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Men vs Women: A Social Comparison

Updated on February 2, 2015

Early Learning about Gender

From infancy, perceptions of behavioral differences between genders begin to take shape based on interactions with caregivers (Feldman, 2010). Based on research regarding empathetic expression and gender based biological differences in cognition and emotional response; children seem more likely to experience a more intense emotional response from a female caregiver. As such, they also seem more likely to experience a reserved emotional response from a male caregiver (Schulte-Rüther, Markowitsch, Shah, Fink, & Piefke, 2008). As social learning theory suggests; children learn behaviors and association of behaviors primarily through familial influences in early stages of development (Feldman, 2010). Therefore, it stands to reason that the differences in empathetic expression between genders may be the foreground by which children first learn to associate gender differences beyond physical characteristics.

Human children are dependent upon others to provide their basic needs for survival. Due their dependency there is a drive to acquire fulfillment of their needs by communicating them to others and developing the ability to attain them for themselves (Feldman, 2010). In infancy, this is expressed through sounds to indicate pleasure or displeasure. When considering a child crying, it is likely that this will facilitate an empathetic response from caregivers. Instrumental to future perceptions and beliefs regarding gender; familial interactions and behaviors between genders have been shown to be the basis by which an individual judges the validity of social perceptions introduced to them. Many studies have suggested a correlation between a child’s future substance use, violent behavior, occupational and educational status and communication styles and their caregiver’s attitudes and behaviors regarding these areas (Dowd, Singer, & Wilson, 2006). As well, the parent’s behavior and interaction styles are likely to be adopted by the child as well. Any correlation of these perceptions or behaviors that has a root in gender differences is likely to be included into the individual’s gender identity and perception of the other gender (Dowd, et al., 2006).

From personal experience as a foster child; experiences of empathy and nurturing were much more prevalent from female caregivers. The male caregivers had a tendency to only engage in competitive or aggressive physical contact as well as promote masculine qualities present during that time such as interest in sports and hunting. Interestingly, this disparity in interaction, may have shaped personality characteristics present in later life. As a foster child an increased need for acceptance and stability was experienced that often resulted in consistent attempts to gain appeal by adopting behavioral and cognitive characteristics of potential adoptive families. As females tended to be more accepting; characteristics of their influence such as empathy, creativity, caregiving and verbal communication where adopted over characteristics deemed more masculine. Attention received as a result reinforced the behavior and eventually these characteristics were assimilated into self-identity. This seems to suggest that biological differences due to gender may play a less significant role in ascription to gender roles and behaviors than familial or social expectations. However, research does support that both social and biological differences in cognition, affect how information is processed and therefore, the perspective and responsive behavior engaged in (Schulte-Rüther, Markowitsch, Shah, Fink, & Piefke, 2008).

Social Gender Roles

From personal experience; as a child, what it meant to be a boy or a girl had very clear definitions and expectations of behavior. Male children played more aggressively and were encouraged to be tough and resistant, to not cry and to be industrious. Toys indicative of this behavior such as action figures, construction toys where what was considered popular for male children during this time. As well, pretend play activities such as cops and robbers or villains and superheroes, sports and other competitive interactions were considered male activities. Depictions of housewives and business men on television also helped to contribute to differences in activity and behavior by exaggerating stereotypes derived from biological gender differences.

Throughout childhood, various influences directed and shaped personal gender perceptions. Exposure to toys such as action figures, in particular those representing superheroes, was a major influence on gender perceptions. These toys depicted males as big, strong, smart and possessing special powers. At that time there were only a few depictions of female superheroes. In addition to this male superheroes were portrayed as protective of women and children, yet committing violence against a male was acceptable when perpetrated against someone who went against social ideals in place. These depictions of masculinity have been shown to affect how a developing mind understands the world around them, but also magnifies already in place gender differences (Martin, 2007). Personally this resulted in assimilation of these ideals and behaviors into a part of gender identity.

