Updated: Oct 23, 2019
Women in the kitchen and men in the workplace, blue for boys and pink for girls. Where did gender roles like this come from? Some people argue that gender roles stem from our biology and say that it is illustrated in the way our ancestors used to live in the prehistoric ages while others say that gender roles are a social construct that have no basis in biology whatsoever. This is a well known topic of discussion that people far and wide debate almost daily but which side is right? What do the experts say?
Sigmund Freud, a neurologist famous for the invention of the “Freudian Theory” suggested that biology is what determines one’s gender identity, this idea was proposed in 1924 and was widely accepted and implemented in our culture. In today’s society, this idea has been heavily criticized and people argue that genitals do not dictate your gender identity or destiny. Sophie Sawyer, a pro LGBT writer wrote an article about how gender roles “really” came about. In the article it says that the traditional gender roles stem from the industrial revolution (1760-1820) where men would go work while women would take care of the home. She also stated that the traditional ways in which a woman should behave all come from a “The cult of true womanhood”.
“The cult of true womanhood” was a value system that prominent among American and English upper
middle class women during the the 19th century. Women were expected possess four virtues which
included, piety, submissiveness, purity and domesticity. Sawyer then states that these values were later passed on to magazines and religious/social leaders and these outlets then told women that their value lied in their virginity and that they should not to pursue any education besides religious education.
Today’s male gender roles stem from the Victorian ideal of manhood. What is referred to as the “The male gender role identity”, just like it’s female counterpart also had a certain number of virtues that were encouraged including “no sissy stuff” and “give ‘em hell”, they were also told to be a “sturdy oak”. Because of this men were seen as strong, aggressive and immune to all emotion. Boys were also discouraged from going to school due the popular belief that being well-behaved in a feminine trait. Ideals like this still hurt men to this day which can be seen in suicide statistics which has an overrepresentation of men.
Male dominance is prevalent in the animal kingdom, especially among mammals such as lions, hyenas and many species of apes including gorillas and orangutans. Since apes are closely related to humans it is often argued that our way of living originates from their way living, this includes male dominance. Male apes are larger than female apes in terms of weight and height, they are also physically stronger than their female counterparts. The same applies for human males, some believe that means that men were designed to hunt and provide and women who are weaker and smaller were designed to nurture and protect the young. While this may provide an explanation as to why men are the breadwinners and women take care of home, it still doesn’t explain why women and men are expected to wear different clothing and like certain colors.
Whether you believe in Freud’s idea that gender identity is based off of your biology or if you believe that it has a deeper historical meaning to it, it’s fair to say that both sides make good points that are worth considering.