Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Gender
As economics becomes more globalized, the issue of gender roles remains central to the understanding political and economic evolution. IN order to understand cross-cultural differences related to gender, it is important that appropriate research instruments be developed. These research methodologies will support social scientists in the task of better understanding the nature, place, and contribution of gender roles to culture and society.
Keywords Androgyny; Cross-Cultural; Culture; Ethnicity; Gender; Gender Role; Gender Stereotype; Norms; Psychometrics; Sex; Socialization; Society; Subject; Survey
Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Gender
In terms of Western historical tradition, the concept of gender - or the psychological, social, cultural, and behavioral characteristics associated with being female or male – has traditionally been considered unalterably defined by physiology. Males, being the bigger and stronger of the sexes, were taught that they had a biological imperative not only to propagate the species, but to protect it. As a result, boys were taught from an early age to be aggressive, independent, dominant, and achieving. Women, on the other hand, were thought to be limited by their reproductive biology, in particular the constraints placed on them (or believed to be placed on them) by menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation. As a result, girls were taught from an early age to be nurturing, sensitive, emotional, and passive. Of course, there have been exceptions to these gender stereotypes throughout history, and many well-known examples of men and women who eschewed accepted gender roles and made their own way in the world. However, such examples were typically looked on as aberrations - exceptions that proved the rule rather than broke it.
Cultural Gender Perspectives
Considerations of gender roles and identity were greatly impacted by the work of Margaret Mead and her research with the native peoples of New Guinea. Her work helped overturn the notion of the biological imperative for gender stereotypes. In the Tchambuli culture of New Guinea, gender roles for women include doing the fishing and manufacturing, as well as controlling the power and economic life of the community. The Tchambuli women also take the lead in initiating sexual relations. On the other hand, Tchambuli men are dependent, flirtatious, and concerned with their appearance, often adorning themselves with flowers and jewelry. In addition, Tchambuli men have a great interest in art, games, and theatrics (Coon, 2001). If gender roles were completely biologically determined, the wide variation between American and Tchambuli gender roles would not be possible, because the physical biology of males is the same in both cultures. In response to the work of Mead and other sociologists, most social scientists reached the conclusion that culture and socialization also play a crucial role in gender role acquisition.
Not all cross-cultural gender role differences are quite as glaring as the comparison between traditional Western culture and the Tchambuli, however. Chuang and Cheng (1994), for example, performed a cross-cultural study to examine differences in gender role attitudes between Chinese and American students. Specifically, the researchers were interested in whether or not these were gender differences in attitudes towards women and gender roles and whether or not they were cultural differences in these attitudes. Subjects in the study came from a predominantly white state university in North Carolina and from the national nniversity in Taiwan. The subjects were given a set of survey instruments (translated into Chinese for the Chinese subjects) that examined attitudes towards women, marital roles, social interaction, male preference (for female subjects only), and expressivity (for male subjects only). Consistent with previous work in this area, the researchers found that all female subjects in both cultures desire to be more equal whereas males desired to continue playing a dominant role in society. The study also found that the Chinese subjects tended to be more conservative than the American subjects and that the Chinese women preferred masculine, dominant males more strongly than did their American counterparts.
International boundaries are not the only parameters that define cultures. Different generations have their own gender cultures as well. To this end, Franco, Sabattini, and Crosby (2004) explore the associations among gender-related ideologies, values, and behaviors and Latino and White families in the United States. Their work examines the correspondence among attitudes, values, and behaviors from two different ethnic groups in order to determine whether or not daughters perceive that their mothers and fathers differ in their gender-based ideology and commitments to gender roles. Subjects were given a survey that asked them to report on their perceptions of their mothers' and fathers' ideologies, values and behaviors. Other standard instruments were used to measure perceived gender role ideology, perceived personal values, perceived commitment to roles, and perceived behaviors of the parents. The results of the study indicated that Latinas were more likely than white respondents to indicate that they believe that their parents had traditional gender roles. Similarly, Latinas also believe that their parents exhibit a more traditional division of household labor. However, Latina participants did not differ significantly from white participants in their perceptions of the amount of time that their mother spent on parenting, although white participants did believe that their father spent more time parenting than did Latino participants.
The Effects of Time on Gender Perspectives
Gender roles also change and evolve within societies. If, as assumed by many theorists, gender role is largely a product of socialization and culture, it would be reasonable to assume that gender roles also will evolve to support these changes. Marini (1990) traces some of the changes between gender roles and the evolution of society from hunter-gatherers to industrialization. Prior to industrialization, the structures of work and family in societies were closely integrated. In such societies, large families were an economic asset because more children meant more workers within the family to plant, cultivate, and harvest. As a result, the reproductive role and productive work of mothers was valued in such societies. However, with the trend toward urbanization, gender roles also shifted. As agricultural productivity improved with greater dependence on tools and animals, women's labor was no longer as necessary for the success of the family farm. As a result, women shifted their focus to other activities, primarily within the home. With the onset of industrialization, institutions outside the family became the centers of productivity and workers left the home for employment. As new labor rights legislation limited the employment of children, they became more dependent on adults as caretakers. Combined with the fact that there was little demand for women's labor outside the home, this led to a greater degree of differentiation of labor within the role, which was absorbed into the gender roles.
Difficulties in Gathering Data
Gathering data in the social sciences can be a challenging task. This is due in part to the fact that although one can in many cases observe and even quantify data regarding an individual's behavior, knowing only what the end behavior is does not explain why the individual behaves that way. For the most part, social scientists are interested in why behavior occurs so that they can better understand the underlying processes that resulted in that behavior and be better able to explain and predict future behavior. For example, suppose that two people are window-shopping on a lazy summer afternoon and the one person turns to the other asks if s/he would be interested in getting an ice cream. The second person politely demurs, and the two continue their leisurely stroll. As social scientists observing this interaction, all we know for certain is that the second person refused to get an ice cream. What we do not know is why that person refused. We could, for example, interpret this response to mean that the second person was not hungry at that time. However, a host of alternative explanations are...
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