Margaret Mead

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In Mead’s Sex and Temperament, 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 is gender-linked expectations of behavior reinforced by society? Does our society expect different behavior from men than from women?

In Sex and Temperament, Mead concentrates particularly on expectations of assertiveness from men and passivity from women, which she says are socially conditioned, rather than innate. As well as drawing on your own experience, it is telling to examine how women in the public eye are regularly criticized for assertive behavior that would be regarded as normal in a man.

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The basis of Margaret Mead 's study is that the behavior expected from men and women depends on society and social conditioning rather than on any innate characteristics. Two of the character traits Mead examines most closely are assertiveness and passivity. These are useful examples, since they provide the extremes...

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The basis of Margaret Mead's study is that the behavior expected from men and women depends on society and social conditioning rather than on any innate characteristics. Two of the character traits Mead examines most closely are assertiveness and passivity. These are useful examples, since they provide the extremes of a continuum on which you can place yourself. Assertiveness and passivity are clearly linked to gender expression, with the former being regarded in many societies as a masculine trait, the latter as a feminine one.

Having decided where you personally fall on the continuum and whether this lines up with the expectations of the society in which you live, it is easy to find many examples of socially reinforced expectations of assertive behavior from men and passive behavior from women. The latter is particularly prevalent and can be found in the media coverage of practically any woman in a position of power. Angela Merkel and Hillary Clinton have particularly often been singled out for actions and expressions that would be regarded as perfectly normal for men occupying the same positions, and the same is true of women who occupy prominent positions in commerce, the law, or academia.

Perhaps the most telling examples come from the media itself. Certain interviewers such as Megyn Kelly and Cathy Newman have been heavily criticized for aggressive questioning when this is precisely the job they have been hired to do, and far more heavy-handed interviewing techniques from male journalists go unremarked.

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