In any culture, ideas of masculinity and femininity influence societal expectations. While these expectations are not inescapable, the new generation takes its cues from older generations, and thus, any change in them is slow. Few would argue that some differences do exist between men and women. However, are these differences significant enough to perpetuate male and female stereotypes? More importantly, do such stereotypes serve any benefit to an individual or culture?
Jeanne Humphrey Block, author of Conceptions of Sex Role- Some Cross Cultural and Longitudinal Perspectives, uses the term “sex role” to describe the set of characteristics that define and differentiate men and women. This role is a “synthesis of biological and cultural forces as they are mediated by cognitive and ego functions.” (Block, p2) Perception of one’s sex role plays an important part in how an individual behaves and sees him/herself. Block uses Loevenger’s Milestones of Ego Development to identify the stage at which gender identity occurs. She suggests that sex role development begins with the Conformity stage, where the child first begins to be concerned with external social cues and rules. Periods following the conformity stage, Conscientious, Autonomous and Integrated, are influenced by the child’s initial exposure to gender characteristics and differences.
Analysis of parenting styles indicates several differences in how boys and girls are typically raised. For example, parents put more pressure on school-aged boys to achieve and expect less from girls. Girls are expected to be nurturing while boys are directed towards self-reliance. (Block, p7) Reasons for these differences can be traced back to primitive society where men were hunters while women bore and primarily cared for children. Even though current society blurs these ancient gender specific tasks, an analysis of modern cultures in several countries indicates that masculine-feminine ideals predominate, but under broader definitions than primitive society maintained. These results imply to Block that sex roles from less civilized times are outdated and do not benefit either men or women when adhered to rigidly.
Sandra Bem goes a step further in the gender role debate by suggesting such roles be thrown out entirely; they are essentially self-fulfilling prophecies. In her article, Gender Schema Theory: A cognitive account of sex-typing, she defines “sex typing” as the process of encouraging sex-specific skills, self-concepts and personality traits to males and females; i.e. how men become masculine and women become feminine. Sex typing has significant psychological effects on the individual and their development. Furthermore, Bem...