Female children are also exposed to stimuli that influence their perception of gender roles. Toys targeted for female children often are related to care giving, domesticity or maintenance of appearance. Toys that exemplify this are inclusive of play kitchen sets, cosmetics, jewelry and clothing. Activities promoted were inclusive of playing house, tea time and generally just talking. The effect the media has on an individual’s perception of themselves has been sustained through numerous research studies that reveal correlations with body-image, self-confidence, perception perceived in others (Cialdini, et al. 2007), as well as bias to those not fitting the presented standard. Consider female children who were considered overweight; from personal experience these children were exposed to ridicule as a result. This one facet of behavior helps shape gender identity in that it promotes with disparity to males that body size is related to social acceptance and appeal. As well, physical violence perpetrated by females was uncommon and looked upon with concern if witnessed.

Recalling experiences in school when younger, the most aggressive child was the one feared and therefore seemingly free from social ridicule. In general, aggression seemed to be specific to males and was also a means of establishing dominance. Male dominance seemed also to be enforced or emphasized when belonging to specific social groups. Research has shown that boys tend to have friends in larger groups than females (Brannon, 2010), in addition to this aggression also takes place among group members. In contrast, females tend to engage in smaller circles of friends and seek to negotiate differences rather than create conflict with a friend (Schulte-Rüther, et al., 2008). This research supports childhood experiences related to gender differences in interaction and behavior.

Even subject matter such as politics and education possessed aspects that create gender perceptions though indirect communication. Until recently, there had never been a woman running for the office of Commander in Chief. Although not likely a major topic of discussion among young children or even adolescence; the absence of a female candidate creates an implied disparity in perhaps both ability and value in the political forum. As a result, it is likely that some female children, prior to the advent of female candidacy, may never have considered a career in politics. As such, careers deemed suitable for females such as caregiving positions or secretarial work may not have been an option for male children to explore without social resistance.

Occupational Gender Roles

As a child in foster care there was an opportunity to witness variation in gender roles between foster parents. Yet consistently the feminine and masculine roles defined by society seemed to be present. For example; all male figures in the foster homes supported the family financially. All female figures in the home fed, cleaned, clothed and tutored the children. This is consistent with historical gender role expectations in society. These ideals have transferred in to latter life and manifest as a feeling of responsibility to provide financial stability for family while having one’s perceived worth attached to its accomplishment. Yet trends in gender perception are slowly changing as both females and males engaging in what may be considered cross-gender occupations or even reversing traditional roles. This is evidenced by an increase of stay at home fathers from “26%” in 2002, to “32%” in 2009 (Latshaw, 2009). Research also shows an increase of 3.2% of women engaging in full time employment (U.S Census, n.d). This may be due to women experiencing more difficulty gaining employment due to childcare needs, women’s health and availability issues (Capuzzi & Stauffer, 2008). In addition to this the disparity in wages between men and women also contribute to gender role expectations and stereotypes. Around 75% of women employed were employed in an industry that provides educational, health, financial, leisure and hospitality services (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2009). Industries deemed to be male specific such as Manufacturing, construction, mining, agricultural and utilities reported around 30% of these occupations being held by females. As such, males tend to dominate respective gender profiled occupations. This disparity evidences gender role expectations, even in an occupation forum and contributes not only to gender stereotypes and role expectations, but creates a “pull” towards domesticity that influences decisions in education, occupation and even social circumstances (Brannon, 2010).

Personal experience as a Chef has revealed disparities in occupational positions as well. Most of the employees who provide wait staff services are female while most of the kitchen employees are male. This has been a constant in every restaurant and hotel experienced. Interestingly, employment at various bed and breakfast establishments revealed the converse. This may be due to the caregiving aspect present at these establishments. Recollections of childhood foster homes reveal this aspect of gender association as well with most females engaged in some type of service provider while males were employed in manufacturing and construction.

However, as stated earlier, trending gender role expectations have changed considerably over the last 20 years. Yet the transition of gender roles has encountered conflict and many challenges. As a child, gender roles were clearly defined. In current society these roles seem to strive for balance, making the boundaries of gender behavior blurry. It is now considered more acceptable for males to express emotion, be care givers and exhibit feminine qualities. It is also more socially acceptable for females to exhibit male characteristics. However, further research may reveal a disparity in acceptance of these behaviors between genders. Consider the “glass ceiling” present for women entering into many male dominated positions (Brannon, 2010). Do male individuals engaging in female dominated occupations receive this same limitation?

