of some sort...undertaken by men and women whose competence as members of society is hostage to its production".[41] They argue that the use of "role" to describe gender expectations conceals the production of gender through everyday activities. Furthermore, roles are situated identities, such as "nurse" and "student," developed as the situation demands while gender is a master identity with no specific site or organizational context. For them, "conceptualizing gender as a role makes it difficult to assess its influence on other roles and reduces its explanatory usefulness in discussions of power and inequality".[41] West and Zimmerman consider gender an individual production that reflects and constructs interactional and institutional gender expectations.

Anthropology and evolution

From approximately 1700 through 1900 women served as soldiers for the kingdom of Dahomey, a slave-trading nation.

The idea that differences in gender roles originate in differences in biology has found support in parts of the scientific community but the attempts of 19th-century anthropologists to identify evolutionary explanations for gender difference by imagining the lives of paleolithic hunter-gatherer societies to explain the need to take care of offspring must limited females' ability to take an active role (hunting) denied them high status positions of power betrays both gender-bias and circular logic.

Because of 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.[42]

This view asserts that the relationship between gender and sex (presence of genitals/gonads) is not causally determinate. That is, that one may have the genitals of one sex while having the gender of another.[43] Maria Lugones observes that among the Yoruba people there was no concept of gender and no gender system whatsoever before colonialism.

She argues that colonial powers used a gender system as a tool for domination and fundamentally changing social relations among the indigenous.[44] However, there continues to be debate on the subject. Simon Baron-Cohen, a Cambridge University professor of psychology and psychiatry claims 'the female brain is predominantly "hard-wired" for empathy, while the male brain is predominantly "hard-wired" for understanding and building systems'.[45]

Several studies have been conducted in situations where a child was either raised believing that he or she was of opposite sex, or in conditions where the sex was changed using medical procedure at a young age:

One such study looked at female infants that suffered from adrenal hyperplasia, and who had excess male hormone release, but were thought to be females and raised as such by their parents. These girls expressed higher than normal masculine behavior.[46][47]

Another study looked at 18 male infants with a genetic disorder where their genitals are disformed so that their parents believed them to be girls. At adult age only one of these attempted to adapt a female role and express female behavioral patterns, but she was in psychiatric care because of gender-roles issues, all the others being stereotypically male.[48]

In a third study, 14 male children born with cloacal exstrophy and reassigned female at birth by gender change operations were looked at. Upon follow-up between the ages of 5 to 12, eight of them identified as boys, and all of the subjects had at least moderately male-typical attitudes and interests.[49]

Traditional Adyghe male and female clothing

Dr. Sandra Lipsitz Bem is a psychologist who developed the gender schema theory, based on the combination of aspects of the social learning theory and the cognitive-development theory of sex role acquisition, to explain how individuals come to use gender as an organizing category in all aspects of their life. In 1971, she created the Bem Sex-Role Inventory to measure how well an individual conformed to a traditional gender role, characterizing those tested as having masculine, feminine, androgynous, or undifferentiated personality. She believed that through gender-schematic processing, a person spontaneously sorts attributes and behaviors into masculine and feminine categories, and that therefore individuals processes information and regulate their behavior based on whatever definitions of femininity and masculinity their culture provides.[50]

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.[51][52]

While there are differences in average capabilities of various kinds (E.g. better average balance and endurance in females or greater average physical size in males) between the sexes, the capabilities of some members of one sex will fall within the range of capabilities needed for tasks conventionally assigned to the other sex.

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.[53] Study co-author Kim Wallen has, however, warned against overinterpeting the results as the color and size of the toys may also have been factors.[54]


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[55] 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.'

There are huge areal differences in attitudes towards appropriate gender roles. In the World Values Survey, responders were asked if they thought that wage work should be restricted to only men in the case of shortage in jobs: in Iceland the proportion that agreed with the proposition was 3.6%; while in Egypt it was 94.9%.[56]

Attitudes have also varied historically, for example, in Europe, during the Middle Ages, women were commonly associated with roles related to medicine and healing.[57] Because of the rise of witch-hunts across Europe and the institutionalization of medicine, these roles became exclusively associated with men[57] but in the last few decades these roles have become largely gender-neutral in Western society.[58]

Vern Bullough stated that homosexual communities are generally more tolerant of switching gender roles.[59] For instance, someone with a masculine voice, a five o'clock shadow (or a fuller beard), an Adam's apple, wearing a woman's dress and high heels, carrying a purse would most likely draw ridicule or other unfriendly attention in ordinary social contexts.[60][61][62]

Because the dominant class sees this form of gender expression as unacceptable, inappropriate, or perhaps threatening, these individuals are significantly more likely to experience discrimination and harassment both in their personal lives and from their employer.[63]

Gender roles may be a means through which one expresses their gender identity, but they may also be employed as a means of exerting social control, and individuals may experience negative social consequences for violating them.[64]


Main article: Gender and religion

Different religious and cultural groups within one country may have different norms that they attempt to "police" within their own group, including gender norms.


Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery
Hermitage Museum, Russia.

I Corinthians, 11:14 and 15 indicates that it is inappropriate for a man to wear his hair long, and good for a woman to wear her hair long.

The roles of women in Christianity can vary considerably today as they have varied historically since the first century New Testament church. This is especially true in marriage and in formal ministry positions within certain Christian denominations, churches, and parachurch organizations.

Many leadership roles in the organized church have been restricted to males. In the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, only men may serve as priests or deacons; only males serve in senior leadership positions such as pope, patriarch, and bishop. Women may serve as abbesses. Most mainstream Protestant denominations are beginning to relax their longstanding constraints on ordaining women to be ministers, though some large groups are tightening their constraints in reaction. Charismatic and Pentecostal churches have embraced the ordination of women since their founding.

Christian traditions that officially recognize saints as persons of exceptional holiness of life do list women in that group. Most prominent is Mary, mother of Jesus who is highly revered throughout Christianity, particularly in Roman Catholicism where she is considered the "Mother of God". Women prominent in Christianity have included contemporaries of Jesus, subsequent theologians, abbesses, mystics, doctors of the church, founders of religious orders, military leaders, monarchs and martyrs, evidencing the variety of roles played by women within the life of Christianity. Paul the Apostle held women in high regard and worthy of prominent positions in the church, though he was careful not to encourage disregard for the New Testament household codes, also known as New Testament Domestic Codes or Haustafelen, of Greco-Roman law in the first century.


In the United Arab Emirates, non-Muslim Western women can wear crop tops, whereas Muslim women are expected to dress much more modestly, due to the injunction on women in Islam to dress modestly at all times when in public. In some Muslim countries, these differences are sometimes even codified in law.

In some Muslim-majority countries, however, even non-Muslim women are expected to follow Muslim female gender norms and Islamic law to a certain extent, such as by covering their hair. This norm may sometimes be objected to by women visiting from other countries - but they may nevertheless decide to comply on pragmatic grounds, in the interests of their own safety. For example, in Egypt, women who do not dress "modestly" - whether they are Muslims or not - may be perceived to be akin to prostitutes by men.

Muhammad described the high status of mothers in both of the major hadith Collections (Bukhari and Muslim). One famous account is:

"A man asked the Prophet: 'Whom should I honor most?' The Prophet replied: 'Your mother'. 'And who comes next?' asked the man. The Prophet replied: 'Your mother'. 'And who comes next?' asked the man. The Prophet replied: 'Your mother!'. 'And who comes next?' asked the man. The Prophet replied: 'Your father'"
In Muslim culture, women are seen as equal to men, but the degree to which that is honored is largely cultural. While some cultures encourage men and women to take on the same roles, others promote a more traditional, less dominant role for the women.[65]


Hindu deities are more ambiguously gendered than deities of other world religions, such as Christianity, Islam, and others. This informs female and males relations, and informs how the differences between males and females are understood[66]

However, in a religious cosmology like Hinduism, which prominently features female and androgynous deities, some gender transgression is allowed. This group is known as the hijras, and has a long tradition of performing in important rituals, such as the birth of sons and weddings. Despite this allowance for transgression, Hindu cultural traditions portray women in contradictory ways. On one hand, women’s fertility is given great value, and on the other, female sexuality is depicted as potentially dangerous and destructive.[67]

Studies on marriage in the U.S.

See also: Marriage

Marriage is an institution that influences gender roles, inequality, and change.[68] In the United States, gender roles are communicated. by the media, social interaction, and language. Through these platforms society has influenced individuals to fulfill the stereotypical gender roles within a heterosexual marriage starting out at a young age. Although traditionally, society claims that roles within a heterosexual marriage should be decided based on one’s biological sex, today individuals are determining their own roles for themselves, ultimately creating equal partnerships.

