Thread: Gender Roles
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Old 2012-05-31, 18:08   Link #58
Knight Errant
Join Date: Dec 2007
Location: Dublin, Ireland
Age: 30
I'd say a lot of gender issues is rooted in how powerful our sexuality is.

It's evidence enough that for most of us, 80-90% of our friends will be of the same gender as ourselves, and usually all of our closest friends (significant others and family members obviously excepted).

I don't think this is because of huge differences between the sexes, more that for many of us it's difficult to associate with the opposite sex extensively while ignoring our sexuality. IE most of us who make a female friend secretly harbour the desire for it to be something more. On the flip side, I'd say most guys (particularly myself) are not as interested with becoming friends with unnattractive women.

Maybe this changes a bit if you do get into a close relationship, but then jealousy comes into play. Most men don't want to see their GFs/Wives associating closely with other men, and most women don't like the idea of their BFs/Husbands becoming close friends with another woman.

At the root of all this, men and women objectify each other. We are always assessing each other as potential mates. It's impossible for a guy to look at a girl and not do a quick assessment of her attractiveness, it's practically automatic. Furthermore, we all have certain preconceived ideas of what we want in a mate, almost always rooted in how see the roles of fathers and mothers, which is usually rooted in our own homelife, and very much influenced by contemporary cultural ideas. Most guys are, in some sense, evaluating women as potential mothers, and most women are evaluating guys as potential fathers.

Due to biology, these are two different notions. In particular, motherhood is a very static concept, it all has to do with compassion and caring, and activities that are adjunct to that. Children trust their mothers the most, and will trust the food presented by their mother the most. A young child might not trust the food prepared by any person besides their mother. So often the association between food and their mother is a pretty powerful one. Which is one reason why cookery is almost universally considered a good maternal, and in turn feminine trait. It makes sense, if you think about it.

Motherhood is an inherently conservative concept. Not only that, but I think any guy wants to think that their potential wife will put her children first before any other concerns (like, for instance, a career). From an evolutionary perspective this makes sense, and if you look at folklore, the vain mother who thinks of herself first is frequently a villainous figure, while the selfless mother who tirelessly looked after her children, is idealized.

Masculinity is a much more flexible concept. They basically just need to "provide" for their wife and children, and protect them from enemies during their period of greatest vulnerability. The need for protection is not particularly necessary today (though you can see it crop up in a lot of fiction...), and there are many different ways to provide. You could say that men get the more varied end of the stick.

These conceptions stick with us in our gender relations, and I think are responsible for a lot of sexism.

However, theres some crucial differences between today, and most of human history. The big one is that prior to the modern era, women spent almost their entire pre-menopausal lives caring for at least one young child (What do you expect with no contraception, and high infant mortality?). Today, women will likely only spend at most 6 or 7 years on this, so their position in society is much more flexible. Being a mother is still important for women, but women are now freed to do a lot more.

The root of a lot of women's dissatisfaction lies in the fact that in the modern world the workplace has home has been seperated, and so it's difficult for women to work with their children around. In pre-industrial times, women could work and look after children at the same time, quite easily. Jobs like weaving, spinning were fairly typical, and vital elements of a family's income. Most women are faced with the demanding choice between just childcare, or just work, which is not something most women would presumably want.
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