Thursday, October 23, 2014

G is for Gender Roles

Today G is for gender roles.  This is a very broad topic so this is a very brief overview.  Gender roles are the social and behavioral norms that women and men are expected to follow.  Some cultures have three or more gender roles.  Gender roles influence most small day to day behaviors (what clothes to wear, how to talk, etc.) as well as major life decisions (what kind of career, if any, to have, what house chores to do etc.).  These roles are reinforced in nearly every aspect of society and serious deviation from them is severely discriminated against.  Gender roles often devolve into stereotypes, especially in entertainment.  Gender roles are so ingrained that in same sex couples it is still assumed that one has a more masculine role and the other a more feminine role.  A couple without gender roles is something mainstream society just can’t fathom.     

Whether these roles are inherent or socially constructed is a matter of great debate.  It is very difficult to separate biology/psychology and culture in this case because boys and girls are socialized very differently from birth on.  A popular theory is that social norms and expectations are created by biology (women give birth so it makes sense for them to care for the children, for example).  The problem with this is gender norms are changing fast, especially in the last sixty years, biology has not.  Feminists consider masculinity and femininity to be social constructs that reinforce patriarchy by keeping women in a subservient position.

What do gender roles have to do with intersex?  That depends on who you ask.  Personally, I think this is the only real social benefit to being intersex.  We (or at least I) don’t feel constrained by gender roles.  It is easy to say those norms don’t really apply to me, why should I try to fit a mold that will never fit me very well?  Of course some intersex people will disagree with my interpretation on gender roles, and that’s ok.  What do you think?  To what extent should intersex people try to live a traditionally masculine or feminine gender role? 

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