Margaret Mead

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In Mead’s Sex and Temperament, how are gender-based expectations of behavior reinforced by society? Does society expect different behavior from men than from women? How is this possibly harmful to people?

Mead's Sex and Temperament relays the author's ideas that gender roles are reinforced through social conditioning. In most societies, these gender expectations have commonalities, such as the belief that men are domineering and brave and that women are nurturing and emotionally sensitive in nature. These gender expectations can have negative consequences on an individual, such as feelings of inadequacy and alienation, and can prevent a person from achieving authenticity and happiness.

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Mead states in this text that there are no inborn attributes of a certain gender, but that the society in which one lives determines the expected behaviors of a female or male. She goes to explain that when a male or female ideal is established by society, there is societal pressure to conform to that ideal.

The pressure that Mead speaks of is cultural conditioning. For example, suppose society expects women to be the braver sex. The society would encourage female participation in those things that developed courage. It may expose women to more threatening situations to build the desired trait of fearlessness. The more the woman is exposed to these expectations, ideas, actions, and role models, the more she is persuaded that these are the innate qualities of her gender. As a result, to feel validated as an individual, she allows that cultural expectation to dominate her actions.

While modern society is becoming less strict about gender roles, there are still some stereotypical qualities that it expects of both men and women. For example, men are generally expected to be leaders with strong domineering personalities. They are seen as weak if they display traits such as cowardice and subservience. Women, on the other hand, are typically expected to be softer, more nurturing, and less aggressive.

When society forces gender roles on individuals, this can cause emotional distress for people who do not fit this gender ideal. For example, if a man is sensitive and emotional in nature, he may feel pressured to be something that he is not. He may also experience feelings of inadequacy and alienation due to the fact that he does not meet gender traits.

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