Communication of Gender Roles in the United States

In the U.S., marriage roles are generally decided based on gender. For approximately the past seven decades, heterosexual marriage roles have been defined for men and women based on society’s expectations and the influence of the media.[69] Men and women are typically associated with certain social roles dependent upon the personality traits associated with those roles.[70] Traditionally, the role of the homemaker is associated with a woman and the role of a breadwinner is associated with a male. Typically, women are concerned with caring for the family and the home while men are typically providing for the family. This ultimately portrays the man as a leader and the woman as the follower.[70]

In the U.S., single men are outnumbered by single women at a ratio of 100 single women to 86 single men,[71] though never-married men over the age of 15 outnumber women by a 5:4 ratio (33.9% to 27.3%) according to the 2006 U.S. Census American Community Survey. The results are varied between age groups, with 118 single men per 100 single women in their 20s, versus 33 single men to 100 single women over 65.[72]

The numbers also vary between countries. For example, China has many more young men than young women, and this disparity is expected to increase.[73] In regions with recent conflict such as Chechnya, women greatly outnumber men.[74]

In a cross-cultural study by David Buss, men and women were asked to rank the importance of certain traits 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.


In today’s society, people are generally unable to avoid exposure to most types of media. It seems inevitable for society to be influenced by the media and what it is portraying.[69] Roles are gendered, meaning that both males and females are viewed and treated differently according to their biological sex, and because gendered roles are learned, the media has a direct impact on individuals. Thinking about the way in which couples act on romantic television shows or movies and the way women are portrayed as passive in magazine ads, reveals a lot about how gender roles are viewed in society and in heterosexual marriages.[69] Traditional gendered roles view the man as a “pro-creator, a protector, and a provider,” and the woman as “pretty and polite but not too aggressive, not too outspoken and not too smart.” [75] Media aids in society conforming to these traditional gendered views. People learn through imitation and social-interaction both in the physical world and through the media; television, magazines, advertisements, newspapers, the internet, etc.[75]

Social Interaction

Gendered roles in heterosexual marriages are learned through imitation. People learn what society views as appropriate gender behaviors from imitating the repetition of actions by one’s role-model or parent of the same biological sex.[75] Imitation in the physical world that impacts one’s gendered roles often comes from role-modeling parents, peers, teachers, and other significant figures in one’s life. In a marriage, oftentimes each person’s gendered roles are determined by their parents. If the wife grew up imitating the actions of traditional parents, and the husband non-traditional parents, their views on marital roles would be different.[75] One way people can acquire these stereotypical roles through a reward and punishment system. When a little girl imitates her mother by performing the traditional domestic duties she is often rewarded by being told she is doing a good job. Non traditionally, if a little boy was performing the same tasks he would more likely be punished due to acting feminine.[75] Because society holds these expected roles for men and women within a marriage, it creates a mold for children to follow.[76]

Changing Gender Roles in Marriage

Over the years, gender roles have continued to change and have a significant impact on the institution of marriage. Gender roles can be defined as the behaviors, values, and attitudes that a society considers appropriate for both male and female.[68] Motivated by the Women's Rights Movement and various other movements gender roles have begun to change, resulting in the changing economic landscape, women entering the workplace and many more. Traditionally, men and women had completely opposing roles, men were seen as the provider for the family and women were seen as the caretakers of both the home and the family.[68] However, in today’s society the division of roles are starting to blur. More and more individuals are adapting non-traditional gender roles into their marriage in order to share responsibilities. This revolutionary view on gender roles seeks out equality between sexes. In today’s society it is more likely that a man and woman are both providers for their family. More and more women are entering the workforce while more men are contributing to household duties.[68] Despite the fact that there is still a gap between gender roles, today, roles are less gendered and more equal in comparison to how they were traditionally.

Changing roles

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.

Throughout history spouses have been charged with certain societal functions.[77] With the rise of the New World came the expected roles that each spouse was to carry out specifically. Husbands were typically working farmers - the providers. Wives typically cared for the home and the children. However, the roles are now changing, and even reversing.[78]

Societies can change such that the gender roles rapidly change. The 21st century has seen a shift in gender roles due to multiple factors such as new family structures, education, media, and several others. A 2003 survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that about 1/3 of wives earn more than their husbands.[79]

With the importance of education emphasized nationwide, and the access of college degrees (online, for example), women have begun furthering their education. Family structures are changing, and the number of single-mother or single-father households is increasing. Fathers are also becoming more involved with raising their children, instead of the responsibility resting solely with the mother.

