Social and Cultural Values
When people are young, they learn about social and cultural values from their immediate environment. Most of the time, the values that have been inculcated in children play a bigger role in shaping who they develop to be than biological factors. It does not mean that biological factors do not have a significant role in shaping individuals. It simply means that the social and cultural environment of a person has a bigger influence on how he perceives the world around him as well as how he lives out his life. Children learn how to behave, and how their sex predicates their behaviors from the communities they live in. In fact, people acclimatize to gender roles when they are very young and pursue gender appropriate behaviors for the rest of their lives. The only biological factor that comes into play is the sex of the child, which will determine the role that the society will accord him throughout his life.
Social and Cultural Values
The purpose of this paper is to determine the effects of social and cultural values on how individuals from different backgrounds develop. The thesis of the paper is that social and cultural values play a bigger role in shaping individuals and their actions compared to biological factors. Societal conditioning seems to play a bigger role in the development of individuals than biological factors. The only biological factor that the society is concerned about is the sex of an individual. The sex will determine the role that the individual will play in the society. The roles are a code of social and cultural values that are inculcated in the individual from a very young age and determine the social strata the individual will occupy for the rest of his/her life.
The paper will examine arguments from different authors to determine the validity of the argument especially when it comes to gender roles. The following review includes arguments and theories that explain the origin of gender roles from both culturist and evolutionist perspectives as well as a background on gender roles in the society. The paper will also examine some of the effects that the gender roles created by the social and cultural values have had in the present environment.
Review of the Literature
Social and cultural values have conditioned human beings to behave differently based on their biological sex. The literature review will help provide arguments for and against the topic sentence in an effort to understand better the impact of social conditioning on sex-differentiated behaviors in the community. The evidence provided herein will help the reader understand the classic argument of nature vs. nature in the creation of gender roles in our society.
Gender Roles and Socio-Cultural Values
Blackstone (2003) argues that gender roles are based on the sex of an individual and the society preconditions its members to adhere to these strict rules. The sex of an individual will determine the roles accorded to them by the society. The society predicates the contribution that an individual makes to the community on the basis of whether the individual is born a male or a female.
It is important to note that there is a difference between the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ although they are often used interchangeably. ‘Sex’ refers to a biological construct determined by the individual’s basic sex characteristics. On the other hand, gender refers to values, characteristics, beliefs, and meanings ascribed to the male and female sexes. Gender is a construct of the society and social and cultural values predetermine the societal expectation of each gender (Ugwu & de Kok, 2015).
According to Blackstone (2003), gender roles are definitive. Definitive implies that the male and female roles in the society are separate and distinct. The roles should not intertwine or it would lead to the corrosion of the social fabric. Men and women have different activities and tasks assigned to them by the society.
Origins of Gender Roles in Human Society
Evolutionary Origin Account
Eagly and Wood (1999) contend that there are two main theories that can explain the origins of sex differences in how human beings behave. One explanation is the evolutionary predisposition theory that argues human beings developed the distinct social roles because of evolutionary adaptations. Proponents of this theory argue that women and men have sex-specific evolved mechanisms, which make them differ psychologically. The psychological differences brought on by their evolved mechanisms tend to make occupy differing social roles.
The proponents of the evolutionary mechanism further argue that the pressures of primeval environment and the different reproductive status of men and women framed sex-adaptive problems for the early people. The resolutions of these sex-typed problems led to the development of sex-specific evolved mechanisms, which are the root cause of the sex-differentiated behaviors we still experience to this day (Eagly & Wood, 1999).
Ickes (1993) concurs with the above explanation of the evolutionary account of gender roles’ development. He adds that the features that enhanced the reproductive fitness of the females and males within their culture were selected and used as pre-determinants of the role that a specific individual would play. The features could have arisen as adaptations for their present functions or were co-opted into their daily lives.
The evolutionary account postulates that those features were not only transmitted to successive generations, they were also supposed to leave an indelible mark on the culture of the people that supported them. The key point is that the cultural institutions were expected to reinforce the values of these features by adapting them into their functions (Ickes, 1998).
Social Structural Origin of Gender Roles
The second theory, the social structural origin of differing human placement explains that the social structure is the causative factor of the differing roles of men and women in any given society. The structure of the society has led to the psychological differences in sex causing men and women to occupy different strata of the society as well as play different roles in their communities. Their different placement in the society has psychologically differentiated them forcing them to adapt to the roles created by the society for their specific genders (Eagly & Wood, 1999).
The above theory postulates that the division of labor inherent in any society is the causative factor of sex-differentiated behaviors. In most early societies, division of labor was determined by sex, as it was obvious there were some jobs for the strong (men), while the weaker sex (women) was left to handle easier tasks. Women were ascribed lighter tasks owing to the fact that they were physically weaker and smaller as well as the fact that they were the ones who could give birth and lactate. The systematic division of labor in these societies portended the sex-differentiated behaviors we have today. The different tasks that each sex did in those days became engrained in the societal structure, so much so, that gender roles developed around the separation of duties.
