Sociological Theory of Gender Essay

Traditionally, relationships between people within a community are affected by a variety of factors, which influence human behavior and place of an individual in a community. In this respect, it should be said that the relationship between male and females were traditionally very complicated, while the behavior of males and females and their place in the community were and still remain quite different. In fact, it is possible to speak about the existence of gender roles which clearly distinguish a typical male and female behavior and social roles. In other words, males and females live and act, in accordance with their gender roles. In such a situation, it is extremely important to understand how gender roles are actually shaped and what factors affect the behavior and social roles of males and females. At the same time, the existence of gender roles, to a significant extent, raises numerous public issues and personal troubles, because the difference between males and females contributes to their different social position and roles they play in the community and in their families. Obviously, the difference in gender roles is quite substantial, but, on the other hand, it is important to avoid any kind of discrimination and inequality caused by this difference. The latter is possible only on the condition of the profound understanding of causes and effects of the formation of gender roles. In this regard, it is possible to refer to numerous theories, which have different explanation of such a difference from the traditional biological approach to the functionalist approach and social conflict theory.

First of all, it should be said that the formation of gender roles may be determined by both internal and external factors and different theories have different views on the development of gender roles. At the same time, it is obvious that gender roles, to a significant extent, influence the social position of an individual. In this regard, it should be said that basically gender roles lead to the substantial difference in priorities and social roles of males and females.

What is meant here is the fact that gender roles are often imposed on people by means of existing social stereotypes, media and public opinion at large that often leads to the inferior position of females in society since their social role is limited by family and household in many societies. Even western societies where the gap between males and females is less significant are still affected by such a problem. For instance, it is not a secret that even in western societies males and females still have different job opportunities. In this respect, it should be said that males traditionally occupy the higher social position and have better jobs, i.e. more prestigious and well-paid jobs. In fact, it is possible to estimate that the contemporary elite, both political and economic is still predominantly male, since the number of female politicians, for instance, is lower practically in all countries, while the number of females among top executives in leading companies is even smaller.

Furthermore, it should be said that the career opportunities of females are consistently lower compared to males. In this respect, it should be said the share of females employed in a part-time jobs is substantially higher compared to males and even the unemployment rate indicates to the worse position of females in the contemporary society since often the unemployment is predominantly feminine. This means that females face a larger risk of losing their job, have lower access to better jobs, and often they are forced to work part-time. The latter is determined by biological factors since often females have to choose between their professional career and bearing a child. In fact, the recent data shows that, after the birth of a child, many females lose their jobs or, to put it more precisely, cannot fulfill the same amount of work and are forced to transfer to part-time jobs or simply retire. Naturally, in such a situation they can hardly compete with men and, therefore, they are more susceptible to unemployment than males.

At this point, it is possible to refer to the functionalist approach to gender roles and sex since the milestone of this theory is the idea that the social and, therefore, gender roles are based on the principle of utility and current needs of individuals which are met with the help of different social institutions. To put it more precisely, the biological as well as social needs of females and males turns to be different and this is why they actually perform different social roles.

In this respect, it should be said that one of developers of the functionalism, Emile Durkheim distinguished both physical and social factors as determinant of gender roles, while Mills focused on the correlation between public issues and personal troubles. An example of the problem of correlation between public issues and personal troubles is the case of actor Chen, who had to apologize for the private photos of nude celebrities he had and which had become available to public. In fact, this scandal undermined the public image of female celebrities because it violated the existing socio-cultural norms and caused troubles for celebrities since it was quite disgraceful for them, as females, to get such a kind of publicity. As a result, Chen, in accordance with the existing cultural norms and gender roles, had to apologize publicly, but his image and that of celebrities was undermined.

According to functionalists, the existing social structures and institutions enhance the difference and widen the gap between males and females but the reason, in terms of the functionalist approach, is not a kind of intentional discrimination, but rather the objective needs of females and males. For instance, the institution of family is traditionally considered to be the female domain since the existing stereotypes emphasize motherhood as the major role of females that naturally leads to the formation of female gender roles which lay emphasis on the family, where females can perform their maternal function. In contrast, the existing stereotypes and biases traditionally view males as a socially active part of society and they are traditionally referred to as leaders. This is why they often take leading position in political and economic spheres that actually explains the dominance of males among top executives and political leaders.

At the same time, it should be pointed out that, in the present epoch, it is possible to observe a considerable shift in traditional gender roles, especially in western societies in such countries as Canada and the US. In this respect, it should be said that in such domain as education, for instance, the situation has improved consistently to the extent that it is possible to speak about equal opportunities for males and females. This trend is very important because education may become a basis for the successful professional career. However, this is exactly where biological factors come into play again since the maternity often decreases career perspectives of females compared to males.

Furthermore, positive trends may be observed in healthcare system. For instance, in Canada the healthcare system is inclusive and no one is denied of healthcare services. As a result, both males and females can get equal healthcare services that are also determined by their biological needs. However, the situation in other countries is not as good as that. For instance, in the US healthcare services are equal and universal mainly in relation to the poorest layers of society, which, though do not receive healthcare services of a high quality, but they are equal in the poor quality of healthcare services.

