Children learn from their parents and society the conception of feminine and masculine. Much about these conceptions is not biological at all but cultural. The way we tend to think about men and women and their gender roles in society constitute the prevailing paradigm that influences out thinking. Riane Eisler points out that the prevailing paradigm makes it difficult for us to analyze properly the roles of men and women in prehistory…we have a cultural bias that we bring to the effort and that colors our decision-making processes.
Sexism is the result of that bias imposed by our process of acculturation. Gender roles in Western societies have been changing rapidly in recent years with the changes created both by evolutionary changes in society, including economic shifts which have altered the way people work and indeed which people work as more and more women enter the workforce and by perhaps pressure brought to make changes because of the perception that the traditional social structure was inequitable. Gender relations are a part of the socialization process, the initiation given the young by society, teaching them certain values and creating in them certain behavior patterns acceptable to their social roles. These roles have been in a state of flux in American society in recent years and men and women today can be seen as having expanded their roles in society with women entering formerly male dominions and men finding new ways to relate to and function in the family unit. When I was growing up a woman was never heard of having a job other than a school teacher or seamstress. Our (women's) job was to take care of the house. We had a big garden out back from which we got most of our vegetables...A garden is a lot of work you know...We also had to make clothes when there were none to be had Gender can be defined as a social identity consisting of the role a person is to play because of his or her sex. There is diversity in male and female roles, making it impossible to define gender in terms of narrow male and female roles. Gender is culturally defined, with significant differences from culture to culture. These differences are studied by anthropologists to ascertain the range of behaviors that have developed to define gender and on the forces at work in the creation of these roles. The role of women in American society was conditioned by religious attitudes and by the conditions of life that prevailed through much of American history. The culture of Europe and America was based for centuries on a patriarchal system in which exclusive ownership of the female by a given male was considered important with the result that women were regulated to the role of property with no voice in their own fate. The girl-child was trained from birth to fit the role awaiting her and as long as compensations were adequate, women were relatively content.
For Example, if in return for being a man's property a woman receives economic security, a full emotional life centering around husband and children, and an opportunity to express her capacities in the management of her home, she has little cause for discontent. While this statement is arguable in the way it assumes that women are not discontented under such circumstances, it is clear that for most of history women were expected to be content with this sort of life and were trained for that purpose. Clearly, circumstances of family life have changed in the modern era. Industry has been taken out of the home and large families are no longer economically possible or socially desired. The home is no longer the center of the husband's life and for the traditional wife there is only a narrowing of interests and possibilities for development.
Increasingly, the woman finds herself without an occupation and with an unsatisfactory emotional life. The change in sex roles that can be discerned in society is closely tied with changes in the structure of the family. Changes in both family structure and sex roles over the last century have produced the ferment we still see today and one of the problems with the changing role of women is the degree to which society perceives this is causing unwanted changes in the family, though it is just as true that changes in the family have altered the roles of women.
As women entered the early 1990s, they faced a number of problems. Most of these problems have been around for some time, and women have challenged them and even alleviated them without solving them completely. They are encountered in the workplace, in the home, in every facet of life. Women have made advances toward the equality they seek only to encounter a backlash in the form of religious fundamentalism, claims of reverse discrimination by males and hostility from a public that thinks the women's movement has won everything it wanted and should thus now be silent. Both the needs of women today and the backlash that has developed derive from the changes in social and sexual roles that have taken place in the period since World War II. These changes involve the new ability of women to break out of the gender roles created for them by a patriarchal society.
