Gender role theory



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Alex Myers

ENGH 551


Dr. Malouf

15 October 2015


GENDER ROLE THEORY

“To say that gender is performative is a little different because for something to be performative means that it produces a series of effects. We act and walk and speak and talk in ways that consolidate an impression of being a man or being a woman.” Judith Butler is an American philosopher who is known for her research in the field of philosophy and gender studies, Butler has had a large impact in the field and with her notable contributions to Gender Role Theory and her main argument “that sex (male, female) is seen to cause gender (masculine, feminine) which, in turn, is seen to cause desire (towards the other gender).” Below I discuss Gender Role Theory or Gender Schema Theory in the eyes of a feminist scholar, not a psychologist, yet I focus on the social and cognitive spects of gender; I discuss the background of the theory, practical application of the theory through the BSRI, and notable figures that support the theory.


I focus this essay around Sandra Bem due to her accomplishments in her field of acidemia and how she has flourished in her personal life by incorporating research and beliefs. I personally connect with Bem because I self identify in a masculine gedner schema, when using her BSRI, and also have unknowingly broken down gender stereotypes my whole life; I have played a sport and used my athletic ability to get into college on a scholarship, I have furthered my education on my own, I am the ‘bread-winner’ in my family with the upmost support from my husband. I connect with Bem because she has written articles and given lectures on how how she carries her research out of the classroom into her personal life. My true passion lays with Gender Studies through a Feminist lense, with an underlying tone of social cognitive theory. Bem connects my passions into one and I support her theory of Gender Schemas completely and use her theory in my approach to tearing down gender sterotypes by de-constructing masculinity and feminity gender stereotypes. A major critic of gender sterotypes is if we abolish masculine and femine we will be left with an androgynous society, which can be detrimental to self-identity; that is not what I propose- what I believe in, is gender can survive separated from the biological sex of a human, and gender is a self-identity tool that is constructed through Western society. Hence, the ideas and stereotypes that pink means girl and blue means boy, teachers are females due to their nurturing nature and stockbrokers are male due to their aggressive nature. Gender stereotypes are all around us, the reason I support and follow Bem’s research on gender schemas is because I believe since they are a learned trait and create self-identity, that feminism can use gender schemas as a tool to help further their movement by blending masculinity into a female world.
BACKGROUND

Both in social science context, psychology, and society as a whole, masculinity and femininity have been at complete opposite ends of the spectrum. “The distinction between male and female serves as a basic organizing principle for every human culture (Bem, 1981).”


Documented by Bem (1981), this theory aims to explain the significance one’s gender schema can have on the way one perceives the world and how sex typing has an influence on perception and appeal. Gender Schema Theory also emulates Social Learning Theory, in the aspect that one’s gender schema is learned and has an influence on how one perceives the world and how one develops cognitively. Through sex typing, society places males and females into masculine and feminine schemas (Bem, 1981) and this process leads to the idea that boys and girls are expected to acquire gender specific personality traits and self-concepts.
There is more to this theory, which touches upon when a person has placed themselves into a gender schema, masculine, feminine or androgynous, they in turn process information under the constraints of that gender schema and the expectations socially or self-conceptualized to be link with their gender, not sex. Bem notes that, “schematic processing is thus highly selective and enables the individual to impose structure and meaning onto the vast array of incoming stimuli.” Since a schema is a cognitive construction, created by a network of social associations that guide perception, Bem (1981) concludes that one’s gender schema, separated from one’s biological sex, controls how one creates meaning and perceives incoming information.

FIGURES

"My central passion has always been to challenge the long-standing cultural belief in some kind of a natural link or match between the sex of one's body and the character of one's psyche and one's sexuality" (Bem, 1995). Bem is a psychologist and women’s studies academic figure that has made notable research and efforts to bring about the prominence of sex role typing and the effects of Western social culture has on one’s individual psychology through gender identity. Bem has contributed to the communication field and has an impressive presence in the gender theory community, with her notable contribution to gender theory being the idea of psychological androgyny and her focus on cultural stereotypes versus biological sex.


Susan B. Shimanoff is another figure that has been credited with supporting and providing further research on Gender Schema Theory, where she refers to it as Gender Role Theory. In 2009, Shimanoff published an article in the Encyclopedia of Communication Theory discussing Gender Role Theory and its practical ties to the communication field. Numerous researchers with in the communication field have adopted Gender Role Theory and have used the theory to explain how males and females behave differently, relying on the theory to explain that the sexes develop different skill sets and attitudes based upon behavior differences from gender identity, not sex differences. “Gender Role Theory is grounded in the supposition that individuals socially identified as males and females tend to occupy different ascribed roles within social structures and tend to be judged against divergent expectations for how they ought to behave. (Shimanoff, 2009)”
“Research has led to considerable debate about whether the focus should be on gendered differences or similarities. Margaret Mead's 1935 book, Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, was particularly instrumental in challenging biological explanations for gendered differences. (Shimanoff, 2009)”
CLAIMS

Gender Role Theory grounds itself in the claim that culture has prearranged behaviors and characteristics that are categorized as masculine and feminine that has been labeled as gender norms. In the Western World, culture has developed the idea of little girls being encouraged to play with dolls at a young age and little boys identifying with aggression. The main claim of this theory is the distinction that these gender norms are separated from the biological sex of an individual, and are adopted through cultural appropriation.


GENDER AND SOCIAL SCIENCE

The social construction of gender is explained through countless theories that aim to ground the notion of gender being a learned element of human life. These theories can be separated into two main types. First are materialist theories that relate gender to structural features of society and place men and women into two separate pathways and categories within society, regarding work, family and social relations. Second are the theories that have been termed discursive theories, which emphasize the placement of meanings onto men and women in regards to language and culture (Alsop, R., Fitzsimons, A., & Lennon, K., 2002).


“Both in psychology and in society at large, masculinity and femininity have long been conceptualized as bipolar ends of a single continuum (Bem, 1974).” This idea of gender polarization leads to the notion that an individual must either be masculine or feminine; there is not overlap and no room for androgyny in gender identity. Gender polarization has only influenced a restricted perspective on gender and provides support that self-identity can only support one gender at a time, either masculine or feminine.
Gender Polarization is a large part of the social construction of gender, from the clothing an individual wears to the social roles and behaviors of expressing emotions and experiencing sexual wants (Bem, 1993). Gender polarization operates in two ways; it creates two exclusive scripts for what it means to be male or female and it then sets up the idea that any person that deviates from these scripts is unnatural or problematic (Bem, 1994). Which relates to the idea that gender polarization creates the effect of linking one’s sex of one’s body to the characteristics one portrays. With social experience we gain knowledge and form cognitive structures and through this self-concept comes the representations one creates to categorize, explain, and evaluate behavior and characteristics of gender and self (Markus, H. Crane, M. Bernstein, S., & Siladi, M., 1982).
GENDER AND SELF-SCHEMAS

The idea of self-schemas and the impact a schema can have on an individual’s thought process has a large impact on understanding the separation of gender and sex. Self-schemas are formed through the re-call of past social experiences and are grounded through the construction of past behaviors that lead individuals to understand and organize information about their self-identity (Markus, H. Crane, M. Bernstein, S., & Siladi, M., 1982). The term schema is used to describe the cognitive process of collecting knowledge and using it as a framework for information processing. I view the term in the sense that self-schemas can influence the way one views trait elements of gender and process those traits in a positive or negative way in relation to one’s self identity. The idea that people may relate stereotypic expectations to themselves based upon gender-based stereotypes implies that people’s attitudes and values have the stamp of traditional gender roles on them and Western culture ideals are what influence individuals to associate with certain characteristics of gender identity.



