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What are Gender Roles?

C. Daw
C. Daw

Gender roles are a specific set of social and behavioral actions which are considered to be appropriate for the given gender. There are basically two types of gender roles throughout the world, but since various geographical areas have vastly different cultures, the gender roles can be dramatically different. A gender role begins with the concepts of the society in which a person is raised, as well as unique thoughts and desires of the parent figures that govern over the adolescent years. The role of a person is categorized into two specific areas, and even though people do not always follow along with the role that they have been placed into, the majority of people follow along with the expected guidelines.

One of the gender roles is how females, which include both girls and women, are considered within their particular culture. In many societies, this role means that they are non-aggressive and are meant to raise children and take care of the tasks at home. Of course, this leaves open the debate for equal rights, as well as a debate about the fact that many women today choose to work instead of stay home. A traditional belief, though passionately debated by many, is that females are considered to be the more peaceful gender that is better suited for the stresses of raising children and dealing with everyday household problems.

Some believe that women are better suited for raising a family rather than working outside the home.
Some believe that women are better suited for raising a family rather than working outside the home.

The second gender role is men and boys. This role is usually viewed by society as being the workers that take care of the financial aspects of a household. They are much more aggressive, dominant, and they prefer to be earning money rather than staying home. The males are hungry for power and wealth, striving to move forward in life by building as much money and assets as possible. As stated above, though, this is not always the case. Many men choose to stay home and take care of the house and children, so even though the average society may view them as different, times are changing.

Gender roles are often shaped by a person's parents.
Gender roles are often shaped by a person's parents.

Traditional gender roles hold that females and males are different from birth. Evidence of this is shown by young boys playing with cars and trucks, while girls prefer dolls and playing house. These concepts are perpetrated by society ideas and parental opinions, so basic gender roles are taught throughout the growing up process. These ideas are retained from childhood to adulthood, which sets specific guidelines by everyone in society about the roles that each of the genders should play within their communities.

Discussion Comments


I find it fascinating to read about gender roles. Many times you see this coming out even in very young children.

I had a daycare in my home for many years, and in most cases, the boys naturally gravitated toward the trucks and cars. For the girls, picking up a baby and rocking and singing to the baby was the most natural thing for them to do.

I am not saying that this was 100% true straight across the board, but it certainly was the norm for most of the kids that I have ever seen.

After seeing this happen over and over again, I am convinced there is something innate in most everybody, and is the reason why these roles are so common.

There will always be exceptions to this, and I know that society expectations also add to this. Many times they are teased by their peers if they go outside these roles - even as very young kids.


@bagley79 - I agree that the gender roles in our society are changing. I see this as something that is changing in many areas of the world.

We had a foreign exchange student from Japan stay with us for a year, and it was very interesting to learn about their culture and thoughts on gender roles.

Her parents are very traditional with her dad being the breadwinner, and her mom staying home taking care of the kids and household duties.

Japanese gender roles are also changing with the times. Now many of the Japanese women are getting college degrees and working even after they start their families.

When our friend went back to Japan, she completed her college degree and ended up getting married a couple of years later. They live in a very competitive culture, and her job is demanding and rewarding.

Right now she is pregnant, and she has every intention of continuing on with her career after the baby is born.


I think the contrast between gender roles seems to be less all the time. This may not necessarily be a good thing, but many of the specific gender roles seem to be blurry.

If you were to ask for a gender roles definition 50 years ago, you would get a much different answer than today.

I think no matter what your gender is, it is nice to have choices and options. If a woman is comfortable and content to be at home, and they can afford it, there is nothing wrong with that.

If she chooses to work because she likes the challenge and stimulation of being around other adults, it is also nice to have that option.

If the woman has greater earning potential than the man, and he is comfortable staying home and taking care of the kids, that should be his choice as well.


I don't necessarily think gender roles are a bad thing. In fact, I think a lot of problems in our society stem from gender role reversal. So many children are now raised in day care because their moms want to take on the male role of providing for the family.

Well, that's great, but if both parents are the "man," than who is going to be the "woman"? Not that many men seem eager to take on the feminine role of taking care of the house and children.

Sure, women are more "empowered" these days (or something) but I think the children are the ones who really suffer because of all this gender confusion.


@indemnifyme - You're right about feminism. Still, I think that we still have a long way to go.

