In contemporary U. K society gender identities to some extent, have changed. Both masculine and feminine identities could be argued that they have changes over time. Yet, stereotypical views of identity have remained similar. When people refer to gender they mean the cultural expectations attached to a persons se. in modern Britain for example, woman are seen as sensitive and caring, and therefore more suited to the supposedly feminine tasks of childcare. Men are seen as aggressive, promiscuous, dominant and confident so are therefore more suited to the supposedly masculine tasks.
When asked ‘Where do gender identities come from? ‘ there could be two valid views that could be discussed. The first of which is that they are a result of biological difference and the second view is that they are created by society and are socially constructed. The biological view is that genetic differences between males and females create natural differences in their attitudes and abilities and this explains why they end up in different social roles. The social constructionist view argues that gender is based on ‘nurture’ which comes in the form of socialisation and social environment.
Each society creates its own set of gender expectations and steers men and woman in the chosen directions. Gender identities cannot be genetically programmes since there are a vide variation in masculine and feminine behaviour between societies and over time. Margaret Meed showed the cultural flexibility of gender in her study of three New Guinea tribes. From this study it shows that gender differences are at least to some extent a matter of cultural choice. Males and females learn their gender identities and roles from a variety of agents of socialisation.
This is called gender role socialisation. Children are steered towards gender roles and identities by their parents. Parents use different forms of endearment for boys and girls such as “my little princess” and “that’s mummy’s brave soldier”. They dress boys and girls differently for example girls in pink whilst they dress boys in blue. They channel and manipulate their children in to socially acceptable gender identities. In children’s book males are promoted as boisterous whilst the girls are represented as caring homemakers.
Children will also be subjected to observations within the house which will make them aware of the differences of gender such as there mother doing the housework and cooking. In addition, studies show that by the time children start school they have already picked up gender stereotypes from home, peer groups and the mass media. Even at the early age they may be aware of gender differences between boys and girls. Sometimes they protest when they see other children behaving out of ‘character’, they will laugh at a boy who plays with dolls and get angry with a girl that plays with ‘boys’ toys.
This illustrates the effect that that agents of socialisation has on young children and helps socialise them into there genders. There are many inequalities between men and women, although roles are slowly changing inequality still remains. Women suffer large occupational inequality such as unequal pay. In American women earn 74 cent to the male’s dollar. Even though the equal pay act was legislated, last year woman are still getting 73% of men’s average weekly earnings. Also there is an inequality in not only lower paid wages, but they also have lower status jobs, sometimes this is because of family commitments.
There is also a higher rate of sexual harassment for woman than men. This just highlights the inequalities that women suffer in the work place. On the other hand, men also suffer inequality. Separated or divorced men are expected to maintain their families yet they are restricted in terms of custodial or access rights. The women tend to be favoured in many cases, but not all cases depending on circumstances. This just shows that both men and women have inequalities but not in the same areas. Masculinity can be referred to a set of beliefs describing the ideal male and the characteristics or traits traditionally held to be male in society.
Femininity can be referred to a set of beliefs describing the ideal female and the characteristics or traits traditionally held to be a female in society. Not all men and women are the same as each other. When discussing ‘masculinities’ and ‘femininities’ we need to appreciate that these are not merely two types of gender identities, but that in fact, there are different types of these identities. This has been highlighted by Connell, who illustrated that there are both dominant and subordinate forms of these identities, for example, gay sexuality is a subordinate from of masculinity.
So in fact, we should not be referring merely to ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’, but to ‘masculinities’ and ‘femininities’. For example we are faced with images of David Beckham, who, although being a football player, which is a typically masculine career, has challenged typical masculine roles, by toying with feminine identities, without actually being homosexual. He has done this by, for example, wearing nail varnish, or by appearing on the cover of gay magazine ‘Attitude’. Similarly the spice girls promoted feminine issues however ‘sporty spice’ was promoting what was seen as ladette culture.
This illustrated that nowadays females can be both feminine but with masculine traits and vice versa. Traditionally in our society men and women have adopted different roles, for example, builder is seen as a male occupation. Generally conformity is encouraged but today men and women have begun to adopt untraditional roles and alternative masculinities and femininities are recognised. Many women are no longer happy to be considered delicate as in the nineteenth century and are changing their behaviour. This change shows that gender identities are socially constructed because if they were biologically determined they would be fixed.
Some women act out their traditional roles – as housewife or sex object – and others adopt new identities. A model such as Melinda Messenger is an example of what men perceive to be femininity, a woman who cares about her appearance. However, there are variations of femininity – a female boxer, Jane Couch, has adopted what our society considers to be a male personality involving aggression and love of sport. Another style of femininity is Margaret Thatcher who was thought to be very unemotional which is not an attribute of women traditionally, as they are seen as caring, but she managed to achieve great success.
There is increasing participation of women in the world of paid work and women are now considered independent consumers but some feminists see this only as a phase before adopting the traditional role. Whilst seeking new identities women often take on similar traits to traditional males but may be subject to labelling and discouraged from this behaviour. Masculine identities can also be very different. An example of the traditional male in our society is Paul Gascoigne – heavy drinker, aggressive, participates in sports and is perceived as a ‘hard man’.
However, Gary Rhodes is a male chef who goes against traditional values that women should do domestic work. Seidler believes generally men are discouraged from expressing their emotional needs by a socially constructed dominant masculinity which emphasises aggression and competition where men are forced to ‘prove’ their masculinity. Rutherford argues that masculine identity is a ‘white’ heterosexual construct. Recently these forms of heterosexual masculine identity have been challenged as not all men act out this role. Spelman believes gender roles are affected by other factors such as sexuality.
Today new forms of masculinity are emerging, complicit masculinity where men believe that men and women should share roles within families; subordinate masculinity refers to homosexual men, although it is still generally a stigmatised identity, marginalized masculinity may be seen as a ‘crisis of masculinity’ in response to women taking on traditionally male roles. In the mid 1980’s a more ‘feminine’ masculinity was created but later men reverted to sexist type. To conclude, gender identities and lifestyles are slowly converging.
Many of the differences have been eroded by the impact of feminism, social change and equal opportunities legislation. Males and females can adopt both masculine and feminine traits. There is greater flexibility in gender behaviour and both men and woman are experimenting with a wider range of gender roles. They can choose their own occupational roles, there are woman in high status jobs but this is still negligible compared to the number of men doing the same job. There are signs that some gender stereotypes are declining in today’s British society.
For example, teachers encouraging young women to plan for a career, not just for marriage and having children. However there is still a long way to go as many gender stereotypes are proving very resistant to change. One day perhaps all the stereotypes associated with males and females nowadays could decline altogether, but this has illustrated that gender Identities have changed a lot, but yet, they could change a lot more in the near future. Meaning more liberation from the restricted views that some people place of genders in society.