In one of the episodes of National Geographic, they featured how gender roles were shaped in different cultures. One of the cultures featured was that of the Samoan culture. Their culture has what is referred to as a faa’fafine—a male child brought up to be female and is considered female, not gay, by Samoan society. Gender roles are actually what a culture considers appropriate in terms of how a person behaves. This includes the interests, skills, and attitudes expected of a person. Thus, a person fulfills his or her societal role with these considerations and expectations in mind (Papalia & Olds, 1995).
In my opinion then, although biological factors are important in shaping gender roles, social and cultural factors play a bigger and more important part. Biological factors that help in shaping gender roles include the innate differences in sex such as the differences in internal and external sex organs. The other sex differences include size, strength, appearance, physical abilities, and intellectual abilities. For size, males are usually larger than females while males are much stronger than females, and with regard to appearance, males are hairier and more muscled.
Studies have shown that these sex differences help children learn to differentiate themselves as either boy or girl. Children learn that having certain characteristics put them into either category. An example being when playing, boys usually boast that they can easily beat the girls in games of speed and daring stating that they are bigger and stronger. Girls, on the hand, will usually expect to excel in activities that require verbal ability. On the other hand, these inherent biological factors seem to only contribute to how children view themselves.
They seem to just give children a guide to what category they should belong to since they possess certain characteristics already since birth. Thus, biological factors certainly help shape gender roles but do not seem to be the central factor in how a boy or child becomes male or female in terms of behavior, skills, and, attitudes. Looking closely on what gender roles are and what they should be, it seems that of all the factors, it would be the cultural factors that would stand out as being most important, and social factors being second to it.
I do not put the two factors together since, in my opinion, culture holds very huge differences when compared with one and another, whereas social differences have more commonality across cultures. I will discuss social factors first. I include family and media influences under social influences. As pointed out in my discussion on biological factors, children consider themselves as being boy or girl because of their sexual differences. When one considers this statement, it would seem that this consideration of being either a boy or a girl still lies on how they were taught to view themselves in the first place.
Put simply, if my mother told me I was a boy because I had a penis or I was a girl because I had a vagina, then I would believe her until somebody told me otherwise. In other instances, parents do teach their children what to do, what to play with, and how they should act in public. For example, girls are told to “behave like a girl” or “don’t sit like a boy,” while boys are usually told “don’t cry like a girl” or “act like a man. ” These comments from parents or even adults whom children encounter in their early lives, when they are very impressionable, have a very huge impact on how children view themselves.
Not only that, media like magazines, television, and the internet, more than make up for any lack of gender discussion in the family since these media clearly show what are expected of males and females. The classic example would be how advertisements always show women as needing to wear make-up and wear skirts while men are shown as wearing pants and working hard in the office to provide for the family. Thus, social factors play a very important part in shaping gender roles.
Lastly, cultural factors, I believe, play the most important role. Children are brought up in their respective families according to how society expects children to be brought up. In my introduction, I mentioned the Samoan culture where they have faa’fafines. These males who are brought up as females believe themselves to be female and not male. When asked how it is that they consider themselves as such, they will tell you that they were brought up that way and thus, they live, behave, and see themselves that way.
Different cultures have different views of what male and female roles should be. We know that there are some cultures that are more patriarchal while others are more matriarchal. Thus, where certain roles are expected in one culture, it is considered taboo in another culture. In conclusion, culture is a huge factor as to how gender roles are shaped. Also, since we do not live alone but in groups and societies, social factors contribute immensely, These two factors, then, I think play a more major role in gender role shaping than biological factors.