According to the Pew Research Center, the number of stay-at-home fathers in the US nearly doubled in the period from 1989 to 2012, from 1.1 million to 2.0 million.[80] This trend appears to be mirrored in a number of countries including the UK, Canada and Sweden.[81][82][83] However, Pew also found that, at least in the US, public opinion in general appears to show a substantial bias toward favoring a mother as a care-taker versus a father, regardless of any shift in actual roles each plays.[84]

Gender equality allows gender roles to become less distinct and according to Donnalyn Pompper, is the reason "men no longer own breadwinning identities and, like women, their bodies are objectified in mass media images."[85] The LGBT rights movement has played a role increasing pro-gay attitudes, which according to Brian McNair, are expressed by many metrosexual men.[86]

East vs. west

See also: Gender Studies

According to Professor Lei Chang, gender attitudes within the domains of work and domestic roles can be measured using a cross-cultural gender role attitudes test. Psychological processes of the East have historically been analysed using Western models (or instruments) that have been 'translated', which, potentially, is a more far-reaching process than linguistic translation. Some North American instruments for assessing gender role attitudes include:

Through such tests, it is known that American Southerners exhibit less egalitarian gender views than their northern counterparts, demonstrating that gender views are inevitably affected by an individual's culture, and may differ among compatriots whose 'cultures' are a few hundred miles apart.[87]

Although existing studies have generally focused on gender views or attitudes that are work-related, there has so far not been a study on specific domestic roles. Supporting Hofstede's 1980 findings, that "high masculinity cultures are associated with low percentages of women holding professional and technical employment", test values for work-related egalitarianism were lower for Chinese than for Americans.[88] This is supported by the proportion of women that held professional jobs in China (far less than that of America), the data clearly indicating the limitations on opportunities open to women in contemporary Eastern society. In contrast, there was no difference between the viewpoint of Chinese and Americans regarding domestic gender roles.

A study by Richard Bagozzi, Nancy Wong and Youjae Yi, examines the interaction between culture and gender that produces distinct patterns of association between positive and negative emotions.[89] The United States was considered a more 'independence-based culture', while China was considered 'interdependence-based'. In the US people tend to experience emotions in terms of opposition whereas in China, they do so in dialectical terms (i.e., those of logical argumentation and contradictory forces). The study continued with sets of psychological tests among university students in Beijing and in Michigan. The fundamental goals of the research were to show that "gender differences in emotions are adaptive for the differing roles that males and females play in the culture". The evidence for differences in gender role was found during the socialization in work experiment, proving that "women are socialized to be more expressive of their feelings and to show this to a greater extent in facial expressions and gestures, as well as by verbal means".[89] The study extended to the biological characteristics of both gender groups — for a higher association between PA and NA hormones in memory for women, the cultural patterns became more evident for women than for men.


Gender communication is viewed as a form of intercultural communication, and gender is both an influence on and a product of communication.

Communication plays a large role in the process in which people become male or female because each gender is taught different linguistic practices.Gender is dictated by society through expectations of behavior and appearances, and then is shared from one person to another, by the process of communication.[90] For example, females are often more expressive and intuitive in their communication, while males tend to be instrumental and competitive. In addition, there are differences in accepted communication behaviors for males and females. To improve communication between genders, people who identify as either male or female must understand the differences between each gender.[91]

As found by Cara Tigue (McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada) the importance of powerful vocal delivery for women could not be underestimated, as famously described in accounts of Margaret Thatcher's years in power.)

Nonverbal communication

Hall published an observational study on nonverbal gender differences and discussed the cultural reasons for these differences.[92] In her study, she noted women smile and laugh more and have a better understanding of nonverbal cues. She believed women were encouraged to be more emotionally expressive in their language, causing them to be more developed in nonverbal communication.

Men, on the other hand, were taught to be less expressive, to suppress their emotions, and to be less nonverbally active in communication and more sporadic in their use of nonverbal cues. Most studies researching nonverbal communication described women as being more expressively and judgmentally accurate in nonverbal communication when it was linked to emotional expression; other nonverbal expressions were similar or the same for both genders.[93]

McQuiston and Morris also noted a major difference in men and women’s nonverbal communication. They found that men tend to show body language linked to dominance, like eye contact and interpersonal distance, more than women.[94]

Communication and gender cultures

Words, s, and topics most highly distinguishing English-speaking females and males in social media in 2013

According to Julia Wood, there are distinct communication 'cultures' for women and men in the US.[95] Wood believes that in addition to female and male communication cultures, there are also specific communication cultures for African Americans, older people, Indian Native Americans, gay men, lesbians, and people with disabilities. According to Wood, it is generally thought that biological sex is behind the distinct ways of communicating, but in reality the root is "gender".[96]

Maltz and Broker’s research suggested that the games children play may contribute to socializing children into masculine and feminine gender roles:[97] for example, girls being encouraged to play "house" may promotes stereotypically feminine traits, and may promote interpersonal relationships as playing house does not necessarily have fixed rules or objectives; boys tended to play more competitive and adversarial team sports with structured, predetermined goals and a range of confined strategies.

