Gender roles in Marriage and Family Essay

Gender roles in Marriage and Family

I. Introduction

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            The family is the first and the most fundamental unit of society. It is made up of the father, mother, children, and relatives. The family is a necessary society which is derived from natural law. It springs from conjugal love between husband and wife and is sustained by in its efforts towards its objective.

            Aristotle regards the family as prior to the State. On the other hand, marriage is not the pleasure of marital sex. The end of nature is not pleasure. But pleasure is an incentive for spouses to embark on the most difficult task of building a home for the child.

            Moreover, from birth until death, human feelings, thoughts, and actions reflect social definitions of the sexes. Children quickly learn that their society defines females and males as different kinds of human beings and, by about the age of three or four, they begin to apply gender standards to themselves (Kolhberg, 2000).

            Gender is at work in our society’s expectations for us as well as our aspirations for ourselves. We can see how different these visions are for the two sexes by noting that “becoming a man,” by contrast, is more likely to mean taking on significant responsibility (Wolf, 2002).

            People in the United States traditionally have used to define females and males. Consider the overall pattern: Not only do we distinguish between the two sexes; we define them in opposing terms. Polarizing humanity in terms of gender is still widespread in this country, despite the fact that research suggests that most young people do not develop consistently “feminine” or “masculine” personalities (L. Bernard, 1999).

            Just as socialization incorporates gender into personal identity, so it teaches us to act in sex-linked ways. Gender roles (or sex roles) are attitudes and activities that a culture links to each sex. Gender roles are the active expression if gender identity. In other words, insofar as our culture defines males as ambitious and competitive, we expect them to engage in team sports and aspire to positions of leadership. To the extent that females are defined as deferential and emotional, we expect them to be good listeners and supportive observers.

II. Discussion

A. Gender and the Family

            The first question people usually ask about a newborn—“Is it a boy or a girl?”—looms so large because the answer involves far more than the infant’s sex; it carries a great significance for the child’s entire life. Sociologist Jessie Bernard (1999), introduced in the box, suggests that the “pink world” of females contrasts sharply with the “blue world” of boys. In fact, the historical preference for boys among parents’ shows that gender is at work even before a child is born (Lengermann & Wallace, 2000).

            In global perspective, the preference for boys is greater where patriarchy is more pronounced. Generally speaking, such societies are poor and face enormous population pressure. All too often patriarchy and poverty add up to female infanticide, the practice of aborting female fetuses and neglecting, or even actively killing, infant girls by parents who would prefer raise boys. In North Africa and in most of Asia, life-threatening discrimination against females is commonplace. Researchers know that, assuming equal social treatment, a society should have about 106 females for every 100 males—a disparity that reflects the generally hardier physical condition of females. The People’s Republic of China, however, tallies only 94 females for every 100 males; roughly 12 percent of the females we would expect to find are not in the records. Some of this shortfall may be due to parents not reporting the birth of daughters. But much of the disparity surely results from selective abortion or violence by families against daughters. Worldwide, researchers estimate, as many as 100 females are “missing,” and many presumably have fallen to deadly discrimination.

B. Cultural Variations in Gender Roles

            Around the world, men predominate in fighting wars and hunting, women in caring for infants. Yet different societies socialize children for varying gender roles. In nomadic societies of food-gathering people, there is little division of labor by sex. Thus, boys and girls receive much the same upbringing. It agricultural societies, women stay close to home, in the fields and with the children; men roam more freely. Such societies typically socialize children into more distinct gender roles (Segall & others, 2000).

            Men and women who assume distinct roles develop skills and attitudes that help their differing social behaviors (Eagly & Wood, 2001). Roles vary enormously among the industrialized countries. In North America, medicine and dentistry are predominantly male occupations; in Russia, most medical doctors are women, as most dentists in Denmark. Socialization practices vary just as widely. In countries around the world, girls spend more time than boys helping with housework and child care; boys spend more time in unsupervised play (Edwards, 2001). In rural central India, for example, girls spend two-thirds of their time doing household work, including a daily hour and a half fetching water; boys spend two-thirds of their time in leisure. In Israel, Arab adolescents favor more distinct gender roles than do Jewish adolescents, thus anticipating the adult Arab world’s more distinct norms for male and female behavior (Seginer & others, 2000). Similarly, compared with American 14-years-olds, Mexico City youth have more strongly gender-typed ideals.

C. Variations in gender Roles over time

            Gender roles vary over time as well as across cultures. In 1999, only 1 in 5 Americans approved of “a married woman earning money in business or industry if she has a husband capable of supporting her”; by 2001, 4 in 5 approved. In the flick of an apron, the number of American college women hoping to be fulltime homemakers plunged during the late 1990s and early 2000.

            The change is behavioral as well. The number of women earning education degrees fell sharply. Moreover, between 1996 and 2002, the proportion of American women in the work force increased from 1 in 3 to nearly 3 in 5. Over the same period, these trends contributed to a 7-fold increase in the number of female doctors and a 24-fold increase in the numbers of female lawyers and engineers (Wallis, 1999).

III. Conclusion

            Should distinct gender roles be preserved? Psychologist Sandra Bem (1999) answers no: “Human behaviors and personality attributes should no longer be linked with gender.” If this requires imposing one’s egalitarian values on one’s children, then so be it, says Bem. Parents who have deep social, political, or religious convictions need not be timid about transmitting their convictions to their children. If the children don’t absorb ideology and values at home, they will absorb them elsewhere. To raise children who are less gender-typed, Bem suggests making gender irrelevant to cooking, dishwashing, and toys. Give boys and girls the same privileges and responsibilities and teach them to recognize subtle sex stereo-typing and discrimination.


Kolhberg, Lawrence. The Psychology of Moral development: the Nature and Validity of Moral Stages. New York: Harper & Row, 2000.
Wolf, Naomi. The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are used Against Women. New York: William Morrow, 2002.
Bernard, Larry Craig. “Multivariate Analysis of new Sex Role Formulations and personality.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol. 38, No. 2 (February, 1999): 323-36.
Bernard, Jessie. The Female World. New York: Free Press, 1999.—.The Future of Marriage. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University press, 2000; rig 1998.
Lengermann, Patricia Madoo & Wallace, Ruth. Gender in America: Social Control and Social Change. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2000.
Segall, M.H.  & others, 2000. Human Behavior in global perspective: An Introduction to cross-cultural psychology. New York: Pergamon. (pp. 70, 488, 492, 498).
Eagly, A.H. & Wood, W., 2001. Explaining sex differences in social behavior: A meta-analytic perspective. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 17, 306-315.
Edwards, C.P. 2001. The comparative study of development of moral judgment and reasoning. In R.H. Munroe, R.L. Munroe, & B.B. Whiting (Eds.), Handbook of cross-cultural human development. New York: garland Press. (p.81).
Seginer & others, 2000. Adolescents’ Attitudes toward women’s roles. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 14, 119-133.
Wallis, C. 1999. Onward women! Time, pp. 80-89.
Bem, Sandra (1999). Masculinity and femininity exist only in the mind of the perceiver. In J.M. Reinisch, L.A. Rosenblum, & S.A. Sanders (Eds.), Masculinity/Femininity: Basic perspectives. New York: Oxford University Press. (pp. 490, 494).

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