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4.2: Gender Roles and Gender Stereotypes

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    Gender roles, refers to a society’s expectations of people’s behavior and attitudes based on whether they are females or males. Understood in this way, gender, like race, is a social construction. How we think and behave as females and males is not etched in stone by our biology but rather is a result of how society expects us to think and behave based on what sex we are. As we grow up, we learn these expectations as we develop our gender identity, or our beliefs about ourselves as females or males.

    These expectations are called femininity and masculinity. Femininity refers to the cultural expectations we have of girls and women, while masculinity refers to the expectations we have of boys and men. A familiar nursery rhyme nicely summarizes these two sets of traits:

    What are little boys made of?

    Snips and snails,

    And puppy dog tails,

    That’s what little boys are made of.

    What are little girls made of?

    Sugar and spice,

    And everything nice,

    That’s what little girls are made of.

    As this nursery rhyme suggests, our traditional notions of femininity and masculinity indicate that we think females and males are fundamentally different from each other.

    baby twins, one boy and one girl
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\):  Infant girls traditionally wear pink, while infant boys wear blue. This color difference reflects the different cultural expectations we have for babies based on their (biological) sex.[1]

    The attitudes and expectations surrounding gender roles are not typically based on any inherent or natural gender differences, but on gender stereotypes, or oversimplified notions about the attitudes, traits, and behavior patterns of males and females. We engage in gender stereotyping when we do things like making the assumption that a teenage babysitter is female.

    While it is somewhat acceptable for women to take on a narrow range of masculine characteristics without repercussions (such as dressing in traditionally male clothing), men are rarely able to take on more feminine characteristics (such as wearing skirts) without the risk of harassment or violence. This threat of punishment for stepping outside of gender norms is especially true for those who do not identify as male or female.

    Check-in Time!

    As a child, what toys did you play with? Were these toy selections at all influenced by your parents, the media, or friends? Why or why not?

    [1] Image by mgeejnr on Pixabay

    This page titled 4.2: Gender Roles and Gender Stereotypes is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Rebecca Laff and Wendy Ruiz via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform.