Margaret Mead

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In Mead's Sex and Temperament, how does society reinforce gender-linked behavior expectations? Does society expect different behaviors from men and women?

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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.

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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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? If so, in what ways? How is this possibly harmful to people?

In Sex and Temperament, Mead discusses how certain traits that some members of a biological sex possess have developed into expectations for the entire sex. For example, consider how women are often considered to be more compassionate than men. These expectations for females emerged from cross-cultural social behavior in which women would act maternal toward their children. Yet this expectation was rooted in care-taking responsibilities given to women, not an inherent biological capacity to be more caring than men. Mead also explains that when a trait like care-taking is assigned to one sex, it is “disallowed” in the other (Mead 286). Men were historically hunters in early human societies, which led to the socially constructed belief that male temperament is inherently more brave and aggressive than female temperament. Mead goes on to discuss how once such expectations develop from social behaviors, socially constructed norms continue to reinforce them.

When considering the presence of this trend in our society, consider how Mead discusses the influence of war. She writes, “If a society insists that warfare is the major occupation for the male sex, it is therefore insisting that all male children display bravery and pugnacity” (286). Here Mead suggests that the links humans created between males and bravery back in hunter-gatherer societies, created a social pressure on boys and men to exhibit bravery. Gendering social institutions or actions like war perpetuate gendered social expectations.

When reflecting on how this may be harmful, consider how young boys and girls may respond to social pressures enforced on them solely on the basis of their biological sex. For example, Mead writes that sometimes a society goes so far linking gender to expectations of behavior, that “men are forbidden to show fear” (286). Human experience of course tells us that all humans feel fear. Social pressures to repress such important emotions like fear might lead men to express those emotions in inappropriate, harmful ways. You might also consider how many men and women do not feel they possess the traits identified with their gender. In a society that does not permit defiance of gendered expectations, this might alienate people from understanding their own identities.

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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?

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.

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In Mead’s Sex and Temperament, Mead refutes the idea that there is a biological basis for masculine and feminine temperaments. How is gender-linked expectations of behavior reinforced by society? Does society expect different behavior from men than from women? If so, in what ways?

There are many ways that society reinforces gender-linked expectations of behavior, including the expectation of women to be more docile or "ladylike" than men, less ambitious career-wise, and more nurturing.

Society does expect different behavior from men than from women in that it expects men to be ambitious and colors aggression as just a shade of that ambition. By comparison, when a woman is ambitious, she is labeled as too aggressive or even shrewish.

When a woman is attractive, society sometimes attributes any career success that she might have to her leveraging her looks, an accusation that is not made as frequently with men. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, many people that were surveyed indicated their belief that society values honesty, morality, and professional or financial success in men; but for women, society values physical attractiveness and nurturing traits, such as empathy. This is a clear double standard that pervades most levels of society. Moreover, it hurts both sexes because it imposes pressure on men to be unemotional—15% of respondents in the Pew survey believed men should not be emotional or sensitive—and have career drive even if they do not feel it innately, and it pressures women to appear vulnerable and accepting even when they do not feel it.

According to the Pew survey, although there are traits that people agree society values in both sexes, far fewer people validate these traits equally in both sexes. Specifically, lower percentages of respondents agreed that women ought to be tough and assertive compared to the numbers who agreed that these were attractive traits for men to possess.

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Based on 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?

Margaret Mead's central thesis is that gender differences in temperament are culturally constructed rather than endemic. Therefore, whether you have a masculine or feminine temperament will depend on the society in which you live.

You will need to list your own temperament traits to complete this exercise. There are many different ways of describing people's temperaments, but psychologists and psychometric testing often rely on what are called the "big five" traits: extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness, and neuroticism.

The traits most often clearly linked to gender expression in Western societies are extroversion and agreeableness. Men are generally expected to be more extroverted and less agreeable than women. When you have considered your own experience and whether these generalizations apply to you or not, you can consider how these expectations are socially reinforced. For instance, you might find that a man in a powerful position is praised in the media for being tough and uncompromising, while a woman in a similar role who acts in the same way is dismissed as strident. Conversely, you might find that a man who is high in agreeableness is labelled effeminate or seen as a "pushover," while a woman who exhibits the same behavior is seen as caring. Since most fields which gain media attention are highly competitive, it is much easier to find instances of women who are perceived as being too strong than of men who are seen as too weak.

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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 society expect different behavior from men than from women? If so, in what ways? How is this possibly harmful to people?

Margaret Mead argues that whether your temperament is regarded as masculine or feminine depends on the society in which you live. Psychologists in Western societies often rely on the so-called "Big Five" personality traits to assess a person's temperament. These are extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, conscientiousness, and openness.

Studies differ in their precise findings, but one consistent result is that women score higher in agreeableness than men. Toronto University clinical psychologist, Dr. Jordan Peterson, who has conducted many of these tests, points out that agreeableness is a mixed blessing. Highly disagreeable people are overrepresented in prison but also among billionaires and multimillionaires.

