Margaret Mead

Start Free Trial

Consider 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? Does our society expect different behavior from men than from women? If so, in what ways?

In patriarchal societies, traits such as competitiveness and assertiveness are associated with masculinity, while patience and compassion are seen as primarily feminine traits. Society reinforces expectations of gender-linked behavior by praising women in the public eye for showing traditionally feminine traits and criticizing their behavior when it is seen as masculine. This occurs even though assertiveness, for instance, is clearly a quality to be expected in any leader, male or female.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Margaret Mead's fundamental thesis in Sex and Temperament is that whatever traits you have, they are only linked to gender expression by the society in which you live. Assertiveness will be considered a masculine trait in a male-dominated society, but not in one that is matriarchal and matrilineal. In ...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Margaret Mead's fundamental thesis in Sex and Temperament is that whatever traits you have, they are only linked to gender expression by the society in which you live. Assertiveness will be considered a masculine trait in a male-dominated society, but not in one that is matriarchal and matrilineal. In Paradise Lost, Milton describes Adam and Eve as the archetypes of a patriarchal society.

Not equal, as their sex not equal seemed;
For contemplation he and valor formed,
For softness she and sweet attractive Grace,
He for God only, she for God in him.

Assuming that you live in the United States of America, Western Europe, or another country with a culture ultimately derived from that of the West, traits regarded as masculine will include competitiveness, assertiveness, a focus on your own needs, and a preference for logical, linear thought processes. Feminine traits include patience, compassion, tact, caring for others, and a preference for intuition. If you are male and have mostly masculine traits or female and have mostly feminine traits, then you are "gendered," which means that you display the behavior society expects.

A little more than a hundred years of feminism has made some impact on thousands of years of patriarchy, but society still expects different behavior from men and women. To see how this is reinforced, you have only to look at media coverage of women in positions of power and authority. Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, generally conforms to the traditionally feminine forms of gender expression, being soft-spoken, self-deprecating, compassionate, and tactful. Ardern consistently receives the most positive press coverage of any female leader, while Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, and Kamala Harris are regularly criticized for being too aggressive, even though the same behavior is considered perfectly natural in their male counterparts.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team