CRITICS

From Gender Role Theory arose the much politically motivated field of Feminism and Queer theory with roots as a social movement you can truly trace the movement as a whole to political implication and a fight for equality within Western culture. Bem, a large contributor to Gender Schema Theory, is also a critic in the sense of addressing the physiological impacts of a gendered androgynous culture. As I note above, the idea of self-identity propels and constructs Western culture, Gender Role theory does not wish to eliminate gender stereotypes, just distinguish the idea that males equal masculinity and females equal femininity. Bem has written may articles addressing how Gender Schema Theory and the implications it can have on child development by raising gender-aschematic children in a gender-schematic society.

Masculinity studies, a new field that I believe is connected to Gender Role Theory has gained attention due to the works of Judith Halberstam, ‘who has been at the forefront of the academic movement to draw attention to the cultural forms of gender multiplicity. In her 1998 book, Female Masculinity, she explores different gender possibilities and the manifold formations gender performance can assume. (Halberstam, 2004)” Halberstam explores the idea of how masculinity has transitioned into the realms of queer masculinity and female masculinity, this idea and field I believe is a direct descendent of Gender Role Theory. Though I place Halberstam in my essay as a critic of Gender Role Theory, I do so to show how the theory has been used to ground her ideas of gender identity into place, by basing her essays off the idea of constructed idea of gender identity, I am not sure if she helps or hurts Gender Role Theory or just uses it as a tool to propel her essay forward.

LEGACY

The two main examples I use to show how the legacy of Gender Role Theory is being put into practical use is, the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI) and the feministic approach of appropriating masculine gender through discursive formations and actions.


The BSRI [Bem Sex Role Inventory] characterizes a person as masculine, feminine or androgynous as a function of the difference between his or her endorsement of masculine and feminine personality characteristics (Bem, 1974). The BSRI was founded on the idea that the sex-typed individual as a person that has internalized the societal norms associated with gender, regarding acceptable behavior for men and women (Bem, 1974). Within the BSRI scale, an individual can place themselves into one of three categories, which gives the person their self-administered sex role identity, independent of their biological sex.
Masculine Schemas

A “masculine” sex role thus represents not only the endorsement of masculine attributes, but the simultaneous rejection of feminine attributes (Bem, 1974). The individuals that places themselves into this sex role associate themselves with adjectives like analytical, truthful, dominant, reliable and making decisions easily (Bem, 1974).


Feminine Schemas

Similarly, a “feminine” sex role represents not only the endorsement of feminine attributes but the simultaneous rejection of masculine attributes (Bem, 1974). Within this self-schema, feminine sex roles appealed to adjectives that describe moody, strong personality, yielding and self-reliant (BRSI Scale, Bem, 1974).


Androgynous Schemas

In contrast, an “androgynous” sex role thus represents the equal endorsement of both masculine and feminine attributes (Bem, 1974). The individuals that fall into the androgynous sex role ranked either low on both masculine or feminine identity or high in the conventional identity. With the conventional identity the adjectives describe the identity as warm, solemn, tender, friendly and childlike (Bem, 1974).