Communication and sexual desire

Mets, et al.[98] 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.[99]

This may be greatly affected by 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.[100] When feminine people employ tactics to show their sexual desire, they are typically more indirect in nature. On the other hand, it is known masculinity is associated with aggressive behavior in all mammals, and most likely explains at least part of the fact that masculine people are more likely to express their sexual interest. This is known as the Challenge hypothesis.

Various studies show different communication strategies with a feminine person refusing a masculine person's sexual interest. Some research, like that of Murnen,[101] 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[102] 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.

Gender stereotypes

An 1883 German illustration of children playing house

A 1992 study tested gender stereotypes and labeling within young children.[103]

The researchers divided this into two different studies, the first investigated how children identified the differences between gender labels of boys and girls, the second study looked at both gender labeling and stereotyping in the relationship of mother and child.

Within the first study, 23 children between the ages of 2 and 7 underwent a series of gender labelling and gender stereotyping tests consisting of showing the children either pictures of males and females or objects such as a hammer or a broom then identifying or labeling those to a certain gender. The results of these tests showed that children under 3 years could make gender-stereotypic associations.[103]

The second study looked at gender labelling and stereotyping in the relationship of mother and child using three separate methods. The first consisted of identifying gender labeling and stereotyping, essentially the same method as the first study. The second consisted of behavioral observations, which looked at ten-minute play sessions with mother and child using gender specific toys.

The third was a series of questionnaires such as an "Attitude Toward Women Scale", "Personal Attributes Questionnaire", and "Schaefer and Edgerton Scale" which looked at the family values of the mother.[103]

The results of these studies showed the same as the first study with regards to labelling and stereotyping.

They also identified in the second method that the mothers positive reactions and responses to same-sex or opposite-sex toys played a role in how children identified them. Within the third method the results found that the mothers of the children who passed the “Gender Labeling Test”, had more traditional family values. These two studies, conducted by Beverly I. Fagot, Mar D. Leinbach and Cherie O'Boyle, showed that gender stereotyping and labeling is acquired at a very young age, and that social interactions and associations play a large role in how genders are identified.[103]

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'[104] remade sixty years later by psychologist Carol Gilligan who used 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'. Gilligan countered this in her ground-breaking work, In a Different Voice, holding that maturity in women is shown in terms of different, but equally important, human values.[105]

Stereotype content model, adapted from Fiske et al. (2002): Four types of stereotypes resulting from combinations of perceived warmth and competence.[106]

Gender stereotypes are extremely common in society.[107][108] One of the reasons this may be is simply because it is easier on the brain to stereotype (see Heuristics).

The brain has limited perceptual and memory systems, so it categorizes information into fewer and simpler units which allows for more efficient information processing.[109] Gender stereotypes appear to have an effect at an early age. In one study, the effects of gender stereotypes on children's mathematical abilities were tested. In this study of American children between the ages of six and ten, it was found that the children, as early as the second grade, demonstrated the gender stereotype that mathematics is a 'boy's subject'. This may show that the mathematical self-belief is influenced before the age in which there are discernible differences in mathematical achievement.[110]

In another study of gender stereotypes it was found that parents' stereotypes interact with the sex of their child to directly influence the parents' beliefs about the child's abilities. In turn, parents' beliefs about their child directly influence their child's self-perceptions, and both the parents' stereotypes and the child's self-perceptions influence the child's performance.[111]

Stereotype threat is being at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one's group.[112] In the case of gender it is the implicit belief in gender stereotype that women perform worse than men in mathematics, which is proposed to lead to lower performance by women.[113]

A recent review article of stereotype threat research related to the relationship between gender and mathematical abilities concluded 'that although stereotype threat may affect some women, the existing state of knowledge does not support the current level of enthusiasm for this [as a] mechanism underlying the gender gap in mathematics'.[114]

In another study, Deaux and her colleagues found that most people think women are more nurturant, but less self-assertive than men. and that this belief is indicated universally, but that this awareness is related to women's role. To put it another way, women do not have an inherently nurturant personality, rather that a nurturing personality is acquired by whoever happens to be doing the housework.[115]

According to the study of Jean Lipman-Blumen, women who grew up following traditional gender roles from childhood were less likely to want to be highly educated while women brought up with the view that men and women are equal were more likely to want higher education.

