Gender stereotypes are not, in and of themselves, a "real" thing. Gender stereotypes are the result of the misuse, ignorance, or outright abuse of Gender roles in any society.
Gender roles and stereotypes in the division of labor.
There are many theories concerning the reasons behind the most basic gender roles that are in place in most societies. The aspect of gender roles concerning the division of labor is one that has drawn some debate in modern times. The idea that a woman's place is the home, or the kitchen, or simply barefoot and pregnant, is outright objectionable in a modern industrialized nation and is often considered to be a sexist viewpoint. Explanations offered for this particular stereotype usually revolve around a few simple facts which will now be outlined.
- A) Women experience physical limitation during pregnancy and men do not.
- B) Women are physically equipped to nourish a young child and men are not.
These two statements are indubitably true, and the logic that is used to justify the gender stereotypes concerning division of labor are as follows:
- IF, A woman is physically limited during her pregnancy (A) THEN it is necessary for the man to provide for her during this time (C).
- IF a woman is equipped to care for the child in a way that a man is not (B) THEN it is prudent for her to remain at home as the primary caregiver (D).
- IF the woman must remain at home (D) THEN it is efficient for her to be responsible for the household chores while she is there (Result).
- IF a man must provide for the family financially (C) THEN it is not necessary for him to help at home (Result).
This logic follows only so long as the premises A and B remain relevant to the problem. In modern times, with the advent of industrialization and medical science, these things are no longer powerful restrictions. Medical science greatly reduces the strain on a woman's body during childbearing, and the work that supports a family is not necessarily driving a plow through a field. Furthermore, with the advent of Infant formula it is no longer necessary that the primary caregiver of the child be equipped with breasts. As a result it is no longer necessary that the woman in particular be the primary caregiver of the child, and there is certainly nothing demanding that she be responsible for cooking or cleaning. What was once a relatively sensible and utilitarian system of labor management in the household has become a way to prevent (Purposefully or otherwise) women from having an equal role in society. At the same time, there is no longer any logical reason why a man should necessarily be the one responsible for the financial wellbeing of his family. Men who are not the primary "Breadwinners" of their household are often ridiculed by their family for violating this particular social more.
Gender Roles and Stereotypes in the family.
Why cover division of labor first? It is a simple thing actually; The natural division of labor in pre-industrial societies stands as a major influence and reason that gender stereotypes exist in cultures worldwide. Patriarchy is a social system in which males dominate females in almost all aspects of life and society, and that is what was developed by the aforementioned division of labor system. In modern industrialized nations gender roles are changinging, but not too much, and Males are taking on some responsibilities previously attributed to females, but not too often. The changes in society that have allowed women (mostly) equal status in business has also created a demand that females get jobs to support themselves (U.S. Beaureau of the Census reports that the majority of females over 16 work outside the home). This, in and of itself, is a good thing that promotes equality of the sexes. However, females are still expected to do a far greater share of work around the house. This means that in many families in which both partners work the male will be doing eight hours per day of strenuous physical, or mental work, and the female will also be putting in eight hours of work (although this work is far less likely to be physical labor; this is a positive side effect of the division of labor for females) but, upon coming home, will proceed to put in another several hours of domestic chores.
Perpetuation of sexism and gender stereotypes.
Gender stereotypes are passed on socially in many ways. The most obvious one is through the family, which is the primary source for socialization that a child will be exposed to. This influence, though, is actually relatively simple. Parents will act out the gender roles that they have been exposed to by their parents, including amendments that have been made by society, and the child will pick up on them and usually follow them. Socialization has far less to do with intentionally enforcing norms upon a child as it has to do with demonstrating them. The larger barriers to sexual equality lie not in the family itself, but in media, religion, childhood stories, and virtually any other means through which culture is passed between individuals.
Sexism and Religion.
Many cultures consider women to be spiritually inferior to men. This, of course, connot be proven or disproven due to the rather ethereal nature of spirituality. It seems that the reason for this may hinge on the fact that these religions were developed in patriarchal societies. In Judeo-chrisitan-Islamic tradition, the ideology of male superiority is reiterated many times in their holy books: The Torah, The Bible, and the Koran/Quran. In the first holy book, The Torah, and in its later form, The Old Testament, God is almost always considered to be a male figure, and almost all prophets are males. Females are generally considered to be harlots or temptreses, and are said to be responsible for the first sin and the fall from grace. In Catholic and protestant government, all positions of spiritual significance have been reserved for men until very recently (In the late eighties and early nineties some Anglican and Luthern Churches ordained female priests. This may be considered an important first step to esablishing sexual equality in religious circles). This is not to say that sexism is justified by scripture, but rather that scripture is used to justify sexism.
Case study (of sorts): Although it is not the purpose of this article to address actual theological views on gender equality I am informed of the case of Judges 4 in which Deborah and Jael rescue the fledgling nation of Isreal by ordering a military campaign and assasinating an official who is ideally opposed to the ways of God. This apparent and massive deviation from gender roles has lead priests and theologans of the past to determine that there was something wrong about what these women did. My intent is for this to demonstrate that religion may be a means for perpetuation sexism, but it is by no means the reason for sexism. The priests used religion as an excuse to enforce gender stereotypes, but did not follow suit when their scripture opposed them.
Sexism in education.
Traditional gender roles and stereotypes are so deeply ingrained in many societies that it is difficult to eliminate them in any arena of expression. Textbooks are now prevented by law from expressing any overtly sexist themes, and publishers work to avoid any sexist images or statements, but not everything you learn in school comes from textbooks. Children's literature often expresses women and men in traditional gender roles and helps to reinforce socialization that is recieved at home. Furthermore, males are discouraged from taking home economics courses while females are discouraged from taking shop or auto machanics. Those who fall in what is considered to be the "Popular" crowd are quite commonly those who most perfectly follows these roles. There is also a stated issue with gender roles in the administrational heirarchy of education. Although this is true of many offices, such as cafeteria workers being mostly women, and principals being mostly men, there seems to be a recent shift in trend among teachers. The number of teachers who are male and female is becoming more balanced. In past years, teachers were overwhelmingly female and commonly taught female-appropriate subjects such as English or Home economics, whereas men were more likely to teach in a field of science. Coaches and athletic directors are still overwhelmingly male, even in girls' sports teams.
Primary Source: "Society in Focus" by Drs. William Thompson and Joseph Hickey; Secondary source: Tiefling