Family, Religion, and Gender Perception
How are gender roles learned? Gender itself refers to the socially constructed attributions that a given society considers appropriate for men and women and the outward expressions of what society considers “masculine” or “feminine. ” In many ways, gender, in response to changing generational attitudes and societal norms and expectations, is neither innate nor necessarily stable. It can be defined by society and expressed by individuals as they interact with others and media, because whether an individual is born biologically male or female, they learn to act in masculine or feminine ways (Wood 2011).
Previous research has found that individuals form gender roles in many numerous and differing ways. This area of research on gender role socialization is important to the daily life of people living in the United States and worldwide. Gender role is constantly evolving throughout different generations of families and affects the way individuals gain success, raise their children, and even view themselves and their inherent worth as an individual.
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Previous research has suggested that familial structure and a family’s religious affiliation has a huge influence on gender role attitudes, whether it be a direct or indirect reinforcement of sex-based roles from religious teaching or differing styles of parenting across families (Carlson and Knoester 2011; Davis and Willis 2010; Leve and Fagot 1997; Marks, Lam, and McHale 2009; Piela 2010; Seguino 2011; Witt 1997; Wright and Young 1998).
Similarly, research has suggested that more fundamental religious beliefs lead to a more traditional view of gender roles involving men as breadwinners of the household and women responsible for domestic duties and as caregivers to their children (Civettini and Glass 2008; Piela 2010; Price 2008; Seguino 2011). More research notes that family discipline processes and gender-role socialization are generally hypothesized to differ between one- and two-parent families, between mothers and fathers, and between families with daughters and families with sons (Carlson and Knoester 2011; Davis and Willis 2010; Leve and Fagot 1997; Marks et. l. 2009; Witt 1997; Wright and Young 1998). Social scientists have also speculated that gender-role socialization processes differ in males and females significantly, with adult men are more likely to demonstrate gender-typed attitudes than adult women (Leve and Fagot 1997). This, along with other sources in this review, is a clear indication that gender research is undoubtedly complex, varies over time, and is very diverse in practice and use of theory.
The purpose of our research, however, is to understand the effect that religious affiliation and familial structure have on an individual’s perception of gender roles and gender role attitudes and the extent to which those factors have an impact. More specifically, how does an individual’s religious affiliation and their familial structure affect their perception on gender roles? Theory Research on gender socialization has been studied from numerous perspectives and theories that view the learning of gender roles in various ways.
Social learning theory emphasizes the importance of observational learning and claims that an individual learns to be either “masculine” or “feminine” primarily by imitating others’ behaviors and highlights parents’ roles as instructors, reinforcers, and models of gender role attitudes. Various sources have used social learning theory to explain why an individual learns gender roles differently than another person by questioning an individual’s environment and how gender is portrayed within that environment (Carlson and Knoester 2011; Davis and Willis 2010).
The issue of gender socialization has been researched in the past primarily from this perspective of social learning or socialization, which are the processes that teach a person the norms of their society. A socialization perspective contradicts a gender schema perspective, which emphasizes a child’s cognitive process of identification and comparison. This contradictory perspective looks at children as “producers of their own development” (Marks et. al. 2009). Socialization, in comparison, looks at individuals as products of their differing environments.
This perspective was very important in our research in determining how individuals develop gender identification and gender roles (Carlson and Knoester 2011; Davis and Willis 2010; Marks et. al. 2009; Witt 1997; Wright and Young 1998). Various sources also work from a family systems theory as a standpoint, which acknowledges that families are composed of interrelated subsystems that affect one another and that studying the impact of one subsystem without acknowledging the impact of another subsystem. This perspective predicts that family structure, parent ender, and child gender will each have a direct impact on family discipline and those effects may be mediated by gender role socialization (Leve and Fagot 1997; Marks et. al. 2009; Witt 1997; Carlson and Knoester 2011; Mandala, Murray, and Joyner 2005). This would also indicate that perception of gender roles in individuals will vary from one- and two-parent families and that behaviors learned first in the home will then be reinforced by an individual’s peers, school experience, and television viewing, but the most important socialization occurs within family setting (Witt 1997).