This result indicates that gender roles that have been passed down traditionally can influence stereotypes about gender.[116][117]

Implicit gender stereotypes

A magazine feature from Beauty Parade from March 1952 stereotyping women drivers. It features Bettie Page as the model.

Gender stereotypes and roles can also be supported implicitly. Implicit stereotypes are the unconscious influence of attitudes a person may or may not be aware that they hold. A person is influenced by these attitudes even though they are not aware. Gender stereotypes can also be held in this manner.

These implicit stereotypes can often be demonstrated by the Implicit-association test (IAT).

One example of an implicit gender stereotype is that males are seen as better at mathematics than females. It has been found that men have stronger positive associations with mathematics than women, while women have stronger negative associations with mathematics and the more strongly a woman associated herself with the female gender identity, the more negative her association with mathematics.[118]

These associations have been disputed for their biological connection to gender and have been attributed to social forces that perpetuate stereotypes such as aforementioned stereotype that men are better at mathematics than women.[119]

This particular stereotype has been found in American children in as early as second grade.[110]

The same test with Singaporean children found that the strength of their mathematics-gender stereotype and their gender identity predicted the association between individuals and mathematical ability.[120]

It has been shown that this stereotype also reflects mathematical performance: a study was done on the worldwide scale and it was found that the strength of this mathematics-gender stereotype in varying countries correlates with 8th graders' scores on the TIMSS, a standardized math and science achievement test that is given worldwide. The results were controlled for general gender inequality and yet were still significant.[121]

Gender inequality online

An example of gender stereotypes assumes those of the male gender are more 'tech savvy' and happier working online, however, a study done by Hargittai & Shafer,[122] shows that many women also typically have lower self-perceived abilities when it comes to use of the World Wide Web and online navigation skills. Because this stereotype is so well known many women assume they lack such technical skills when in reality, the gap in technological skill level between men and women is significantly less than many women assume.

The concept of gender inequality is often perceived as something that is non-existent within the online community, because of the anonymity possible online. Remote or home-working greatly reduces the volume of information one individual gives another compared to face-to-face encounters,[123] providing fewer opportunities for unequal treatment but it seems real-world notions of power and privilege are being duplicated: people who choose to take up different identities (avatars) in the online world are (still) routinely discriminated against, evident in online gaming where users are able to create their own characters. This freedom allows the user to create characters and identities with a different appearance than their own in reality, essentially allowing them to create a new identity, confirming regardless of actual gender those who girls are treated differently because of their on-line gender identity.

In marked contrary to the traditional male-dominated stereotype a study shows that 52% of the gaming audience is made up of women[124] even if there appears to be a great preponderance of male gaming characters compared to female characters, possibly because of gender bias in game design: only 12% of game designers in Britain and 3% of all programmers are women.[124]

Despite the growing number of females who partake in online communities, and the anonymous space provided by the Internet issues such of gender inequality, the issue has simply been transplanted into the online world.

Politics and gender issues

Feminism and gender politics

Main article: Feminism
See also: Women's rights
Cmdr. Adrienne Simmons speaking at the 2008 ceremony for the only women's mosque in Khost City, a symbol of progress for growing women's rights in the Pashtun belt.

Throughout the 20th century women in the United States saw a dramatic shift in social and professional aspirations and norms. Following the Women’s Suffrage Movement of the late 19th century, which resulted in the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment allowing women to vote, and in combination with conflicts in Europe, WWI and WWII, women found themselves shifted into the industrial workforce. During this time, women were expected to take up industrial jobs and support the troops abroad through the means of domestic industry. Moving from “homemakers” and “caregivers”, women were now factory workers and “bread winners” for the family.

However, after the war, men returned to the States and women, again, saw a shift in social and professional dynamics. With the reuniting of the nuclear family, the ideals of American Suburbia boomed. Throughout the 1950s and '60s, middle-class families moved in droves from urban living into newly developed single-family homes on former farm land just outside major cities. Thus established what many modern critics describe as the “private sphere.”[125] Though frequently sold and idealized as “perfect living”,[126] many women had difficulty adjusting to the new “private sphere.” Writer Betty Friedan described this discontent as “the feminine mystique.” The “mystique” was derived from women equipped with the knowledge, skills, and aspirations of the workforce, the “public sphere”, who felt compelled whether socially or morally to devote themselves to the home and family.[127]

One major concern of Feminism is that women occupy lower-ranking job positions than men, and do most of the housekeeping work.[128] 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).[129]

Louise Weiss along with other Parisian suffragettes in 1935. The newspaper headline reads "The Frenchwoman Must Vote."