Transitions & Conflict

The transition of gender roles also likely causes confusion regarding appropriate behavior and interactions. Due to a socially created perception that women are in need of assistance from males, it is likely that help will be offered when not needed, preference or tolerance granted or imposed limitations due to gender. A major obstacle for females in particular is attaining an equal standing in occupational and political forums. Disparities in pay rates, advancement opportunity and critical training have been shown to favor males and thus places additional strain on a female attempting to further their career or create financial stability for themselves. Perhaps of more substantial importance, however, is the effect these disparities have on the self-perception, identity and confidence of an individual. Regardless of gender, role expectations and limitations imposed based on this factor affect the future choices, decisions, occupation, education and how the individual relates themselves to one another. One important aspect of gender differentiation is that of sexism. Sexism is the advent of benefit or sanction based on gender. An example of this could be a male receiving a promotion over a female even though they possess the qualifications and experience. As well a male receiving more sever sentencing for the same crime as a female is also an example of sexism. Personally sexism towards males has been a more prevalent experience.

Throughout foster care and as a single male with no family; there is a disparity in available benefits or assistance that a man is eligible for when in need. Specifically from experience; females maintain an advantage in child custody cases. Perhaps this is due to the gender role expectation of females being caregivers, yet this also has an impact on males and their perceived ability to not only be effective fathers, but also seems to create a situation in which they are unable to do so. The National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse reported that out of all single fathers in 2013; “17%” of them had custody of their children (NRFC, 2014). This represents a very small portion with relation to the remaining 83% of female granted custody. It seems that due to gender role ascription; females are designated as the caregiver of a child whereas males are designated financial providers. This is reflected in custody disparities and is exemplified with the advent of child support payments as well. Personal experience with child support resulted in a 60% reduction in the household income that in effect requires increased hours of work so as to be able to maintain necessities as a single parent. This in turn has made it increasingly difficult to be an equal influence in the children’s daily lives.

From personal experience and as research suggests; influence from both male and female caregivers is essential to healthy development (Feldman, 2010). Absence of either influence seems to result in either parent attempting to assimilate characteristics from the differing gender to maintain balance between nurturing and discipline of the child. One aspect of gender role ascription is that of discipline. Although this a gender bias perception of ability it is also supported by research. The National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) reports that children in “father-absent” homes exhibited “significantly higher odds of incarceration” than children from married couples, as well as higher rates of teen pregnancy and childhood aggression (NFI, 2014). Attempts to garner research regarding the behavioral effects of custodial males granted little substantial data. Yet the data presented is suggestive that a balance between feminine and masculine gender characteristics can lead to a more balanced expression of masculine and feminine behaviors. Regarding child development this has been shown to create a healthier developmental environment in which parental gender roles and behaviors complement one another.

Conclusions & Discussion

After receiving a score of 80.3 out of 100 masculine and 72.5 out of 100 feminine points on the BEM Sex Role Inventory it is apparent that as a result of feminine influence as a child, a more balanced representation of masculine and feminine qualities. Personally this is an important part of becoming effective in current career and educational choices as well becoming a better parent. In today’s culture acceptance and validation of equality between genders has become proliferate throughout all aspects of society inclusive of family dynamics, education, politics and occupations by means of legislation and public/private policy. Therefore, exploration of gender role ascriptions from childhood and their impact on current perceptions and expectations may reveal areas in which transition and change may be necessary. From personal experience the most difficult change may be that of perceived chivalry. As a male partner there is always a desire to protect, guide and teach, not only to the children but their mother as well. This creates situations in which gender role expectations begin to exhibit themselves as frustration generally results from resistance to these behaviors. Maintaining and practicing the perception of an individual independent of gender, although seemingly difficult, may be a way in which this perception can be alleviated.

One aspect that has become increasingly evident is the need to stray away from viewing gender as separate and different. This seems to result not only in disparities of equality and treatment, but also to hinder actualization as a species. Adoption of a complimenting view of gender may remove the inherent perception of differences as a means to define gender, ability and stature as well as behaviors and role expectations. From personal experience taking this perception has allowed for clearer lines of communication, respect and perceptions of value rather than opposition regarding gender. It seems from birth, male and female interaction and complementation to one another is essential to development. This also seems true in a social context as well and the development and stability of a culture. Perhaps research as to whether cultures in which male and female gender roles where balanced resulted in a more cohesive social structure is necessary.


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