At the same time, the difference of gender roles may be influenced not only by needs of individuals and the functioning of social institutions that satisfy these needs, but it may be also explained by purely biological factors. In this respect, it should be said that biological approach to gender roles is probably one of the most popular theoretical approaches to sex and gender. However, this approach may be viewed as traditional one because it attempts to explain the difference that exists between sexes by purely biological factors. Basically, the biological perspective on gender and sex implies that sex differences are determined by three groups of factors, including sexing of bodies, sex differences in the brain and biological correlates of behaviour. The latter is mainly determined by the former two factors.

On analyzing biological approach in relation to sex and gender, it is necessary to point out that this approach primarily singles out the existing physical differences between male and female bodies. To put it more precisely, the supporters of this approach argue that male and female differs considerably in their body construction. This means that male and female have physical features which are typical uniquely for each sex. Among these physical features they name genitals, anthropologic difference between male and female, such as average height, physical strength, etc. In such a way, biological approach stands on the ground that male and female are physically different and have different physical opportunities that, to a significant extent, defines their behaviour which turns to be typical to their sex and depends on their physical capabilities.

At the same time, along obvious, external, physical features due to which males and females are distinguished, there are more profound differences, which are hidden from a human eye but which effect may be even stronger than the effect of external, physical differences. In fact, supporters of biological approach argue that males and females have a different balance of hormones. In this respect, it should be said that even though all humans have the similar set of hormones but their balance may differ that actually, according to biological approach, defines the difference between males and females. The same may be said about the set of chromosome since males traditionally have ”˜XY’ while females two ”˜X’ pairs of chromosomes.

Moreover, biological approach stands on the ground that the difference may be traced even in one of the most important organs of human body, the brain. Such difference actually determines the difference in behaviour of males and females. For instance, biological approach admits the existence of brain lateralization between males and females, which determines the significant difference in behaviour and abilities of males and females. To put it more precisely, it is a scientifically proved fact that right and left hemispheres of human brain are specialized on different cognitive functions. The left hemisphere is responsible for language while the right for visuo-spatial and mathematical functioning. In this respect, specialists point out that males and females have difference in the development or domination of hemispheres. For instance, the left hemisphere is dominating in females brain while the right one in males brain.

As a result, due to the existence of numerous physiological or biological differences in the body sexing, brain, hormone balance and genes combination the behaviour of males and females differ considerably so that males and females may be more successful in different spheres.

However, biological factors and social institutions that exist in society, being quite important, may be viewed as secondary factors that influence gender differences and gender roles existing in society. At this point, it is possible to refer to the social conflict theory which rather views males and females as two opposing groups that compete with each other and contradictions between these groups lead to conflicts and attempts to oppress the counterpart. In this respect, the social conflict theory reveals the limitations of both functionalist and biological approaches laying emphasis on the fact that gender roles are not natural and objectively determined roles, but they are imposed by the currently dominant group. In the contemporary world, it is males that occupy the dominant position and, therefore, they tend to oppress females and limit their gender roles to boundaries established by males, namely family and household, that makes the social significance of females lower compared to males. As a result, this may lead to the contradiction between the public issues and personal troubles. Basically, the conflict theory heavily relies on works of K. Marx and F. Engels who argued the conflicts in society are inevitable as long as there are classes, social hierarchy and strict stratification.

Marx focuses on males who tend to occupy the leading position in society and play active social roles, while females tend to be excluded from the social life where they play the secondary role. Such a situation naturally evokes person troubles since females feel uncomfortable and inferior compared to men who constantly limit their social opportunities. Obviously it does not necessarily imply the existence of some restrictive legal norms, but, at the present moment, stereotypes and biases often produce even greater impact than legal norms. For instance, it is not a secret that a female has lower opportunities to take a higher position of a top executive than a male. At this point, supporters of social conflict theory, indicate to the existence of the specific corporate culture and the dominance of the ideology which is created by males and, what is more important, this ideology is imposed on the entire society. In such a way, males use their dominant position to impose their ideology on the entire society, including females, to the extent that often women accept this ideology and the gender roles, which are determined not by natural, objective factors, but by the domination of one part of society, males, over another, females. As for Engels, he viewed sex relations taking into consideration both males and females as participants of social relations. Obviously, in such a situation the conflict between males and females seems to be inevitable because the existing social hierarchy, according to the social conflict theory, is based on inequality and strict social stratification, which deprives females and puts males into advantageous position.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that gender roles affect considerably the life of each individual and the entire society. Often they cause a conflict between social norms and standards and personal needs of an individual since females, for instance, cannot always get an equal position compared to males simply because of the existing stereotypes and biases in relation to gender roles. At the same time, it is obvious that gender roles and differences between males and females and their social positions are determined by a variety of factors, including both social and biological.

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