Some, under the same social structural theory, insist that gender roles are a direct result of the interaction between individuals and their environment. The roles give human beings the cues about the behavior that is appropriate for their sex and the societal expectations of these individuals. Gender roles are structured according to the society’s beliefs about the distinct differences about the sexes (Blackstone, 2003).
Ickes (1993) agrees with Blackstone (2003) and explains the cultural determinist theory as traditional gender roles emanating from the social and cultural institutions, beliefs, and practices in a society. The societal framework dictates the roles, behaviors, attitudes, and expectations of individuals based on their genders. The differential socialization of young boys and girls into the gender roles ascribed to them continues the propagation of the sex-predicated differential strata across generations.
According to the author, there are four models involved in the cultural determinist account of the development of gender roles. The models include the gender role socialization model, situation model, individuation model, and the oppression model. The gender role socialization model stipulates that children observe, imitate, and internalize the specific behaviors and attitudes that society considers gender appropriate. Under this theory, the children use older men and women in the society and their interactions as role models.
The situation model states that the different social and cultural attitudes of individuals will depend on the organizations that they spend most of their time in. For instance, if the society makes men spend more time working but insists women should stay at home, males will be predisposed to status, power, and competition, while women will have more time to learn about caretaking and nurturing others.
The oppression model insists that gender roles are systematic male imposed cultural products that reflect and propagate the male dominance over females. The final model, the individualization model, suggests that when women are primary caregivers in the society, the girl child will identify with caring for and nurturing others while the male child will be autonomous. The model draws its inspiration from the psychoanalytic theory (Badola & Hussain, 2003).
Alesina, Giuliano, and Nunn (2011) concur with the theory of division of labor leading to psychological differences between the sexes and consequently the sex-distinctive behavior between men and women. They add to this theory by suggesting that traditional agricultural practices played an additive role to the gender concept. The authors argue that the agricultural practices of old heavily influenced traditional gender division of labor and consequently led to the establishment and persistence of gender norms in the current societal framework.
From their research, the authors discovered that the gender norms of traditional societies that practiced plough agriculture have been inculcated throughout subsequent generations to this day. They found that the descendants of such societies have lower rates of female participation in economic activity including entrepreneurship and politics. There is also a greater predisposition to gender inequality in these societies (Alesina, Giuliano & Nunn, 2011).
Impact of Socio-Cultural Values and Gender Roles
Other studies agree that social and cultural values cause the placement of the sexes into different strata in the society and show the harmful effect of this social conditioning. Ickes (1993) agrees with the argument that gender roles develop because of social conditioning based on the beliefs of observable and perceived differences between men and women. He postulates that the traditional gender roles of men and women are a contributory factor to the conflict we see between the sexes in today’s society.
According to Ickes (1993), divorce rates and breakups are high when it comes to relationships where men and women ascribe to traditional gender roles. The conflicts are caused by the friction of the self-imposed restrictions that the individuals place on themselves by following the gender-specific guidelines prescribed by society. The restrictions are unnatural because they curtail the natural curiosity of human beings. They also have too high expectations when they rely on the gender roles to have a compatible union. Couples expect that their spouses will act according to the specific guidelines of the gender roles and excel at it regardless of the strengths and weaknesses inherent in each individual. Extremely high expectations can often lead to frustration and eventually the disintegration of the union.
The author’s research indicates that relationships between androgynous men and women are more successful compared to those of people who ascribe to traditional gender roles to guide their interactions. He argues that when a couple re-enacts their respective traditional gender roles, they are embarking on undermining their relationship. The reason behind this observation is the fact that traditional gender roles create a mis-communication between males and females. The man and the woman know what the society expects of them and how they should behave but their innate self tends to conflict with the social conditioning (Ickes, 1993).
The author’s research shows that men and women who continue to play their traditional gender roles in their relationships assert that these relationships are unsatisfactory. Traditionally feminine women and traditionally masculine men engage in relationships that are far from optimal, making them less satisfactory compared to androgynous relationships.
The observation is paradoxical in that society conditions its members to believe that the only logical way for the society to remain cohesive is by creating specific roles for each gender. Now contemporary research demonstrates that the gender roles ascribed to the different sexes is a direct cause of the disintegration of the social fabric. The conflict becomes more apparent when the masculine men and the feminine women cohabitate or enter marriage relationships (Ickes, 1993).
Blumberg and Sokol (2004) believe that the societal construct of gender roles is based on fabrications. Most proponents of gender roles argue that they were created based on the society’s beliefs surrounding the observable differences about the sexes. The traditional gender roles have always centered on the premise that men were smarter and thus better decision makers than women.
However, Blumberg and Sokol (2004) carried out their research and discovered that there are hardly differences in the cognitive abilities between boys and girls. Gender did not seem to play a role in the thinking capacities of either sex completely disproving the notion that gender roles were ascribed according to the observable characteristics of the sexes. The research proves that traditional gender roles did not take into account mental characteristics but assumed that women were weaker cognitively.
From the discussion above, it is clear that most academicians believe that social and cultural conditioning play an important role in the establishment of gender roles in the society. The values are indoctrinated in children at an early age as they interact with their immediate surroundings. Theories that propagate the notion that biological factors have a predominant role in shaping the strata of the society neglect the essential role that environmental factors play in the development of gender roles in a society.
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