Margaret Mead

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Based on 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?

Two traits which are strongly linked to gender expression in Western societies are extroversion and agreeableness. You can examine whether you fit the stereotype of extroverted, disagreeable man or introverted, agreeable woman before examining how the media treats men or women who do not conform to these types.

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Margaret Mead's central thesis is that gender differences in temperament are culturally constructed rather than endemic. Therefore, whether you have a masculine or feminine temperament will depend on the society in which you live.

You will need to list your own temperament traits to complete this exercise. There are many different ways of describing people's temperaments, but psychologists and psychometric testing often rely on what are called the "big five" traits: extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness, and neuroticism.

The traits most often clearly linked to gender expression in Western societies are extroversion and agreeableness. Men are generally expected to be more extroverted and less agreeable than women. When you have considered your own experience and whether these generalizations apply to you or not, you can consider how these expectations are socially reinforced. For instance, you might find that a man in a powerful position is praised in the media for being tough and uncompromising, while a woman in a similar role who acts in the same way is dismissed as strident. Conversely, you might find that a man who is high in agreeableness is labelled effeminate or seen as a "pushover," while a woman who exhibits the same behavior is seen as caring. Since most fields which gain media attention are highly competitive, it is much easier to find instances of women who are perceived as being too strong than of men who are seen as too weak.

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