What is gender?
‘In contemporary western cultures, we generally work with an understanding of gender as dimorphous: as consisting of two distinct categories, male/female that are defined in opposition and mutually exclusive. Other cultures however, can work with very different systems of sexual difference that do not always correspond to our categories of male and female or the meanings that we ascribe to them.
(Laqueur, Herdt, Brettle and Sargent cited in Farmer, B p.23)
Usually we think of gender as a natural given, when in fact, gender is not the sex with which we were born but more so of an idea that is constructed with historical, social and cultural influences, and also by our own internal sense of identity.
Gender roles and stereotypes in society and our culture.
In the 19th century women and men were considered complete opposites. We were not considered to be equal in responsibilities, capabilities, or capacities. It was a strong patriarchal society, whereby men were considered the dominant gender. These ideas changed with the industrial revolution, it took women out of the home, and into the workplace. It gave women a chance to have some power and freedom from the traditional ideas of gender.
What are some ideas about gender that have changed from then? Do we still think that men are the dominant gender? Do we still think of women as more caring and nurturing than men?
Ideas in our society and culture about gender, and gender roles, can beput forward to us by a range of different platforms, such as texts, but the most influential of them all is the media.
In western culture it is common knowledge that we spend most of our time either in front of the TV, listening to the radio or on the internet. When we are doing this we are constantly being bombarded with images, information and ideas about gender and ideas of what gender is “supposed” to be, and most of the time we are not even aware of it.
For example: There are still advertisements for cleaning products such as the Napisan Oxi Action Powder ad, this is targeted for women, located in a domestic scene, narrated by a women, and with testimonials by women. It is perpetuating an idea of women being domestic, the carer, and the nurturer. This is a 19th century idea that is still being communicated. Do men not do these things? Is this the reality of what happens in life and in our culture?
Some ideas that I think are still present about men and women in our culture today:
1. Heterosexual couples are still represented and thought of as the norm. The way things are.
2. Women are supposed to be the natural nurturer, the carer, submissive the motherly stereotype. If a woman is not this, then she is considered to be masculine.
3. Women are to be looked at or “viewed”. Objectified, sexualised &beautiful. A woman’s values and importance is based on the way she looks, despite other qualities or skills that she might possess.