Gender Equity Essay, Research Paper
Everyone likes to feel as if they fit in to society. From a very early age our culture teaches us how to look, feel, and act in order to belong and avoid being a social outcast. Many times, acts culture deems to be socially acceptable may not feel natural to certain individuals. Fortunately, things that were not accepted as appropriate in the past by society are becoming more socially tolerated in the present. Societies view as to what are acceptable traits that males and females can possess for them to be considered a man or a woman have changed greatly over time. Because the traditional roles of males and females are not as rigid as they once were, people are free and more willing to display their true selves and the traits that make them a unique individual.
Gender roles are learned early in life. The importance of conforming to what society believes is correct is stressed to children so that they will be socially pleasing to those around them. The essay, Becoming a Member of Society: Learning the Social Meanings of Gender by Holly Devor, talks about the leaning process of gender identity and the effects it may have on an individual:
Learning to behave in accordance with one s gender identity is a lifelong process. As we move through our lives, society demands different gender performances from us and rewards, tolerates, or punishes us differently for conformity to, or digression from, social norms. As children, and later adults, learn the rules of membership in society, they come to see themselves in terms they have learned from people around them. (421)
Children begin to develop to concept of gender around the age of eighteen months (Devor 421). Their impressionable, young minds acquire a sense of how they are expected to behave in order to be considered a member of their gender. Children develop the concept of gender primarily based on physical appearance, such as how one dresses or wears their hair. Devor writes, Children, five to seven years old, understand gender as a function of role rather than a function of anatomy (423). After children decide what they believe is gender appropriate behavior, they emulate these actions and compare how they look and act to how people surrounding them conduct themselves.
To the degree that children absorb the generalized standards of society into their personal concept of what is considered correct behavior, they can be said to hold within themselves the attitude of the generalized other. This generalized other functions as a sort of monitoring or measuring device with which individuals may judge their own actions against those of their generalized conceptions of how members of society are expected to act. (423)
By simply observing their surroundings and patterning themselves after what they see, a child forms his or her identity as to what he or she perceives as acceptable.
Although many aspects of what society s perception of the traditional male and female roles in the past still remain the same today, many traits that were once scorned are now becoming more accepted. Physical strength, aggression, and effective leadership are just some of the characteristics that were, and in some people s opinion still are, needed in order for a male to be considered a real man. Jackson Katz s essay, Advertising and the Construction of Violent White Masculinity tells us how advertising reaffirms these beliefs:
One way that advertisers demonstrate the masculinity of a product or service is through the use of violent male icons or types from popular history. This helps to associate the product with the manly needs and pursuits that presumably have existed from time immemorial. It also furthers the ideological premise, disguised as common sense, that men have always been aggressive, brutal, and that their dominance over women is biologically based. (462)
Although the traditional male role still includes many of these masculine traits, society is slowly allowing men to display traits that are considered to be more feminine in nature, such as caring and compassion. An article featured in The St. Cloud Times titled, Mr. Moms emerge as wives take their careers to the next level, tells a story of a married couple, Ben and Maria Roundtree. Maria, being more job-oriented, is in charge of supporting this family financially, while Ben is comfortable in the role of a stay at home dad and a member of the PTA. The article says, Day by day, the couple forges new ground in their relationship, with traditional gender expectations giving way to what feels right. Society is slowly realizing that a man should not have to feel inadequate and like a sissy because he may be more tame than tough.
Society also has expectations and rules that women are supposed to obey. Phrases such as meek, mild, docile, tender, sweet, and domestic are all assimilated with femininity, and are all ways that women are supposed to behave. Women are also expected to be caretakers; to take care of the house, their children, and most importantly, their man. In Jamaica Kincaid s story, Girl a mother tells her daughter the things she needs to know how to do in order to prosper as a woman:
This is how you set a table for tea; this is how you set a table for dinner; this is how you set a table for dinner with an important guest; this is how you set a table for breakfast; this is how you behave in the presence of men who don t know you very well, and this way they won t recognize the slut I have warned you against becoming; be sure to wash everyday, even if it is with your own spit; don t squat down to play marbles you are not a boy, you know. (419)
Over time, and not without a struggle, society has allowed women to take on roles other than the one of the nurturing housewife. An interview conducted by Jean Reith Schroedel titled Nora Quealey tells the story of a woman that worked as a laborer for a trucking company, an occupation that is traditionally male dominated. Schroedel writes of one of Quealey s accomplishments at work: I was the first woman ever to do radiators. That I liked. A driver would bring in the radiators, and you d put it on a hoist, pick it up and put it on a sling, and work on one side putting your fittings on and wiring and putting in plugs (432). Although women still are sometimes treated unfairly in the workplace, especially in areas that are usually populated primarily with males, over time there has been an increase in gender equality.
To feel as if we belong to society and are not considered a social misfit gives us a sense of comfort and security. The roles of males and females have evolved to include characteristics that may have been shunned by society in the past. A man no longer has to be tough and macho to feel adequate, and a woman does not need to be thought of as a social outcast because she does not stay home and take care of the kids. Even though equal treatment of both sexes in society today is a concept that is still in the works, people are embracing the idea more readily than they once did, therefore making it okay to do things out of the norm and be true to yourself.