Culture and society has an enormous impact on gender roles in America. Americans receive thousands of cultural messages each week concerning gender roles, including advertisements, movies, TV, music, magazines and family influence. This constant bombardment of information presents traditional and evolving less-traditionally defined gender roles. People subconsciously and consciously take in this cultural information about gender roles. They then evaluate the information to try and understand how the information applies to them and how they should then operate within society. While many people and organizations challenge these traditional gender roles, the influence of mainstream culture remains evident in perceptions while other cultural influences are growing.
From an early age, children have learned societal expectations regarding gender-appropriate occupations from different places: in their homes, in businesses, restaurants, from the media, and from their peers. For younger children, girls often have been defined as playing "house" or "teacher" while boys are expected to play "war" or "firefighter." With changing social media and community messaging, those traditional occupational roles are also becoming less set as cultural norms. Children are exposed to occupational options that are not as based on gender through children's books, television programming, social media, news reporting and their own parents choosing less gender-defined roles. These early introductions to careers set the groundwork for a way of thinking about future jobs. Traditional occupations for women once were perceived to include secretaries, housewives, teachers, waitresses and nurses while men were defined as police officers, construction workers, truck drivers, CEOs or factory workers. With changes in family makeup and media portrayal of traditional occupational choices, children are exposed to many different career choices that are less defined by gender. When children see their mothers completing more household chores than their fathers or household tasks gender-designated as female, that observation can form future gender role ideas.
Women have traditionally been the caregivers of children as well as homemakers. Historically, they have done more housework, including laundry, washing dishes, cleaning and cooking but gender roles and tasks in the home are no longer defined strictly by gender. Movies, TV and other forms of media reinforce these traditional roles through characters but are becoming more reflective of balanced roles in the household. Women also often report spending more time with childcare and elderly parents resulting in what is known as the "sandwich generation" - households with young children and aging parents. Studies show that women are still completing more household tasks than men. Narrowing in that gap can often be attributed to outsourcing of tasks that once took more time at home: hiring housekeepers or landscapers or dry cleaning services. Even with more women working outside of the home, equity in amount of and type of household tasks hasn't changed significantly.
Women are traditionally considered to be more "gentle," "passive," "emotional," "dependent," "patient" and "communicative" than their male counterparts. Adjectives such as "tough," "independent," "powerful," "inexpressive" and "straightforward" are used to describe men. With these cultural labels tied to gender expectations, cultural expectations then influence how people react to each other and how they view themselves based on those labels. If the gender labels are used in a positive way, the gender bias associated with them can be lessened or even removed. In a negative sense, a self-fulfilling prophecy theory can take those gender adjectives and become the sole way people define themselves. For example, a woman who believes she is "dependent" may continue to be dependent for her entire life because she can't see past the gender label. A woman who sees herself as strong and capable may also be more inclined to strive for advancement in the workplace. If a man is labeled as being sensitive, that may affect his life choices just as much as if he is labeled as a strong man.
Culture influences how men and women think about themselves within their gender role. Advertisements, movies and TV often depict the female as being promiscuous or vulnerable, a message that can influence how women view their body and their abilities. According to a study conducted by Kenyon College, around 30% of clothing that is marketed toward young girls is considered "sexualizing." These expectations for physical beauty can have an effect on self-esteem and confidence of girls and women. While female gender roles are often defined when children watch their mothers or sisters complete more household tasks or household tasks gender-designated as for women, there are also cultural influences that affect how men form their own gender role perceptions. If a young boy grows up in a household with an overly masculine attitude that relegates all women to subordinate roles, a child may grow up to reflect those same attitudes in their own relationships and behaviors.
- Child Psychology: Gender Roles and Gender Differences
- Very Well Mind: Gender Schema Theory and Roles in Culture
- Journal of Adolescent Health: A Global Perspective on Gender Roles and Identity
- Fortune: The Economic Reason Why Men Should Do More Housework
- BBC: Women still do more household chores than men
Pauline Lovingood began writing professionally in 2011. She writes about health, fitness, medicine and travel for various websites. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a Bachelor of Arts in health and human Sciences.