This article will firstly discuss what makes a male or a female by differentiating sex and gender. After which, the stereotypical roles of each sex will be traced to show the development of the modern roles which our men and women play respectively.
It's All About Sex
It is indeed all about sex. Sex is the fundaments for this struggle. It differentiates the two camps ever since its existence and continues to do so. Yet at the same time, the two sexes have to co-exist with certain chemistry for hopefully, harmony and lineage continuality. You see, the human race is composed of males and females. Possibly the only proven and acknowledged differences between these two sexes are their hormonal make-ups and reproductive organs. The male has 97% "male hormones" such as testosterone while the female has 97% "female hormones" such as oestrogen and progesterone. The remaining 3% hormones are of the opposition sex. These hormones induce emotional and biological changes from puberty onwards. Therefore, this means to say that the two sexes are more different than similar to begin with because their thought processes, emotional capabilities and biological functions etc are different due to their antagonistic hormonal compositions and different reproductive organs. In a nutshell, males and females are biologically different. But does this biological difference translate to different social roles and status for both sexes?
Sex vs. Gender
Sex cannot be confused with gender. Gender is a social construction of a sex. A person of a certain gender will reflect the behavioural, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with that sex. These traits are generalised societal and cultural expectations formed over time that deems what is appropriate and acceptable of that particular sex. This is also known as cultural conditioning (Mead, M. 1963. Sex and temperament in three primitive societies. New York: William Morrow). It has to be emphasised that absolute equality cannot be achieved because nothing is absolutely equal to begin with. Therefore, when we talk about the age-old struggle of the respective roles of men and women, we are referring to the different societal roles and social status which either men or women can and cannot play. And most importantly, why is that so?
We have to emphasise in this article yet again, the importance and significance of the age-old patriarchal society which we have inherited from the past. We have mentioned in other articles (E.g. a Timeline of the Dynamics of Male and Female) that in war-torn eras and struggles for survivals, having the males as the dominant sex was a suitable decision which most if not all societies had chosen. The men took the spears and swords to fight off the enemies or conquer land, the women stayed at home to bring up the kids. Also known as "specialisation" or "division of labour" if you would like to term it. Take for example, Confucius. He (who happened to live in a warring period around 500BC) encouraged the development of a "Harmonious Society" (和谐社会) which preaches everyone to fulfil their social roles- "A ruler as a ruler, a minister as a minister, a father as a father, and a son as a son". ("君君，臣臣，父父，子子") (Notice the emphasis of men even in his analects.) He believed that in life, things exist to complement each other. They cannot be similar, much less identical for this is unhealthy in the long run. The Chinese word "和" means exactly the coexistence of two different forms. "和谐" itself means to achieve harmony. So in the case of the two sexes, the man plays the dominant role and what he can do, mostly she cannot fulfil and vice versa. Of course, this is just an example of an oriental society. More examples will be given in other articles.
The Masculine Man and Feminine Woman
So here we have it - the stereotype of the man and woman developed over time:
- The masculine man is aggressive and active. He takes the lead; he has the strength and the power to order. He is logical and rationale. He is educated and taught that woman is subservient to him. He dominates politics and the workplace. He is the breadwinner of the family. In love, he initiates the chase. He is the player and in certain societies, he is not faulted when he practices polygamy. In a nutshell- He is the decision-maker. Sometimes, he is even called the "success object".
- The feminine woman is submissive and passive. She follows him; she is the weaker sex and listens obediently. She is greatly restricted. Often, she is neither seen nor heard. She is gentle and emotional. She is fragile and irrational. Weak even. She takes care of the family and she does all the mundane chores in the house. She is seldom educated and if she is, she often has to mask her identity as Anonymous, Tom or Harry to write (E.g. the Bronte Sisters). She is the forgetting sex in history. Sometimes, she is even known as the "sex object".
Neither can it be called the exploitation of the females nor the unfair ruling of the males. It takes two hands to clap. Whatever the past is, the dynamics of both sexes are changing and evolving. This is a huge milestone in human history. It is a stronger struggle than before. This also means that social expectations and roles have changed and is still changing. The social barrier has finally shifted thanks to new tides and discoveries.
