Margaret Mead

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In Mead’s Sex and Temperament, in which Mead refutes the idea that there is a biological basis for masculine and feminine temperament, 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? How is this possibly harmful to people?

In Sex and Temperament, Mead shows that "masculinity" and "femininity" are social constructs that limit human development. This can be harmful because it may cause us to act in ways that are actually against our temperament. Society often sets unfair expectations for the behaviors and temperaments of both men and women, where men are expected to be "tough," and women are expected to be sexually attractive while also chaste and nurturing.

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Mead claims in Sex and Temperament that personality differences between the sexes are culturally determined. This means that one's relative "masculinity" or "femininity" are the result of the culture in which one is raised and social expectations.

It is clear that cultural and social expectations shape who we are in many different ways, and often we are not aware of it. More than that, cultural notions of gender roles serve as impossible standards by which we must measure ourselves. One is never "manly" enough, for example, though the drive to be "manly" often causes men to perform their gender in ways that are harmful, both to themselves and others. The impetus to appear "tough" or dispassionate is often the starting point for many kinds of abuse, for example. For women, the situation is much more complicated, as society expects them to fill many, often contradictory roles. While men must simply be "strong," women must be sexually attractive but also chaste. While men can avoid much of the work of childcare, women must be "mothers," an infinitely more complex and challenging role.

It's clear that these preconceptions about gender roles can be harmful. While they provide common values around which people can bond, they often are the root of a need to suppress certain personality traits that do not conform to social norms. This is harmful because they can make us less than who we are.

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