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Gender in Culture

Gender in Culture

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand that some cross cultural conflict may arise from different cultures' assignment of gender roles and traits

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Video Transcription

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We've been talking about gender and cultural views of what is appropriate for men and for women in terms of behavior and roles in society. I'm Marlene, and today I'd like to talk about how cross-cultural conflicts can arise.

Cultures are going to differ in terms of how they see gender appropriateness for men and for women. And there are going to be some commonalities. In general, you could say that most cultures still see official power as something that is held traditionally by men, and unofficial power is something that's held by women. This is changing. You can see this change gradually happening around the globe. But the changes are in pockets. It's certainly not widespread, and many countries still hold that view about power. And there are other differences, of course, in terms of how conservative or how liberal people are in terms of gender equality by culture.

You may be behaving in a way that you consider gender appropriate, and it is gender appropriate within your culture. But it may not be seen that way by other cultures. This would be called culture gender appropriateness, what is considered appropriate for males or females within any particular culture. You may run into this when you travel, but you don't even have to travel abroad to run into this. In the great melting pot we live in here in the United States, it's possible to run into a variety of cultures that are different from the one that you perhaps grew up in.

What happens when two cultures collide this way, when perhaps a person from one culture interacts with someone from another culture and the perceptions of gender-inappropriate behavior are different? What can happen is that the cultures will have perceptions about each other that could be negative. This can be based on the way we express what we think is appropriate. It can be dress. It can be the way we communicate.

For example, a woman dressing in pants or wearing something considered a bit more revealing in terms of a shorter skirt, or even in some cases sleeveless blouses, could be considered very gender inappropriate. A woman should not dress this way. Or a businesswoman who may be direct and exhibit what are considered more strongly associated with masculine traits in the way she conducts business-- perhaps direct eye contact, goal oriented, competitive, decisive, maybe disagreeing openly with her male counterpart-- could be considered as very inappropriate and leave very negative perceptions not only about her, but about the culture as a whole.

By the same token, someone who has grown up in a culture where that is considered gender appropriate may be interacting with someone from another culture who is behaving in a way that they may consider very offensive or inappropriate. For example, you could have an American businesswoman doing business in a South American country where the idea is to be more chivalrous if you're a man, to be chivalrous towards women. And it's not considered offensive. It's considered polite to make comments that might be more personal about a way a woman looks, or treat her in ways that would be more respectful as though she were more dependent.

These, of course, words or adjectives that I'm using are words that might come into the mind of a North American woman, someone from the US doing business in a country like this. If she's treated this way, she may have perceptions here that are negative about the culture and about the person who's treating her in this way that is meant to be just chivalrous, chivalry.

These ideas can cause these negative perceptions. By the same token, we may see a woman from a country where it's considered proper to dress very conservatively and perhaps behave in a way that's a bit more quiet. Pursuing education and equality in the workplace, that may cause some cognitive dissonance or a sense of not understanding that this could be true. Because we have these ideas that become stereotypes, you see, on either side, stereotypes about someone who would dress or behave in a certain way, being a certain way, because everybody in the culture must be that way.

So a stereotype is taking broad assumptions and expectations about what a culture assigns to gender appropriateness and what that means, and applying it to every individual when it's simply not true. And it can come from cultural misunderstanding. So these ideas, these stereotypes, these negative perceptions, this bias, comes from interacting, when individuals interact and they have different perceptions of what is appropriate for men and for women in their culture.

I've enjoyed being part of this tutorial, and I look forward to next time.

Terms to Know
Cultural Gender Appropriateness

Behavior considered “right, proper, or correct” for a member of a given gender within his/her culture.


Forming a belief that certain general trends or traits of a group (culture) apply equally strongly to all individual members of that group; perceiving people as simplistic representatives of abstract cultural traits rather than as individuals.