- Firstly, the start of Feminism in the 18th century is a crucial factor. Women began to see that they should have more power and that their voices should be heard together with the men. Since then, the social statuses of both sexes are more balanced.
- Many studies have been made to show that gender is a construction of the sex. Such as Margaret Mead *, who in 1930s, proved that masculinity and femininity are not inherent traits but conditioned ones, society has finally begun to accept a switch in gender roles and social roles of the sexes.
- With industralisation, modernization and globalization, the physical strength is not a crucial criterion for developed countries. Skilled labour is in heavy demand now. This means that woman can finally compete on a more equal ground with man.
- The strong influence of western societies of the celebration of freedom, individualism and equal rights etc have societies to set the stage for the allowance of a more egalitarian society rather than a patriarchal one. Community over oneself is seldom emphasized now.
A New Struggle
In our modern era today, some are taking this change really well. Men are happy homemakers while women are multi-tasking more than with work and family. It is more acceptable for a man to learn origami and for a woman to play soccer in the muddy fields. Of course, this new change is difficult for most people to handle, especially the men whom find it difficult that the women are demanding them to work and to take care of the home at the same time. Women themselves are having a lot of problems with unequal wage rates as compared to their male counterparts. The political arena is still aggressively dominated by men. Therefore, this brings forth the question of whether equality of the sexes has already been achieved.
One has to note that this new struggle is natural for our generation, or even for our century, for this change in social status and societal expectations happened after 5000 years of male dominance! It will definitely take some time for humans to adapt to it.
Also, we have to realise that change is progressive and it varies in different societies. More importantly, this change is simply a change. It is hard to pin-point that if a society refuses this general trend of "changing social statuses and roles of the sexes", they are immoral or backward. Perhaps it is due to socio-economic reasons, some societies that do not like this change while others are only receptive to certain changes which this new century brings. Take for example, the Iranians. The women were willing to take on a more submissive and restrictive role to overthrow the Shar. With that, Iran is now a religious state which maintains a lot of cultural ethos of the old patriarchy. An example closer to home would be that even in our modern societies, not everyone can accept a masculine female aka a "she-man" or a feminine male aka the "new-age sensitive guy". In fact, we have a spectrum of this "degree of acceptance" and most of us are willing to retain our inherent traditional gender roles.
A Point to Note and a Final Word
Even though Margaret Mead's studies prove that masculinity and femininity are conditioned traits, it is interesting to note that most societies have males as the aggressive sex and females as the gentler sex which had allowed for male dominance in war-torn history. This then led to the stereotypical construction of the sex. Testosterone is supposedly a "male hormone" which makes one a "man" while oestrogen and progesterone are known as "female hormones" which make one a "woman". So if our hormones give us our traits of aggression and gentleness, perhaps male dominance is the "right" order for society.
But who knows? The fact that this huge change in social status and roles of the two sexes which has given us new problems happens in an age where physical strength is replaced by technology and skills, shows that perhaps in this new society, the "natural" traits and roles of the sexes are not that determining and crucial anymore. We cannot give a verdict for this, if this or the past roles of men and women are better or correct and this is finite. We can only say that in our modern world, this change is definite and people are constantly finding their places in this new ever-changing social system. It is still a struggle for both the man and woman to find the right balance.
* In the 1930s, the famous anthropologist Margaret Mead studied three cultures in New Guinea to support her theory "that masculine and feminine characteristics are based mostly on cultural conditioning". These three cultures were the Arapesh, Mundugumor and the Tchambuli. The Arapesh men and women showed traits which we would associate with femininity. She termed them as being "maternal". The Mundugumor were cannibals and head-hunters. The men and women displayed traits which we would link with masculinity. Both were equally virile and assertive. Finally, as for the Tchambuli, though they distinguished between the traits of both sexes, their gender expectations were the opposites of modern societies. Tchambuli women were dominant, while Tchambuli men were submissive and delicate. (Mead, M. 1963. Sex and temperament in three primitive societies. New York: William Morrow).