Bem (1974), does use 60 adjectives, separated into three categories of 20 to help an individual place themselves into one of the three sex role identities, but within those 20 words are adjectives that are positive and negative in relation to the traditionally stereotyped gender traits, it is based upon the score one receives from ranking their appeal towards those adjectives. Bem purposefully does this to create the possibility of androgyny and to pose the question if androgynous peoples hold no specific cognitive structure about masculinity and femininity. The BSRI has been used in the academia field as a research tool, a testing tool, and a tool for self-identity.
Current feminists are also de-constructing gender stereotypes to exercise their power, relating directly to the ideals of Gender Role Theory. The idea of current celebrities and feminists re-capturing the idea of masculine discourse is a huge win for Gender Role Theory. For example, Amy Shummer is a leading Hollywood lady that has mounted her career on the backs of masculine discourse, rightfully so. She has been under consistent criticism due to her ‘dirty mouth’ relating to her standards of proper English and the excessive use of curse words, sexual talk, and vulgar jokes. Which, according the Bem, are masculine traits that have been socially accepted by Western culture. Judith Halberstam is another notable figurehead in the field that has employed Gender Role Theory as a tool that can manifold formulations gender performance can assume. Halberstam makes the assumption and claim that through culture there has been a social normative that weds masculinity to maleness, yet society can truly not create a true definition of what masculinity is. Feminists now can use gender as a tool, to understand that males can self identify as feminine and females can identify as masculine, women of this generation can cross over in the a masculine dominated world without backlash against their sex.
By using Gender Role Theory as a tool for furthering gender and queer studies and using its theoretical grounding to help further the fourth wave feminist movement, the leading researchers in academia have opened the door for the women of today. Just in advertising alone, gender boundaries are being challenged daily, with Target moving towards an androgynous system of color-coding youth toys to Nike creating athletic ads focused at strong women. The idea of masculine and feminine are being challenge, and rightfully so.
WORK SCITED
Alsop, Rachel; FitzSimons, Annette; and Lennon, Kathleen. (2002) Theorizing Gender: An Introduction. 1.
Bem , S. L. (1974). The Measurement of Psychological Androgyny. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 42, 155-162. Retrieved from

http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/h0036215


Bem , S. L. (1981). Gender schema theory: A cognitive account of sex typing. Psychological Review, 88, 354-364. Retrieved from

http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.88.4.354

Bem, S. L. (1993). The Lenses of Gender : Transforming the Debate on Sexual Inequality. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Bem, S. L. (1994). In a Male-centered World, Female Differences are Transformed into Female Disadvantages. The Chronicle of Higher Education. 40 (50), B1. 


Bem, S. L. (1995). Working on Gender as a Gender Nonconformist. Women and Therapy: A Feminist Journal. 17, 43-53.
Foucault, Michel. (1978). The History of Sexuality. New York: Pantheon. Print
Markus , H. Crane , M. Bernstein , S. Siladi , M. (1982). Self-schemas and Gender. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 42, 38-50. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.43.6.1195
Rivkin, Julie; Ryan, Michael. (2004) “Part Nine: Gender Studies”, Female Masculinity. Literary Theory: An Anthology, 2nd Edition. 885-959. Print

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Alsop, Rachel; FitzSimons, Annette; and Lennon, Kathleen. (2002) Theorizing Gender: An Introduction. 1.
Andersen, Susan M. (1981) Sex typing and androgyny in dyadic interaction: Individual differences in responsiveness to physical attractiveness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 41 (1), 74 - 86. 
Bem , S. L. (1974). The Measurement of Psychological Androgyny. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 42, 155-162. Retrieved from

http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/h0036215
Bem , S. L. (1981). Gender schema theory: A cognitive account of sex typing. Psychological Review, 88, 354-364. Retrieved from

http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.88.4.354

Bem, S. L. (1993). The Lenses of Gender : Transforming the Debate on Sexual Inequality. New Haven: Yale University Press.



Bem, S. L. (1994). In a Male-centered World, Female Differences are Transformed into Female Disadvantages. The Chronicle of Higher Education. 40 (50), B1. 
Bem, S. L. (1995). Working on Gender as a Gender Nonconformist. Women and Therapy: A Feminist Journal. 17, 43-53.
Butler, Judith. (2015). Judith Butler Biography. The European Graduate School, EGS. Graduate and Postgraduate Studies. Retrieved from http://www.egs.edu/faculty/judith-butler/biography/
Halberstam Judith. “Part Nine: Gender Studies”, Female Masculinity. Literary Theory: An Anthology, 2nd Edition. 935-959. Print
Markus , H. Crane , M. Bernstein , S. Siladi , M. (1982). Self-schemas and Gender. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 42, 38-50. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.43.6.1195
Shimanoff, S. (2009). Gender Role Theory. In S. Littlejohn, & K. Foss (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Communication Theory. 434-437. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781412959384.n161






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