Margaret Mead

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Answer the following questions in the context of Mead's Sex and Temperament, in which Mead refutes the idea that there is a biological basis for masculine and feminine temperament. What temperament traits do you have, and are they linked to gender expression? How are gender-linked expectations of behavior reinforced by society?

Gender-linked expectations are reinforced by society through media, art, normative modeling of individuals, and power structures, among other things.

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The first question of the two is subjective and personal. My temperament traits are decisive, calm, logical, and assertive. I do not believe they are linked to my gender expression of being female, because they feel natural as opposed to nurtured. I've exhibited these traits since my early childhood, and they've been unaltered by the various environments and groups in which I've found myself over the years. Additionally, they are not stereotypical gender-linked traits of female gender expression as explored by Mead in Sex and Temperament. This part of the answer will be different for the student who has asked this question, based on that student's gender expression and temperament traits.

Gender-linked expectations of behavior are enforced in myriad ways throughout society. Consider first two tropes in literature, film, art, and other media: the damsel in distress and the knight in shining armor. The traits associated with the damsel in distress emphasize her stereotypical femininity. Her beauty, helplessness, fear, and objectification make her the ideal prize for an heroic man to rescue. The traits associated with the knight in shining armor emphasize his stereotypical masculinity. His chivalry, physical strength, bravery, and violence make him the ideal hero every woman would supposedly want.

Examples of these tropes pervade both classical and modern forms of expression, from Sleeping Beauty to Pretty Woman. We see celebrities grace the covers of magazines that depict them having the physical traits that reinforce these gendered ideas; strong men with alpha dominance and diminutive women with innocent sexuality pervade today's proverbial zeitgeist. Additionally, power structures in our society reinforce the traditions of the strength and prowess of men and the weakness and inability of women. One must only examine the faces of government and industry to see the manifestation of these ideas in action.

Mead's study is groundbreaking because it asserts and proves that gender norms are socially constructed rather than biologically innate. Her observations of three tribes demonstrate three different social value systems. In one, all members display what we would consider female temperaments. In another, all members display what we would consider male temperaments. In the third, what we would consider gender temperament norms are reversed, with aggressive women and nurturing men. Although much of our society reinforces the gender norms we've come to expect and that have been identified herein, there are many counter narratives that support Mead's findings throughout the history of human expression.

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