The desperation women feel has been fed throughout history by the practice of keeping women in their place by limiting their options. This was accomplished on one level by preventing women from gaining their the sort of education offered to men and while this has changed to a great extent, there are still inequalities in the opportunities offered to men as opposed to women. Susan Brownmiller writes…
The sad history of prohibitions on women's learning is too well known to be recorded here. . . In much of the world women are barred from advanced knowledge and technical training Yet opening the world of business with new opportunities for women does not dissipate much of this frustration because both men and women continue to be ruled by their early training, by the acculturation process which decides for them what sort of existence they will have. This can result in feelings of guilt when their reality and the image they have been taught from childhood do not mesh. It would be a mistake to see changing gender roles in society as threatening only to males who dominate that society. Such changes also threaten many women who have accepted more traditional roles and see change as a threat. I don't know how your mother does it all. I think time are harder for women these days so many choices. This response is not new. When women first united for the right to vote at the beginning of this century, they were opposed by women's groups who wanted things to remain as they were. Many of these women were ladies of means and social position in society.
The main burden of their argument was that woman suffrage placed an additional and unbearable burden on women, whose place was in the home. These arguments are heard today from religious fundamentalists who believe that the women's movement is a threat to the family. The fact is that the family has changed and that the traditional family structure of homemaker, husband as breadwinner and children bow constitutes only 10 percent of families. The role for women has expanded with more women in the workplace and with a variety of family structures with new roles for all members of the family. Business has been slow to change and to acknowledge the new family, and for all the complaints about the women's movement as anti-family, the movement has instead followed the trend of placing the family in the forefront of addressing family issues as vital to women.
There is much evidence that boys and girls are treated differently form birth, and this fact has been noted in every world culture. It may never be possible to separate out the precise effects of physiology and cultural conditioning on human beings. Not only do they individually influence people but they interact with each other and with each person's unique essence to affect human behavior. To accord with the reality of this complex interplay of factors and to accord with an increasingly complex external world, feminists ask simply for options in life styles. Those stuck in sexism, however, cannot grant even the simple request to ask why women are inferior. The reason sexism exists at all is because of an acculturation process which subtly creates it and it is perpetuated in part for that reason and also because perceived changes in the roles and status of women create a backlash based on fear of change.
Surveys have shown that identical resumes or scholarly articles are rated lower if the applicant is though to be a woman rather than a man. Man's success is more likely to be attributed to ability and woman's to luck. While advances have been made over the last decade, the challenge remains for the next and as long as women constitute small minorities in nontraditional employment contexts, substantial obstacles will remain.
The women in the workplace must work harder to succeed than their male counterparts and once they have succeeded they have to deal with the envy and anxiety this arouses. Women who do not advance only confirm the stereotype for others…The perception remains that women can't make it by conventional standards, or are less committed to doing so. In either event, they do not seem to warrant the same investment in training, assistance and promotion opportunities as their male counterparts. Feminist theorists have been calling for some time for a change in the political climate. They want more than just more women in office and the political arena; they want a new type of political thinking, one that empowers people rather than government and that addresses the issues that are of importance to men and women. If we can eliminate the false polarities and appreciate the limits and true potential of women's power, we will be able to join with men --follow or lead-in the new human politics that must emerge beyond reaction. This new human liberation will enable us to take back the day and the night and use the precious and limited resources of our earth and the limitless resources of our human capital to erect new kinds of homes for all our dreams.
The perception the public has had on the role of men and women is outdated and has been for some time, but public attitudes change slowly even in the face of overwhelming evidence. More than 40 years ago, anthropologist Margaret Mead noted the way the West had developed its concept of male and female. There has long been a habit in Western civilization of men to have a picture of womanhood to which women reluctantly conformed and for women to make demands on man to which men adjusted even more reluctantly. This has been an accurate picture of the way in which we have structured our society, with women as keepers of the house who insist that the man wipe their feet on the door-mat and men as keepers of women in the house who insist that their wives should stay modestly indoors.
Today, people are far less willing to accept these artificial roles even reluctantly and this includes the provision keeping women in the home and out of the public arena. To have more women in office it is necessary to have more women run. As noted, public views change more slowly than the reality of gender roles. They will continue to change slowly as long as we continue acculturating children with the same sexual stereotypes that have so long prevailed. It is necessary that we address this issue from early childhood, with parents demonstrating a different view of gender and sexual roles just as the school and church should take a part in eliminating the old stereotypes in favor of a more reasonable and equitable way to view both men and women.