Gender Roles Construction

The Social Construction of Gender Roles
Gender or sex roles are the expected patterns of behavior assumed to follow from a person’s sex. Gender roles are not natural. They are formed by and vary within society, culture, geographic location, politics and time. There is a strong relationship between the social construction of gender and compulsory heterosexuality. People are programmed into certain gender roles and social categories through socialization and interaction with others.
Expectations about appropriate gender role characteristics and sexual behavior have evolved throughout history, especially for women. In the 1700’s and 1800’s, the men’s role included earning an income to support a family and working in the farms, while the female’s role included the responsibility to have and to care for children, running a household and assisting a husband in farm labor. Running a household and caring for children was considered a “full-time” job. Children were taught their roles when they were very young. Boys were shown how to farm and provide for their future families’ as they attended school. Girls learned how to do the household chores and received only the very basic education. They were taught how to be wives and mothers. By the end of the 1800’s, higher education began to become available for women.
The Industrial era brought new developments for the sex roles. The male world expanded and men had the opportunity to take up new careers and the freedom to move around the country more conveniently. They were still the breadwinners and dominated the government, legal and medical agencies. Women’s roles during this time also changed but not as much as men’s. Their primary roles were still homemaker and child-care provider but some women entered the workforce in factories. They were paid considerably less than men and had the dual role of housewife.
In 1920, women won the right to vote and they were gradually moving into the male-dominated labor force, but gender roles were not changing much. Due to the World War II draft, many women entered the labor force and even helped run the country. Upon the return of the veterans, many women were forced back into their homes. However, the opportunities for women were broadening and some women began making careers for themselves outside of the home. The 1960’s saw many feminist movements and in 1963 the Equal Pay Act was passed by Congress which enticed more women to get out of the house and into better careers.
Men had difficulties accepting and adjusting to changes in women’s roles. They had to adjust to having women around them at their job sites and some felt that women were filling positions that an unemployed man should have been given. Men also felt that the traditional male role as provider was being threatened, so some men did not allow their wives to enter the labor force. Most men, however, have gradually accepted women in the career world. Today, men are even taking on roles that were once deemed ‘female’ like nursing, homemaking and teaching.
There are many social agents that cause the construction of gender roles. Parents and family are important socialization agents in the gender role development of children. They have different values and attitudes regarding male and female children. Children come into the world with no sense of self. They can only learn who they are through communication and are given a set of labels. Through interaction, children learn what is socially acceptable. From birth, boys and girls are socialized differently. Boys are dressed in blue, given toys such as trucks, toy guns and tools to play with and are taught that “big boys” don’t cry. Girls are socialized to wear pink, play with Barbie dolls and toys that represent household duties, wear dresses and we tell them to be careful not to “dirty” themselves. Girls learn their domestic role in the household by playing with these types of toys. Later in life, girls are taught to cook and clean and boys are taught to play sports and to fix things.
The school setting is another social agent. Schools often separate children. They line up separately, use different washrooms and play different sports. Even the fact that most teachers are females and most of the administration is male cause children to realize that