I think a lot of people still have traditional ideas about gender roles in America. For example, little girls are still encouraged to play with dolls and little boys are encouraged to play with toy soldiers. Also, I've heard many mothers I know tell their sons not to "cry like a girl," you know, since men are supposed to be tough?


@StarJo - It's always been my opinion that one of the great things about feminism is that women now have a choice-they can choose to stay home, but they can also choose to go to work. I think both are valid choices (although it is a little depressing to read about your husband constantly making messes for you to clean up. Even if you're the one that primarily takes care of the house, he could still help.)

Anyway, I actually think the whole idea of gender roles is kind of ridiculous. In my experience, a lot of people have skills and personality traits that make them better suited to the gender role assigned to the other gender. I hope that as a society, we can move towards having less emphasis on male gender roles and female gender roles.


@StarJo – I am a women who juggles both a day job and a domestic role. It is not easy. In fact, it puts a huge strain on my relationship with my husband.

He works weekends, and I work during the week. This means he is off while I'm at work, and I feel like he should be contributing by doing chores.

It really makes me furious to come home to a sink full of dishes, a laundry basket full of unwashed clothes, and junk scattered everywhere. He tells me that he just doesn't think to do these things because he is a man.

I know plenty of men who know how to clean their own apartments and do their own laundry. I don't think it is really a gender role issue. I think he just expects me to do it because I always have.


I understand feminism and women not wanting to submit to society's rules for them. However, I have always been a homebody. I would actually rather take care of the house than go to a job.

I don't think that I feel this way because I feel like I should accept my gender role. I have just always loved cooking and cleaning, and when I did go to work somewhere, I had the constant nagging sensation that I should be at home.

I don't have children to care for, but I do have a husband and four dogs. They keep me very busy cleaning, and since my husband is a total slob, I have to constantly pick up after him. This is a full-time job for me.

I have great respect for women who hold full-time day jobs and then come home at night to their full-time house work. I really don't know where they get the energy to do it all.


@kylee07drg – It's tough when you have been doing certain things for years and suddenly, your gender role dictates that you cannot anymore. This happened to me and my best friend, who happened to be the opposite sex.

When we were little, our parents let us have sleepovers all the time. No one thought anything of it.

Once we turned thirteen, our parents told us that we could not have sleepovers anymore, because puberty had kicked in, and they were afraid we might experiment with our feelings. This angered and saddened both of us. Neither of us had romantic feelings for the other, and we were upset that we could no longer hang out the way we used to, just because I was a girl and he was a boy.


I remember being very annoyed by gender role stereotypes as a child. My babysitter was a woman in her eighties, and she had certain ideas about how young girls should behave.

My friend and I wanted to go hiking through the woods behind our babysitter's house. When we asked her for permission, she told us that young ladies do not go hiking. She said that getting dirty outside and exploring are activities for boys.

That was the first time I had ever been assigned a gender role. I really hated it. I had been playing outside in the dirt and in the trees for years, and suddenly, this lady is telling me that I cannot do that because I'm a girl.

I knew that she was wrong, and I wanted to tell her so badly. However, she had an intimidating demeanor, and she would not reason with a child.


@SailorJerry - I've read a few interesting articles and books about the phenomenon you describe. There was that one spectacularly failed case where doctors told a couple that after a botched circumcision, they could raise their son as a girl. As an adult, he chose to live as a man, but ultimately the psychological wounds were too deep to bear and he committed suicide. (Forget his name, but his book was called "As Nature Made Him.") There was also a novel, Middlesex, about a fictional case of an intersex youth raised as a girl.

The expected stereotypical gender roles in America can be confining for both men and women. Women may find themselves on "the mommy track," while men may find it difficult to live up to expectations of being a breadwinner, good with electronics, etc. It's embarrassing to be a guy who barely knows which end of a hammer to use (or so my brother tells me).


What's fascinating to me is how gender roles in society interact with biological differences.

The evidence is pretty convincing that people "feel" themselves to be one sex or another. Not always the one they were born into, and in the case of intersex children, it's even less clear-cut. The standard advice used to be to "fix" these children in infancy by assigning them to the gender the adults thought would be the best fit. The problem was that when the adults guessed wrong, the consequences were devastating.

But in our society, that sense of belonging to one sex or another manifests itself in particular ways, like a preference for pink and dolls. Those things aren't hard-wired; they are culturally determined. Children who "know" that they are girls see that that's what girls do, I guess.

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