Similar hypotheses understand that children have less traditional gender attitudes with a single mother than those who have two parents and that children living in single-parent families tend to share more households chores with the single parent are respectively called the “Father-Absence Hypothesis” and the “Role-Restructuring Hypothesis” (Mandala et. al. 2005; Wright and Young 1998). Both showcase the idea that when a parent does not have a partner of the opposite sex, they must take on roles that are stereotypically atypical of their particular sex.
This would influence an individual’s gender role attitudes in that a parent would essentially be forced to perform a behavior or action that would differ from a traditional gender attitude. The “Father-Absence Hypothesis” in particular hypothesizes that the gender differences within father-present homes would be greater than those in father-absent homes (Mandala et. al. 2005; Wright and Young 1998).
Another perspective that examines gender role development is one that highlights the role of religious affiliation as an important factor in whether an individual develops “traditional” gender roles versus “egalitarian” views (Piela 2010; Read 2003; Seguino 2011). This perspective is firm in the belief that religion is important in promoting and maintaining subcultural differences in social attitudes, but there are factors, such as women’s unequal roles in Islam, in different religions that causes gender socialization to vary among people.
These are the theories and perspectives that characterize the relationship between the major concepts of family dynamic and gender socialization. Research Design and Methodology Previous research on the topic of gender development has been primarily based on quantitative studies, which rely on the measurement of stated variables and the relationship among variables using statistics. Many of the hypotheses were tested using data from already existing surveys and mailed-in surveys.
The numbers were used to find support for the theories used. There was one, however, that was qualitative in design. This particular study used discussions from an online chat room to find opinions on women’s roles in Islam. One other piece of literature was both quantitative and qualitative methods. Read (2003) used a mailed survey to gather data from a cluster sample of women. The survey questionnaire was given to a systematic random sample. One study used a cross analysis of data from the World Values Survey.
The researcher investigated to see if the institutions emphasized or highly valued norms such as heterosexual families and women as unpaid caretakers. This includes unfavorable views towards homosexuality and abortion because they “contradict the social roles prescribed for women (and by implication, delineate separate roles for men)” (Seguino 2011). Seguino (2011) also looked to see if people with higher positions of power within the institutions personally displayed unequal gender attitudes.
The World Values Survey was used by Anne Price in her study on Muslim influence of gender. Price looked at numbers from 36 countries to form her conclusion (2008). A study by Carlson and Knoester (2011) used the National Survey of Families and Households. The data the authors used for this study came from Waves 1 (1987-1988) and 2 (1992-1994) of this survey. From the original sample of 13,017 U. S. adults, those with children had a randomly selected “older focal child” who was also interviewed in Wave 2 when between the ages of 18 and 23 years.
Another survey was used by Wright and Young (1998). They tested the hypotheses by collecting from the 1993 General Social Survey, which is an annual cross-sectional survey that contains samples of American adults. Chosen participants had to be living with biological parents, father only, or mother only at the age of 16. To test the hypotheses and serve as control, 2 sets of independent variables were chosen, including family background and current demographics. Others variables come into place, such as family education, income, and race (Wright and Young 1998).
The National Survey of Families and Households was used again in the final quantitative article used in this review. The data come from the 1988 and 1993 waves of the NSFH. The NSFH presented all of the information needed for the study, which included “respondents’ religious upbringing, family history, employment history, gender ideology, marital and childbirth history, and current religious affiliation and relevant control variables such as age and region of residence” (Civettini and Glass 2008:178). The only qualitative study is authored by Piela.
She used information from online chat rooms with english speaking muslim women. Data were taken from an American server from 2001-2006 (Piela 2010). There was also one article that used both quantitative and qualitative research methods. Data were taken from mothers, fathers, first- and second-born adolescents from 358 white working and middle class US families through home and phone interviews (Marks et al. 2009). Sampling In the quest to fully understand how family structure and religious affiliation affects gender socialization, researchers have relied on a number of sampling techniques in order to gather data.
Secondary data sources such as the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH), General Social Survey (GSS), and the World Values Survey (WVS) offer researchers a feasible means to gather data from large populations that would otherwise be unattainable. For instance, in a study conducted by Civettini and Glass (2008), the researchers were able to attain information from 10,000 original respondents from the National Survey of Families and Households. The GSS was useful to a study for Wright and Young (1998) which utilized data from a cross-sectional survey.
