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Gender roles, both biologically predisposed and socially constructed, have evolved and continue to shape our society. In contemporary times, the roles assigned to males and females often appear distinct. Men are frequently expected to provide for their families and protect them, while women are often associated with caretaking, household chores, and maintaining an appealing appearance. This essay explores the origins of these gender roles, questioning whether they stem from biological determinism or if the media and societal expectations play a significant role in shaping them.
Early in life, we observe the emergence of gender-specific behaviors in children, suggesting that biology plays a role in shaping gender roles. For example, boys often gravitate toward toys such as action figures and dinosaurs, while girls tend to prefer dolls and playhouses. Deborah Blum discusses such early gender-related experiences in her article, "The Gender Blur," recounting how her oldest son engaged in imaginative play involving dinosaurs, which contrasts with girls who typically engage in nurturing activities (Blum 104).
These early experiences can influence individuals throughout their lives, suggesting a biological basis for certain gender-related behaviors. Men, for example, are often more prone to aggression than women. Marc Breedlove, a behavioral endocrinologist at the University of California, argues that while genetic predispositions exist, society amplifies and exaggerates these differences, with the exception of aggression, which he believes is inherently more pronounced in males (Blum 105).
Blum further explains that biological aggression in males contributes to a higher incidence of crimes committed by men.
In Europe and America, for every robbery committed by a woman, there are 10 to 15 committed by a man. Additionally, in domestic disputes, it is estimated that 75% of men use guns, compared to 50% of women (Blum 105). While aggression has negative consequences, it may also explain the assertiveness and drive that some men exhibit in the business world, as successful business owners often need to display a certain level of aggression.
The media and societal expectations also play a significant role in shaping and reinforcing gender roles. Gloria Steinem's article, "Sex, Lies, and Advertising," highlights how everyday imagery, such as women depicted cleaning the kitchen and smiling in catalogs, perpetuates stereotypes about women's roles in society. Steinem argues that these images influence our perception of gender roles, contributing to the reinforcement of traditional expectations (Steinem 59).
Moreover, women's magazines are often dismissed as lacking substance, whereas magazines like "muscle and fitness" and "General Motors" are taken more seriously. This disparity in the perceived value of publications underscores the unequal representation and treatment of women in media (Steinem 59).
Judy Brady's satirical article, "Why I Want a Wife," humorously describes the societal expectations placed on women. She facetiously states, "I would like to go back to school so that I can become economically independent, support myself, and, if need be, support those dependent on me. I want a wife who will work and send me to school. And while I am going to school, I want a wife to take care of my children…" (Brady 74). Brady's satire underscores the traditional roles assigned to women in society, which she perceives as burdensome.
However, it is essential to recognize that these perspectives are not universally shared. Dave Barry's article, "Guys vs. Men," humorously explores the distinctions between being a "guy" and being a "man." Barry notes that "guys" often gravitate toward complex mechanical interests and are drawn to gadgets. He humorously suggests that the existence of the space shuttle, a massive and complex piece of hardware, exemplifies the fascination with intricate machinery that many men share (Barry 113).
While Barry acknowledges certain stereotypical behaviors associated with men, he also pokes fun at them, arguing that these behaviors can lead to unfortunate consequences, such as violent crime, war, and even spitting (Barry 113).
The debate over whether gender behaviors are primarily determined by biology or shaped by societal influences remains ongoing and contentious. It is likely that a combination of both factors contributes to the development of gender roles.
Biological predispositions can certainly influence certain behaviors, such as aggression, which may explain differences in crime rates between men and women. However, societal expectations and media representations play a substantial role in reinforcing traditional gender roles, as observed in the perpetuation of stereotypes through advertising and catalog imagery.
Ultimately, the extent to which biology and society influence gender roles may vary from individual to individual. Some may conform to traditional roles, while others challenge and redefine them. It is important to recognize the complexity of this issue and avoid making blanket assumptions about gender-based behaviors.
The question of whether gender roles are determined by biological predisposition or social influence is a complex and multifaceted one. While biology undoubtedly plays a role in shaping certain behaviors, societal expectations and media representations significantly contribute to the reinforcement of traditional gender roles.
It is essential to acknowledge that individuals vary in their adherence to these roles, and many challenge and redefine them to align with their personal beliefs and values. As society continues to evolve, our understanding of gender roles should also evolve, recognizing that the interplay between biology and society is nuanced and dynamic.
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