Another recent article in The New York Times indicates that young women today are closing the pay gap. Luisita Lopez Torregrosa has noted, "Women are ahead of men in education (last year, 55 percent of U.S. college graduates were female). And a study shows that in most U.S. cities, single, childless women under 30 are making an average of 8 percent more money than their male counterparts, with Atlanta and Miami in the lead at 20 percent.".[130] While this study concerned American cities, a global trend is developing, and has now been termed "the reverse gender gap."

Feminist theory generally defines gender as a social construct that includes ideologies governing feminine/masculine (female/male) appearances, actions, and behaviors. An example of these gender roles would be that males were supposed to be the educated breadwinners of the family, and occupiers of the public sphere whereas, the female’s duty was to be a homemaker, take care of her husband and children, and occupy the private sphere. According to contemporary gender role ideology, gender roles have been and still are constantly changing. This can be seen in Londa Schiebinger's Has Feminism Changed Science in which she states that, "Gendered characteristics - typically masculine or feminine behaviors, interests, or values-are not innate, nor are they arbitrary. They are formed by historical circumstances. They can also change with historical circumstances."[131]

One example of the contemporary definition of gender was depicted in Sally Shuttleworth’s Female Circulation in which the, “abasement of the woman, reducing her from an active participant in the labor market to the passive bodily existence to be controlled by male expertise is indicative of the ways in which the ideological deployment of gender roles operated to facilitate and sustain the changing structure of familial and market relations in Victorian England.”[132] In other words, this shows what it meant to grow up into the roles (gender roles) of a female in Victorian England, which transitioned from being a homemaker to being a working woman and then back to being passive and inferior to males. In conclusion, gender roles in the contemporary sex gender model are socially constructed, always changing, and do not really exist since, they are ideologies that society constructs in order for various benefits at various times in history.

Men's rights and gender politics

Main article: Men's rights movement
Protest in New Delhi for men's rights organized by the Save Indian Family Foundation.

The men's rights movement (MRM) is a part of the larger men's movement. It branched off from the men's liberation movement in the early 1970s. The men's rights movement is made up of a variety of groups and individuals who are concerned about what they consider to be issues of male disadvantage, discrimination and oppression.[133][134] The movement focuses on issues in numerous areas of society (including family law, parenting, reproduction, domestic violence) and government services (including education, compulsory military service, social safety nets, and health policies) that they believe discriminate against men.

Scholars consider the men's rights movement or parts of the movement to be a backlash to feminism.[135] The men's rights movement denies that men are privileged relative to women.[136] The movement is divided into two camps: those who consider men and women to be harmed equally by sexism, and those who view society as endorsing the degradation of men and upholding female privilege.[136]

Men's rights groups have called for male-focused governmental structures to address issues specific to men and boys including education, health, work and marriage.[137][138][139] Men's rights groups in India have called for the creation of a Men's Welfare Ministry and a National Commission for Men, as well as the abolition of the National Commission for Women.[137][140][141] In the United Kingdom, the creation of a Minister for Men analogous to the existing Minister for Women, have been proposed by David Amess, MP and Lord Northbourne, but were rejected by the government of Tony Blair.[138][142][143] In the United States, Warren Farrell heads a commission focused on the creation of a "White House Council on Boys and Men" as a counterpart to the "White House Council on Women and Girls" which was formed in March 2009.[139][144]

Related to this is the Father's Rights Movement, whose members seek social and political reforms that affect fathers and their children.[145] These individual contest that societal institutions such as family courts, and laws relating to child custody and child support payments, are gender biased in favor of mothers as the default caregiver. They therefore are systemically discriminatory against males regardless of their actual caregiving ability, because males are typically seen as the bread-winner, and females as the care-giver.[146]

Gender neutrality

Main article: Gender neutrality

Gender neutrality is the movement to end discrimination of gender altogether in society through means of gender neutral language, the end of sex segregation and other means.

