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Gender Roles and Sexism

Gender Roles and Sexism

Author: Paul Hannan

Identify the presence and purpose of gender roles in society.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain Male Public Domain Female Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this episode of Sociology-- Studies of Society. Today's lesson is on gender roles and sexism. As always, don't be afraid to pause, stop, rewind, or even fast forward to make sure you get the most out of this tutorial. So in this lesson, I'm going to be breaking down what gender roles are and what sexism is. Let's start by looking at gender role.

Now, the first start to really understanding a general is, well, what is a role. Now, maybe you've learned this in other places like one of my other tutorials from somewhere else, but a role is just an expected behavior based on status. So I expect someone to act this way because of their status. So a gender role then-- well, you add gender to it. So I'm expecting a behavior from someone based on their gender.

Now, gender can differ a lot from society to society, but another way the gender really differs is who really has the power within a society. So here we have two different examples of who controls the most power. We have a patriarchy and a matriarchy. Now, as I explain these two terms, consider them as a spectrum. So on the far left, you can have very patriarchal societies. And then as you move towards the middle, you'll have some patriarchy-- and then in the very middle, an exactly equal society. And then as you move to the right, more power for women-- so more matriarchy.

And this is going to vary from society to society. But in its basic core, a patriarchy is a place, a society, where the males have the power. They're able to control-- and again in different levels of control-- but control women. And they really hold the dominant position in social life. On the other hand, the other end of the spectrum is a matriarchy. So here the women have the power and they control the men and they hold the dominant position.

Now, throughout history, there have been very few examples of matriarchies. And it's really unclear exactly why that is. But especially as we look at modern society, that scale of patriarchy is really important to look at. So some cultures-- let's take, for example, Iran in the Middle East. That is much more patriarchal than here in the United States of America. The males have much more control in Iran than they do in America.

Both are patriarchal societies, so Both have the males having more power in a more dominant position over women. But again, it's going to vary from society to society. So another thing that ties kind of in with that, of course, is when the genders aren't equal. And a good term for that is sexism. So sexism is just viewing that one sex is better than the other.

Now again, historically, there aren't as many examples of sexism against men. It's not to say that it doesn't exist, but really sexism is looking at thinking that men are better than women. And it really can impact individuals in a lot of different ways, especially, I mean, if you think about females, it doesn't even limit them only in their personal life or their professional. It can really happen to either. So as a woman, you might be working full time, and same with your husband.

You might go home and expectation is that you take care of the kids and clean the house and make dinner while the husband is allowed to watch TV. That'd be an example of sexism in a personal life, where this woman has these extra expectations , because they're not viewed as being as good as the males. On the other hand, you can look at professionally the way sexism really can affect women. The two most salient examples, I think, for that would be the wage gap and the glass ceiling.

So the wage gap is the idea that you can have two individuals with the exact same credentials doing equally good a job, and the woman is going to make less money than the man simply because she's a woman. The glass ceiling is the idea that women who are successful in their job and are being promoted, they reach a certain point where they can't be promoted anymore. And it doesn't have to do with their ability. It has to do with this glass ceiling, so this invisible barrier that really stops them from reaching the upper echelons of companies and of management.

And above that glass ceiling, it's basically all males. It's an all boys club. It's because they're not viewed as being as good as the males. So we looked at sexism, and sexism of course is similar to racism. And there's this interesting theory called the intersectionality theory that looks at the ways that all these different types of oppression-- you know, racism, sexism, ageism-- how these can all combine together to make a different experience of what discrimination is.

So I have an equation over there on the right to help you maybe think about this. So race plus gender equals discrimination. So you know, if you're black and you're a woman, well, then you can add up how much discrimination is because you're African-American and you can add up how much discrimination is because you're a women. That's discrimination. Well, this theory says that doesn't work. That doesn't really come close to understanding what discrimination is like for someone like that.

Intersectional theory is really saying that these different types of oppression can really combine and overlap, and they make a totally different experience of discrimination. So what someone experiences an African-American woman is going to be a different experience than someone who is an African-American or a woman or some other combination of oppressed groups. So on the screen, it says race times gender. And again, it's not as simple equation as that, but at least it's showing that it's more than just adding together these different forms of oppression.

So today's takeaway message-- we started by looking at gender roles, and those are just expected behavior based on gender. Then we looked at two different ways society can be constructed around gender. We have a matriarchy-- and that's where the women have all the power-- and a patriarchy, where the males have all the power. Last, we looked at intersectional theory. And this the idea that different forms of oppression combine and create a totally different experience of discrimination for any combination of those.

Well, that's it for this lesson. Good work, and hopefully you'll be seeing me on your screen again soon. Peace.

Terms to Know
Gender Roles

Expectations for behavior based on one's gender status (male or female).


A theory that multiple forms of oppression (e.g. race, gender, age, sexuality, disability) combine to create overlapping experiences of discrimination.


A form of social organization where women have power and control and hold the dominant positions in social life.


A form of social organization in which males hold the dominant positions in society and in the household, holding authority over wives and daughters.


The view that one sex is better than the other.