sex roles


sex roles
Until the 1970s this was the main way that sociology conceptualized the differences and relations between women and men, seeing them as a product of socialization rather than biology. It has been subjected to the same criticisms as role theory in general, but also because it masks power and inequality between the sexes.
Sex roles prescribe the different ways men and women are supposed to act and the different tasks they are expected to undertake. In advanced industrial societies, most women are found in the home or in service occupations, in other words in ‘women's work’. Men spend their lives in a variety of careers outside the home and their work is often better paid and of higher status than that of women. Why do these sex-role differences occur? There are several competing theories. The biological and psychological perspectives emphasize inherent differences, which can range from genetic selection to biological tendencies that favour the nurturing qualities of women and the more aggressive and instrumental temperament of men. According to functionalists, sex roles are complementary, and the male and female division of labour increases the stability of the family. This viewpoint has been criticized by feminist writers who emphasize the power aspect of traditional sex roles. Feminists assert that sex roles are essentially a way of keeping women subservient to men and are the result of a patriarchal society in which men preserve their own self-interest by maintaining the status quo. Traditional women sometimes regard feminism with suspicion; however, in the main, both men and women's attitudes are shifting in favour of more egalitarian sex-roles. The evidence suggests, however, that sex-role behaviour is far more resistant to change. See also domestic division of labour ; femininity ; labour-market ; masculinity ; role, conjugal ; sexual division of labour.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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