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Culture refers to the beliefs, norms, practices, and values that members of a certain group or a society upholds and share. The culture is very important in giving a group an identity that distinguishes it from the rest of the groups as well as portraying the group as unique. These beliefs and values are so deeply held that it is not possible to change them. Therefore cultural change is very difficult and culture always has an influence on the conduct of individuals within the group that uphold that culture. Certain social groups, communities, religions and races associate some behavioral practices with being a male or female.
Gender can be defined as the qualities that distinguish the male and the female members of the society. Though the term ‘gender’ is sometimes used interchangeably with the term ‘Sex’, the two terms differ slightly in their meanings. While the biological sex refers to the state of being a male or female, gender, on the other hand, refers to the social characteristics that distinguish the males from the females. However, the differences in gender roles sometimes originate from the differences in the sex and sexual orientations. A person’s gender is either masculine or feminine. Gender roles therefore refer to the socially accepted behaviors or norms that associate a person to either the masculine or the feminine gender. These gender roles comprise of various aspects for instance dressing manner, eating habits, career choice, among other lifestyle aspects.
The behavior of an individual is determined by the culture he subscribes to and his individual characteristics which may be either acquired during the life of that person or inherited from the parents. Since the cultures that people subscribe to remain unchanged over a fairly long period of time, a person’s behavior is, by a large extent, shaped by these cultures. Cultures can be used to make certain behaviors legitimate as well as declare some behaviors to be morally wrong.
Every society wishes to impart proper behaviors in its members through a process known as socialization. Learning the right behaviors by a child is not difficult since the child has to be made aware of what is expected from him right from an early age. Sometimes the child is coerced to behave in the right manner. For the adults, one is expected to adapt to the expectations of the culture and act according to what is believed to be the right behavior. It is expected that once a person has accepted to conform to the societal accepted behaviors, he assumes some responsibilities which are imposed by that society. These responsibilities require that a person either does or refrains from doing some activities. The career choices that a person makes and the kind of lifestyle the person leads are all determined by the culture. (Lee, J., 2005)
The appropriateness of a gender role varies with the culture. For instance, in some western cultures, homosexuality and lesbianism is a practice that has gained wide acceptance over time. In other cultures, anybody who attempts to practice homosexuality or lesbianism would be considered as having gone against the culture. Similarly, some cultures also expect some jobs to be performed by the males or the females only. For instance in most of the cultures, midwives are predominantly women, secretaries and nurses are females while the physicians are males. Therefore, the extent to which a person can be said to be performing a role that is consistent with what is expected of him is only defined by the culture that the person belongs to.
If not properly checked and if affirmative action is not introduced, cultures could result to serious discrimination when hiring the staffs. The jobs that are considered to be for the males are generally well paying than those the females are expected to perform. Males are expected to work long hours and use more of their strength, mental or physical. On the other hand, the females are expected to perform less demanding jobs such as housework or caring for the elderly. This cultural expectation could lead to wage disparities even when the work performed is essentially the same. To correct this situation, affirmative action should be encouraged so that discrimination when hiring staff is averted and it is done based on merit rather then one’s gender. (MacCormack, Carol P. & Strathern, 1980)
Studies have shown that the differences in gender roles are deeply rooted on the biological differences. For instance, there are fewer females who are enrolled in the army because most females are expected to cater for the young ones in the society. Similarly, males dominate the leadership positions in almost all countries in the world. Nevertheless, there is an emerging trend in which male and females share occupations, roles and responsibilities at their workplaces. This trend is perhaps proving wrong, the theorists who believe that the biological sex has an influence on the gender roles. Even in the fields that were previously dominated by the males, more females are now joining in. A case in point is that of the
These changing gender roles are influenced by, among others, campaigns and lobby groups that seek to have equality among male and females. The women are vigorously campaigning for equal rights and for radical change in both culture and law. Women are campaigning against domestic violence, rape and seek to have access to contraceptives. These campaigns are instrumental in changing the laws that contribute to an oppressive culture. Since the changes in cultures are determined by the events that are happening around for instance the natural events as well as the political events, the lobby groups are slowly changing the gender roles. Traditionally, the men were expected to portray themselves as people, who could withstand emotional disturbances and were not expected to show their emotions. However, the today’s man can show his emotional responses. (Pedersen, P., 2002).
Some people are born and brought up in a certain sex but they feel they belong to the opposite sex. Others choose to become homosexuals or lesbians. As a result, homosexuals can now perform the same gender roles as the females. For the gays, one of the partners assumes a feminine role, wear clothing that are more feminine and have jewelry or perform the housework. The same case applies to the lesbians where one of the partners, though a female, takes on masculine roles in the union. The partner who assumes the masculine role wears clothing that is more masculine, for instance t shirts or a pair of trousers.
In a case where the gender role played by a person is inconsistent with the person’s sex, this becomes an unusual happening and draws a lot of attention among the members of the society. Though some gender roles are considered as being feminine, it would not be a matter of much debate if such roles were played by a male. However, some gender roles are considered as being strictly feminine and a big attention would be drawn if a male decided to engage in those gender roles.
This is a trend that proves that the gender roles are not determined by a person’s sex. These emerging trends and behaviors are slowly changing the gender roles in the society. The manner of dressing has also changed considerably over the years. For instance, women are now wearing trousers which were traditionally considered to be men’s attire. The males are also wearing earrings as well as plaiting their hair like the women.
Gender roles within the prisons take a turn like that of homosexual or lesbian relationships. The prisoners find themselves being forced to take up female roles in case of males or male roles in case of females. Since the prisons are such that the inmates are never allowed to meet their sexual partners, they turn into homosexuality or lesbianism to satisfy their sexual desires. The males enter into homosexuality either through coercion or voluntarily. The less physically prisoners often find themselves taking up roles they do not like but the circumstances force them to do so. For instance, the prisoners may take the female roles in exchange of a few favors like protection or a few items like the soaps. In conclusion, it can be said that the culture that one subscribes to have a bearing on the kind of behaviors that are expected from that person by the society.