To see how society reinforces expectations of agreeableness from women, look at newspaper coverage of women in prominent positions: Angela Merkel, Jacinda Ardern, Kamala Harris, or Hillary Clinton. Of these women, Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, receives the most consistently positive press for her self-deprecating manner and preference for conciliation over confrontation. Angela Merkel, by contrast, is often criticized for being too "masculine" in her style of leadership.

There are several reasons why such stereotypes are harmful, but one obvious problem is that they tend to limit the ways in which conflicts can be solved. A leader should have the widest possible range of solutions at their disposal. Expecting a female leader to be conciliatory and a male leader to be confrontational—and punishing them with social disapproval when they fail to display these characteristics—clearly makes conflict more difficult to solve.

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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?

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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Based on 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?

Mead is part of a long line of researchers in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries who challenged traditional ideas that gender traits are biological and inborn, stating instead that they are indoctrinated by society. There is not an innate female or male temperament. Gender norms are socially produced and constructed.

You will have to look personally at your own life to determine what temperament traits you have and how they are linked to gender stereotypes or expressions. In Western society, gender-linked expectations of behavior include expecting boys to be aggressive and physically active while girls are expected to be physically passive and nurturing. This is reinforced from a very early age, starting in infancy before an infant can remember. By the time a child is a toddler, say 18 months or two, in almost all cases they have a firm sense of gender and what expectations that gender entails. Girls by that age have typically been inundated with dolls, toy jewelry, and pretty, ornate clothing, while boys have been inundated with cars and plastic baseball bats. Girls are still often told to stop being wild and sit still while boys are praised as "all boy" for the same behavior.

To locate gender-socialized traits in yourself, you would likely want to go back to your earliest memories of how boys and girls were treated differently. I, for example, would look at all the subtle ways my supposedly progressive kindergarten reinforced gender norms, such as encouraging the boys to ride the trikes in the courtyard while girls were encouraged to head for the quiet dress-up corner. I can remember noticing these things, but not knowing I could challenge them.

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Answer the following questions in the context of 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?

The first question of the two is subjective and personal. My temperament traits are decisive, calm, logical, and assertive. I do not believe they are linked to my gender expression of being female, because they feel natural as opposed to nurtured. I've exhibited these traits since my early childhood, and they've been unaltered by the various environments and groups in which I've found myself over the years. Additionally, they are not stereotypical gender-linked traits of female gender expression as explored by Mead in Sex and Temperament. This part of the answer will be different for the student who has asked this question, based on that student's gender expression and temperament traits.

Gender-linked expectations of behavior are enforced in myriad ways throughout society. Consider first two tropes in literature, film, art, and other media: the damsel in distress and the knight in shining armor. The traits associated with the damsel in distress emphasize her stereotypical femininity. Her beauty, helplessness, fear, and objectification make her the ideal prize for an heroic man to rescue. The traits associated with the knight in shining armor emphasize his stereotypical masculinity. His chivalry, physical strength, bravery, and violence make him the ideal hero every woman would supposedly want.

Examples of these tropes pervade both classical and modern forms of expression, from Sleeping Beauty to Pretty Woman. We see celebrities grace the covers of magazines that depict them having the physical traits that reinforce these gendered ideas; strong men with alpha dominance and diminutive women with innocent sexuality pervade today's proverbial zeitgeist. Additionally, power structures in our society reinforce the traditions of the strength and prowess of men and the weakness and inability of women. One must only examine the faces of government and industry to see the manifestation of these ideas in action.

Mead's study is groundbreaking because it asserts and proves that gender norms are socially constructed rather than biologically innate. Her observations of three tribes demonstrate three different social value systems. In one, all members display what we would consider female temperaments. In another, all members display what we would consider male temperaments. In the third, what we would consider gender temperament norms are reversed, with aggressive women and nurturing men. Although much of our society reinforces the gender norms we've come to expect and that have been identified herein, there are many counter narratives that support Mead's findings throughout the history of human expression.

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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?

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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After reading Mead’s Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, 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?

In Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, Margaret Mead uses three anthropological studies of tribes in Papua, New Guinea to make the case that gender differences are conditioned rather than innate. Since Mead's study, many psychological models for evaluating temperament have been proposed, the most influential of which is currently that of the Big Five personality traits: Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Neuroticism, and Openness. Only two of these traits are strongly linked to gender expression. Women consistently score higher on both Agreeableness and Neuroticism than men, particularly the former. You might consider taking one of the many Big Five personality tests available online (most of which take between ten and thirty minutes) to give you an indication of what your dominant personality traits are. Be aware, however, that some of these require you to pay to see your results.

If you are high in Agreeableness, you will generally be perceived as having a more feminine temperament. Whereas Agreeableness is clearly a useful trait for both men and women, particularly in such fields as diplomacy and management, a high degree of Agreeableness is often seen as weak and indecisive in men. The same level of Agreeableness, however, would be seen as normal in a woman, while a man who occupies a high position in business, politics, or the military is often expected to be actively disagreeable in order to show strength and command respect.

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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 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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