The final secondary source used from our previous research was the World Values Survey which assisted Seguino (2011) in her study of 300,000+ respondents and Price (2008) in her study of 36 nations from the WVS. Large data surveys conducted over a period of time also provide access to data collected from longitudinal surveys that prove to be valuable sources of information when tracking child gender development. Participants and sample groups varied from source to source.
For instance, in a study that examined the role of a father in developing children’s gender roles, the participants in the study consisted of 106 15-year-old African American adolescents from various high schools in Southern California, their parents also participating in the study (Mandala et. al. 2005). Another source, in comparison, used 358 white working class families (Marks et. al. 2009). Two-parent families and single-parent families were examined in many other sources of our research (Carlson and Knoester 2011; Leve and Fagot 1997).
On the issue of how religious affiliation affects gender development, the samples for research focused mostly on Christian women and Arab American women to demonstrate how Christianity and Islam affect gender perception (Read 2003; Seguino 2011; Price 2008). Findings On the issue of gender role socialization in regard to familial structure and religious affiliation, findings vary, but some agreement exists on main concepts and findings. Research has found that gender role development is an interactive process with many components. In particular, the dynamics and strategies of parenting matter.
Research has shown that parents who either exhibit egalitarian attitudes or traditional attitudes affect and influence the family context and familial perception of gender roles (Davis and Willis 2010; Leve and Fagot 1997; Marks et. al. 2009; Wright and Young 1998). Traditional beliefs about the roles and duties of men and women understand women as the head of housework and child caretaking and men as the primary breadwinners for the family whereas egalitarian beliefs about the roles and duties of men and women stress equal division of housework, equal division of household responsibilities, and equal effort in caretaking of children.
A particular study conducted by Marks, Lam, and McHale (2009) found that family patterns of gender roles were linked to the sex constellation of the sibling dyad (the sexes of the children in the family) and that although nontraditional distribution of housework and father’s involvement with children promote egalitarian attitudes in children, high levels of father’s involvement with sons promote traditional gender roles. This is similar to studies that have found that in households where the mother is the primary breadwinner, families tend to have a more egalitarian attitude overall (Leve and Fagot 1997; Mandala et. l. 2005; Wright and Young 1998). In a similar study, it was found that girls and boys in father-absent homes have more similar gender roles than do those in father-present homes (Mandala et. al. 2005). A source authored by Witt (1997) found that there were numerous benefits in androgynous parenting styles (parents who do not conform to society’s version of gender roles), which promote children to have higher self-esteem and more fulfilling relationships. Previous research on the evelopment of perceptions of gender in relation to an individual’s religious affiliation is also varied in its findings. Generally, research has found that religious affiliation has a strong impact on gender role beliefs in that it leads to more traditional roles (Civettini and Glass 2008; Piela 2010; Read 2003; Seguino 2011). In one study, a positive relationship was found between religiosity and gender inequality, but no particular religion was found more inequitable than another (Seguino 2011).
Previous research has also found that within certain religions themselves, such as Islam or Christianity, there is a division of gender role attitudes amongst women and amongst men (Civettini and Glass 2008; Piela 2010; Price 2008; Read 2003). For instance Read (2003) found that Christian and Muslim women differed greatly in their gender role attitudes, because Muslim women held more traditional beliefs than their Christian counterparts. It was also found that Muslim women are twice as likely to believe in scriptural inerrancy, or the belief that scripture is essentially “free of errors” (Read 2003).
Similarly, in Anne Price’s research, it was found that the presence of Islam led to gender inequality with women subordinate to men both on an individual level and on a societal level (Price 2008). Furthermore, additional evidence was found stating that there is a division among Muslim women between egalitarians, holists and traditionalists on the topic of gender role attitudes and that their feelings on gender roles depended on their interpretation on religious texts (Piela 2010).
These aforementioned sources on religious affiliation show that in the religious community itself, there is great division on an individual’s perception of gender roles and that there are various ways that religious affiliation can affect a person’s gender development. It is important to note that much research on the topic of gender role development and gender identity has focused typically on middle class, white, two-parent families in the past.
We cannot necessarily generalize the research from middle-class, dual-parent households to predict family processes in other types of families, such as families with lower levels of socioeconomic status, single-parent families, or same-sex parent families. This is significant to the understanding that further research is needed to help understand how familial structure affects an individual’s perception of gender roles, however; these findings have many implications for future research.