The Social Construction of Gender Roles

Gender is an underlying characteristic all societies and the social construction of gender roles, behaviors and expectations is an importance aspect of modern society. Seeking to understand how gender is constructed and how gender expectations influence our lives, this essay will provide an in-depth analysis of how gender is constructed.

Furthermore, we will discuss sex and gender and the role gender plays in modern American society with a focus on the social implications of sexism. Finally, we will conclude with a summation of the research explored here and discuss the ramifications of gender role construction today.

Unlike sex, gender is artificially imposed and although based upon biological differences between men and women, gender is socially constructed. As a social construct, gender roles, behaviors, attitudes and expectations are created by society and enforced by social norms.

The funny thing about gender is that we are led to believe that it is innate and something that we are born with. As Aaron Devor so eloquently points out in his ground-breaking and incredibly illuminating essay, “Gender Role, Behavior and Attitudes”, gender is created, acquired and constructed by the greater society at large. Sex has a biological basis and is predetermined at birth.

Gender, on the other hand, is a social construction and gender roles and expectations are unique to each and every society. As social actors, individuals play an important role in the construction and creation of gender roles, attitudes and expectations and are not simply passive recipients of societal expectations about how men and women are to behave (Devor 458-463).

In his lucid analysis in the construction of gender, Aaron Devor explores the socially constructed nature of gender in modern society and persuasively argues for a reevaluation of traditional gender role expectations in modern society.

Seeking to dispel the myths surrounding sex and gender, this author persuasively argues that a gender hierarchy is embedded within our society and unmasks the argument for the naturalness of gender roles, behaviors and expectations.

Asserting that gender roles are created and not innate, he argues that the naturalness argument for gender has not biological basis and is a social construction. Our society is organized under a patriarchal gender schema in which men and women, as dichotomous members of the gender hierarchy, are situated on opposite ends of the schema.

While we are taught from a very young age to believe that gender differences are normal and natural, Devor actually asserts that a power imbalance underlies the gender hierarchy so prevalent in our society and informs our beliefs about gender (Devor 458-463).

Patriarchy is defined as a type of social structure in which men are perceived as being superior to women and it is impossible to understand the construction of gender roles and expectations in modern Western society without first understanding the omnipresent patriarchal nature of our society.

Patriarchy is subconscious and not universal. In fact matriarchy, a society which is structured with women at the helm, has been found in places as diverse as Latin America, India and parts of Africa (Amadiume 1997). Despite the global diversity, modern Western culture is characterized by its patriarchal nature and this has important implications in a variety of social realms.

Social stratification can be explained by the gender hierarchy. Female job ghettos including those of teacher, nurse and librarian tend to be overpopulated with women and characterized by low wages and low prestige. Interestingly, Devor points out that these jobs tend to be based upon the same characteristics which are viewed as innate to women.

Feminine qualities like caring and nurturing are found in job descriptions for employment in the ‘pink collar ghetto’ of daycare workers, elementary school teachers and nurses. Gender role expectations are also explained through social cues such as body posture and demeanor, speech patterns, style of dress.

The nature of these cues lends credence to the argument that gender is socially constructed and the way that we talk, they way we carry ourselves and the types of clothes that we wear are all determined by social forces. You would be hard pressed to find someone say today that women wear dresses because they have a biological need to do so; this would be an example of sex stereotypes and sexism (Devor 460-463).

Accordingly, sexism is a scourge in American society which affects the overall quality of life for women today. Sexism is the belief that one sex is superior to the other and generally implies ideas about superiority and inferiority between sex and gender.

While some societies are characterized as being matriarchal, much of Western society is patriarchal and the United States in no exception. The patriarchal nature of American society is explained by a variety of social and historical factors which are beyond the scope of this assignment.

Nonetheless, while women in American have made incredible gains in the social, economic, cultural and political spheres over the past century, sexism remains a prevalent aspect of our society. Sexism is the result of social construction of gender in society and the while it can be overt, latent or suppressed, it exists and has a variety of wide social repercussions.

Accordingly, women in American earn less than their male counterparts and the employment mobility of women is often hindered by preconceived ideas about sexuality and the economic roles that women can play in the modern world. Anthropologists and cultural theorists have written for years about a “pink ghetto”, in which women are regulated to a sector of the labour market which is poorly remunerated and oftentimes unrewarding.

Ideas about “women’s work” force women into so called female-ghettos in which women predominate and their upward social mobility is hindered by preconceived notions of what women can (and should) do. Accordingly, there is also an invisible “glass ceiling” which limits the future job prospects of women in American society and their future earning power.

Looking at the medical sector again, a profession formerly limited to men, the New England Journal of Medicine reports that as in “young male physicians earned 41% more per year than young female physicians” (Baker, 960). Is this the result sexism, either latent or overt? Although it is difficult to say, it is important to remember that these disparities do in fact exist and have real world implications.

Concluding Remarks

Aaron Devor’s arguments in “Gender Role, Behavior and Attitudes” persuasively argue that gender is socially constructed and culturally specific. Accordingly, gender role expectations are largely a product of social forces and are the result of systemic power imbalances with our society. These expectations and attitudes serve to reinforces discrimination based upon gender and are socially constructed.

The social construction of gender influences of behaviors, roles, attitudes and expectations and because of the hierarchical nature of gender in our society, masculinity becomes superior and femininity is deemed to be inferior. Because of a socially enforced gender code, our engrained ideas about gender are incredibly difficult to change.

We are all products of our own individual societies and we subconsciously impart the ideas and beliefs which make up our cultures. Ideas about gender roles are subsequently often unquestioned since they are perceived to be so integral to our understanding of how the world works. Understanding that gender is a construction is perhaps the first step in breaking free from the bonds of gender.


Amadiume, I. (1997). Re-inventing Africa: Matriarchy, Religion, and Culture. London: Zed Books.

Baker, L C. (1996). Differences in Earnings between Male and Female Physicians. New England Journal of Medicine. 334.15: 960-964.

Devor, A. (1993). “Gender Role, Behavior and Attitudes”. Annual Review of Sex Research, 7, 44-89.

Devor, A. (1997). “Toward a Taxonomy of Gendered Sexuality.” Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, 6(1), 23-55.

hooks, bell. 1981. Ain’t I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism. Boston: South End Press.

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