Effects of Gender Roles
Society has a specific view of what is considered normal for each sex. Someone’s sex refers to their physical biology, while a person’s gender is the way they express their masculine or feminine characteristics (“Gender Roles and Identity in Children.” 1). People are born as male or female, with a small number of cases being born with neither the XX nor XY chromosomes (Goldman 4). The sex is determined from birth, but a person may choose their preferred gender when they become older. Being born as a specific sex comes with expected social norms and behaviors that are supposed to be followed. “Gender roles” are society’s shared beliefs that apply to individuals on the basis of their socially identified sex. Common gender roles are that women need to be kind, approachable, and accepting, while men need to be self-confident, aggressive, and demanding. Behavioral and psychological changes play an important role in the functions of the mind, but societal expectations can change the way a brain develops.
The differences between males and females begin as soon as someone is conceived. Biologically, all females have an XX chromosome, while males have an XY chromosome. These chromosomes are two of twenty-three chromosomes in the nucleus of every cell. The embryo will receive a chromosome from both the mother and father. Considering males have both the X and Y chromosomes, male sperm primarily controls which sex organs a fetus will develop. If an egg is fertilized by a Y chromosome sperm, the fetus will develop into a male (Goldman 4). Contrarily, if the egg is fertilized by an X chromosome sperm, the fetus will become female (4). In rare cases, an intersex fetus may develop both male and female reproductive organs because of a mutation in genetic code. Parents often choose to put the baby through a sex-correcting surgery to make it distinguishingly male or female. From the time a person is conceived, their anatomy begins to change. The male and female sex organs begin to develop at week six after fertilization (3). Male and female sex organs all begin the same in the womb but will begin to show significant differences at nine weeks after fertilization. By twenty-two weeks gestation, the fetus will have a developed set of sex organs, including ovaries and a uterus for females and a set of testicles for males. A doctor can tell the sex of a baby as early as seventeen weeks into a pregnancy. After the baby is born and begins to grow into a child, gender expectations begin to become prevalent.
As children, girls and boys are treated differently and expected to think and behave in different ways. The “pink versus blue” expectation changes the way children experience the world in their first few years of life. Both the positive and negative experiences the child encounters will change the way he or she perceives the world. A boy does not commonly play with a Barbie doll and is taught to “walk it off” and “man up” whenever he is upset. A parent who comforts their hurting son may be scolded in doing so. Contrarily, a little girl is usually comforted whenever she is upset or hurt, and is not expected to hide any of her emotions. These societal beliefs and enforced behaviors have numerous psychological effects on children later in their adult life. As stated by a famous anonymous quote, “it is easier to build strong children than repair broken men.” Children are not born knowing what is expected of them or what right or wrong; they have to learn from observation and experiences. Neurologically, the time frame in the first five years of life is essential to the development of cognitive, societal, and learning skills (“Brain Development” 2).
Throughout school, gender roles start to become more known to children. The saying “if he is mean to you, he likes you” is commonly said to little girls, but only enforces the idea that men are violent if they like someone. Women, on the other hand, are seen as undisciplined if they are mean to boys. As a society, there are certain expectations for raising a child to behave in sync with his or her biological sex. Young children begin to develop a sense of gender identity around age four (Rafferty 4). This may become a problem for children who do not accept the societal expectations of their biological sex. When a child’s interests and abilities are different from what society expects, he or she may be subjected to discrimination and bullying. A large proportion of teenage suicide attempts are linked to issues of gender and sexuality, particularly involving feelings of rejection (13). In fact, LGBT adolescents are five times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual adolescents, and each instance of physical or verbal harassment or abuse against an LBGT youth increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by almost three times on average (“Facts about Suicide” 1). Adolescence can be difficult for all types of people for various different reasons.
Enforced societal behaviors and expectations may become more difficult for people as they reach puberty. Throughout the beginning of puberty, the area of the brain that controls emotions such as rage, fear, aggression, and arousal works to connect the sensory information to the emotional responses (Arain 6). This is why teenagers more commonly have higher emotional responses than that of mature adults. While females are often encouraged to express these emotions, they are encouraged to do so in a way that will not make them look “crazy.” Women are encouraged to always appear as if they are mature and well put-together. Male adolescence during puberty often feel they are at a time in their lives where they need to appear “manly” but may be conflicted about their masculinity with the increase in emotions. Puberty may subject men to a large psychological change during this time, as, they have more emotions than they ever have, yet may be told they are told they are weak if they express the emotions instead of suppressing them. Expectations like these can lead to permanent damage later on in their adult lives.
A male is often seen as pathetic or feminine if he shows his emotions, which has numerous psychological effects. In fact, adult men are almost four times more likely to attempt suicide than adult women (“Suicide Statistics” 2). There is extensive research showing that males and females have differences in mental disorders. The American Psychological Association published a study showing that women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression or bipolar disorder, while men are more likely to have substance abuse disorders (Eaton 1). The article “Study Finds Sex Differences in Mental Illnesses” by Nicolas Eaton states:
Women with anxiety disorders are more likely to internalize emotions, which typically results in withdrawal, loneliness, and depression. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to externalize emotions, which leads to aggressive, impulsive, coercive and noncompliant behavior, according to the study. The researchers demonstrated that it was differences in these liabilities to internalize and to externalize that accounted for gender differences in prevalence rates of many mental disorders (2).
Males are commonly taught to keep emotions to themselves, which can cause the emotions to bottle up and be expressed as anger or rage later on.
While men are more likely to attempt suicide and have anger disorders, depression and anxiety are more common in women. These disorders can be linked to constant hormonal changes, such as puberty, pregnancy, birth control usage, and menopause (Albert 4). Biological factors, such as the variation in ovarian hormone levels and decreases in estrogen, may contribute to the increased prevalence of depression and anxiety in women (4). Common disorders may also be linked to the desire to be “perfect.” Women are raised with the expectation to be flawless, being told they need to be skinny to be beautiful. Social attitudes about gender equality may also play a factor in the higher depression rate in women (3).
Gender roles for males and females have been in place for as long as humans have been on the Earth. Women in the past had always been expected to prioritize raising their children above all else. They had always been expected to take care of their families and keep a clean house. Meanwhile, males were supposed to be the strong husbands that made money to provide for their families. While this is still an unspoken dynamic in many relationships, society is beginning to shift beliefs slightly. Women are now able to maintain successful careers, and men can be stay-at-home fathers while their wives work. Gender expectations are changing in a way that allows people to express themselves better. While there is still violence toward the LGBT community, acceptance is slowly starting to become more prevalent. Society as a whole is beginning down a path of acceptance that allows people to express themselves further.
Everyone is exposed to gender stereotypes throughout their entire lives. From the time the egg is fertilized by an X or Y chromosome, the future of the fetus already has some anticipated roles. These stereotypes and expectations can lead to lasting damage later on in life. Youth may have difficulties adjusting to society as they learn who they want to be in life. Puberty can make these transitions harder because of the expectations placed on someone’s gender. Adolescence is a tough time for teenagers as they begin to process and accept who they want to be. Throughout adulthood, people of all genders can be subject to mental disorders caused in-part by societal expectations. Although these are all factors that can play a large part in someone’s life, society is beginning to become more adaptive and accepting of the decisions people make in their own lives. One hundred years ago, a woman would have been laughed at for wanting to become president, and a man would not have dared to ever wear a dress. Society does still have some enforced stereotypes, but acceptance is more prevalent today than it ever has been. From the way society is changing, it will be completely different one-hundred years from today.
Effects of Gender Roles