Transgender and cross-dressing

Dr. Camille Cabral, a transgender activist at a demonstration for transgender people in Paris, October 1, 2005

Transgender is the state of one's gender identity or gender expression not matching one's assigned sex.[147] Transgender is independent of sexual orientation; transgender people may identify as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, etc.; some may consider conventional sexual orientation labels inadequate or inapplicable to them. The definition of transgender includes:

While people self-identify as transgender, the transgender identity umbrella includes sometimes-overlapping categories. These include transsexual; transvestite or cross-dresser; genderqueer; androgyne; and bigender.[151] Usually not included are transvestic fetishists (because it is considered to be a paraphilia rather than gender identification), and drag kings and drag queens, who are performers who cross-dress for the purpose of entertaining. In an interview, celebrity drag queen RuPaul talked about society's ambivalence to the differences in the people who embody these terms. "A friend of mine recently did the Oprah show about transgender youth", said RuPaul. "It was obvious that we, as a culture, have a hard time trying to understand the difference between a drag queen, transsexual, and a transgender, yet we find it very easy to know the difference between the American baseball league and the National baseball league, when they are both so similar."[152]

Sexual orientation

Generally, sexual orientation is broken into the three categories: heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual. However, some argue that sexual orientation is better defined as a continuum with those three categories represented.[153]

Sexual orientation is developed based on the three components of sexual identity, sexual behavior and sexual attraction [154] Each component is independent so no other conclusions can be drawn based on one another.

An active conflict over the cultural acceptability of non-heterosexuality rages worldwide.[155][156][157][158][159] The belief or assumption that heterosexual relationships and acts are "normal" is described as heterosexism or in queer theory, heteronormativity. Gender identity and sexual orientation are two separate aspects of individual identity, although they are often mistaken in the media.[160]

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, adopted effeminate mannerisms, and perhaps even dressed in women's clothing.[161] This assumption is flawed because 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.[162]

Cohabitating same-sex partners are typically egalitarian when they assign domestic chores.[163] Sometimes these couples assign traditional female responsibilities to one partner and traditional male responsibilities to the other. Same-sex domestic partners challenge traditional gender roles in their division of household responsibilities, and gender roles within homosexual relationships are flexible.[164] For instance, cleaning and cooking, traditionally regarded by many as both female responsibilities, might be assigned to different people. Carrington observed the daily home lives of 52 gay and lesbian couples and found that the length of the work week and level of earning power substantially affected the assignment of housework, regardless of gender or sexuality.[165][166]

Conchita Wurst, self described gay male and drag queen, winner of the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest

In many cultures, gender roles - at least for men - simultaneously act as an indicator for heterosexuality, and as a boundary of acceptable behavior for straight people - or in some cases, in cultures where homosexuality is illegal and/or taboo, all people. Therefore, lesbians, gay men and bisexual people may be viewed as exempt from some or all components of gender roles, or as having different "rules" they are expected to follow by society.

These modified "rules" for lesbian, gay and bisexual people may also be oppressive. Morgan examines the plight of homosexuals seeking asylum from homophobic persecution who have been turned away by US customs for "not being gay enough"; not conforming sufficiently to standard (Western) conceptions of the gender roles occupied by gays and lesbians.[167]

Conversely, heterosexual men and women who are not perceived as being sufficiently masculine or feminine, respectively, may be assumed to be, or suspected to be, homosexual, and persecuted for their perceived homosexuality.

Criminal justice

Main article: Gender and crime

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.[168][169][170][171] "...In terms of the social realities of justice in America, the experiences of diverse groups of people in society have contributed to the shaping of the types of criminals and victims that we have had. Like Andersen and Hill Collins (1998: 4) in their discussion of what they refer to as a 'matrix of domination,' we too conceive that class, race, and gender represent "multiple, interlocking levels of domination that stem from the societal configurations of these structural relationships. These patterned actions, in turn, affect [ing] individual consciousness, group interaction, and individual and group access to institutional power and privileges.'"[172] "Patterns of offending by men and by women are notable both for their similarities and for their differences. Both men and women are more heavily involved in minor property and substance abuse offenses than in serious crimes like robbery or murder. However, men offend at much higher rates than women for all crime categories except prostitution. This gender gap in crime is greatest for serious crime and least for mild forms of lawbreaking such as minor property crimes." [173]

Gender roles in family violence

The ‘Family Violence Framework’ applies gender dynamics to family violence.[174][175] “Families are constructed around relationships that involve obligations and responsibilities, but also status and power”.[176] According to Hattery and Smith, when “masculinity and femininity are constructed…to generate these rigid and narrow gender roles, it contributes to a culture of violence against women”[174] “People with more resources are more likely to be abusive towards those without resources”, meaning that the stronger, older people abuse their weaker, younger family members to exert their powerful roles.[176] However, the fight for power and equality remains – “Intimate partner violence in same-sex couples reveals that the rates are similar to those in the heterosexual community”.[177]

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