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Gender Roles and Sexism

Gender Roles and Sexism

Author: Zach Lamb

Identify the presence and purpose of gender roles in society.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain

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Hello. Welcome the sociological studies. I hope you're having a great day. In this lesson, we're going to discuss gender roles, category of gender, and the way society organizes power with respect to gender, be that matriarchy or patriarchy, two terms we'll cover in this lesson. Then we'll on to finish and discuss sexism, an effect of matriarch-- of patriarchy in society, typically.

So gender roles-- you've got some idea what I mean when I say this. Gender roles those are the associated behaviors, i.e. Roles, expectations, et cetera, associated with being a man or a woman in society. There's nothing innately natural about what women do and what men do. As we grow up, we learn how men are supposed to act in our and how women are supposed to act in our society.

We learn the gender roles through socialization. And we adopt them and internalize them ourselves. We get a picture of how males are supposed to act and how females are supposed to act. And we adjust our behavior accordingly. And these gender roles, as we said, are not natural. They're socially constructed. Each society constructions its own notion of gender roles. And we internalize them and adapt them as members of a society.

Of course, social construction of gender and gender roles, it's not constant through time. And in fact, it varies over history. What women can do now in our society, they couldn't have done 150 years ago. They couldn't have voted, for instance. Women weren't working out in the private sphere-- sorry, they weren't working out in the public space. Only men were doing that. So conventions of gender and gender roles change through time.

Just as they change through time, they vary across society to society at one point in time. So for instance, what it means to be a man and woman, the gender roles associated with those meanings, what it means to be that in Pakistan is not what it means to be a man or a woman in the United States today.

Given constructions of gender socially, we organize power in society right with it, along different gender lines. And we do this and establish matriarchy or patriarchy. Matriarchy is ruled by female. Or females are dominant in society. Matriarchy is maternal. Patriarchy, on the other hand, is the opposite. Males are dominant in society. And males are more powerful-- the word "patr."

Throughout history, patriarchal societies have been more common. Matriarchy is much more rare. The abundance of patriarchal societies and the persistence of patriarchy in society helps to explain why we have sexism. Sexism is an ideology that holds that one sex, usually males, is better than another inherently.

Sexism has social consequences, especially when it becomes institutionalized. For instance, as I said, women earn less money than men. And they're culturally dissuaded from pursuing better paying, typically more male dominated careers because of sexist attitudes. Now, this is giving way. Women are starting to fill out occupations that were typically male. So this is mitigated some through the passage of time and through gender equality. But yet we still see sexism in society. And we still are living in a patriarchal, or a patriarchy, society.

Well, just as society constructs categories of gender, it also constructs meanings to other categories, like race, like class, like age, different ages in society, like sexual orientation. So intersectionality is a theory that holds that multiple forms of disadvantage, or advantage on the other side, converge together to form an interlocking system of disadvantage for certain people or groups in society. So intersectionality is a very sociological theory. Your various identity categories combine or intersect into interlocking systems of advantage or disadvantage.

So this idea forces us to think about how different intersections of identity such as gender, race, class, age combine and converge to structure a set of advantages or on the flip side, a set of disadvantages in society. So these are all identities then that converge and structure our life chances. Intersectionality helps us to understand the connections between gender and other social identities in society.

Intersectionality is a very sociological idea, because it gives us a way to think about how different socially-constructed categories like race, gender, class, and age, for instance, all combine and connect with each other for particular groups of people and for particular individuals to then structure advantage or disadvantage in society. So what if you are a 27-year-old black female living in the inner city in a poor neighborhood? You're a member of a lower class. So how does this combine to produce advantage or disadvantage? What about changing one variable? What if you're a 27-year-old black female who is extremely wealthy who is an upper class? Well, how does the intersection of these categories then lead to advantage or disadvantage in society?

Sociologists are very fond of the word intersection. It's kind of a sociological buzzword. Sociologists love saying, I've studied the intersection of environmental politics and class. Or I've studied the intersection of race and gender. I'm going through apply for PhDs right now, so I'm reading endless streams of faculty bios. And everybody studies the intersection of something. So it's a very sociological idea.

I hope you enjoyed this discussion of gender in the social construction of gender roles, and how they cross cut with other identities such as race, class, and age with this idea of intersectionality, as well as we discussed sexism, matriarchy and patriarchy. Have a great rest of your day.

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.