Margaret Mead

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In Mead’s Sex and Temperament, she 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 are society expect different behavior from men than from women?

We have Margaret Mead to thank for much of our contemporary theories about gender. Sociologists tend to agree that gender, insofar as it dictates behavior, is a social construct. While some theorists and evolutionary biologists point to other species as evidence of gender-based behaviors, there is limited science to support biological cause for those behaviors.

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Margaret Mead provides much of the context for sociologists to discuss gender based on her field studies comprised of intensive cultural ethnographies. In her work, she observed enough distinct differences in gender roles that she concluded gendered behavior is not inborn, but learned, and therefore a construct.

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Margaret Mead provides much of the context for sociologists to discuss gender based on her field studies comprised of intensive cultural ethnographies. In her work, she observed enough distinct differences in gender roles that she concluded gendered behavior is not inborn, but learned, and therefore a construct.

If we take Mead's thesis as true, then we must examine the conditions in our culture that have led to our beliefs about gender; for example, the concept of men as provider and protector. This belief did not originate in the 1950s; it has been passed down to us from patriarchal societies over millennia. Therefore, in the recent past, we have erroneously considered classified men who do not exhibit these behaviors as disordered.

Often we conflate biological distinctions with gendered behavior. Some may point to relative physical strength as inborn based on gender. However, we can understand that, in general, males are physically stronger than females and at the same time see that some females are dramatically physically stronger than some males. In short, biological distinctions do not equal gendered behavior. The stronger female is not considered a man now that she is physically stronger than a biological male, nor is the male considered female because he cannot bench press as much as the female. The belief that men are generally stronger than women is biology; the belief that men are always stronger than women is a gendered expectation (that cannot be proven).

Society reinforces beliefs about gender behavior through culture, peer groups, and social institutions; media in particular. Though media takes the brunt of the blame when dissecting gender expectations, the media can also be a positive force for shifting our understanding of gender. For example, through the early 2000's, women were depicted, almost solely, as users and consumers of household cleaning products. Between 2010 and 2018, marketing shifted to include men and women as co-users of these products, with some ads featuring bachelors, same-sex male couples, or stay at home dads. According to the Wall Street Journal, since 2017, the depiction of males doing domestic chores has increased dramatically year over year. While the change in marketing may not inherently change who does most of the housework, the shift in representation does underscore that housework is not gendered behavior.

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