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We live in a society that is characterized by rapid social, economic, technological and cultural changes. As such, we find that we have to adapt to the change occurring around us in order to survive through different situations. Rubin (2000) defines a society as a social group in which members coexist, endure and cooperate by developing interactive relationships with each other. In America, the different roles played by members define our society. In most cases, these roles are gender based.
However, over the past fewdecades, gender roles in the American society have undergone rapid and significant changes. With these considerations, this paper shall set out to explore how gender roles affect a woman’s professional and personal life in America today. This shall be done by performing a gender analysis and a personal reflection on the topic. A brief look at the roles played by women in previous centuries shall be provided as a basis for comparison.
A historical overview of women’s roles in America
In most historical accounts, women have been portrayed as the “weaker sex”. As such, their roles in society were limited to household duties such as cleaning, shopping, bearing and nurturing children and farming. It was not until the colonial period when women roles in society experienced a major change.
During the colonial period, America had a serious labor deficit. This led to a situation where the contribution of women was pivotal to the survival of their families and nation. As a result, women were no longer restricted to household chores and they had an opportunity to venture out,and try different approaches to life.
Consequently, women in today’s society have diverse roles, which include both the traditional and non-traditional roles. As such, women in today’s society can be categorized as entrepreneurs, working class and housewives. Each category has different roles that impact how the women behave personally and professionally.
However, due to hard economic times, the prevalence of women in these categories has changed significantly. More women are getting higher education and joining the American workforce, while fewer women settle for being housewives (Carter, Corra & Carter, 2009).
Gender Roles of Women in Society
Over the past years, women’s roles have changed significantly. This can be attributed to the implementation of affirmative action laws, as well as economic realities that call for more contribution from both the male and female sexes.
These changes have led to a situation whereby equality between the sexes is not only desirable, but necessary for the survival and continual development of our society. As such, women are no longer restricted to some roles, or denied participation in others. Equality has therefore been promoted due to the realization that it is a great unifying factor in today’s complex society (Giele, 2007).
My parents have been a great inspiration in regard to promoting equality. Since my early childhood days, my mother often encouraged me to help out in the house and emphasized on the importance of doing various womanly chores. These included maintaining a high level of personal cleanliness, learning how to cook and clean and ensuring that our house was always tidy.
My brother and his friends enjoyed freedom from such responsibilities, and while I thought that it was unfair, I came to realize that as a girl, I was expected to learn these responsibilities.
On the other hand, my father focused most of his attention in teaching my older brother how to be a responsible man. In his free time, he could call him and give him advice on his responsibilities, the value of a good education and how to behave in society. The fact that he could help my mother do some house chores perplexed me the most.
In addition, he had a keen interest in my educational progress and often insisted that I work hard in school so as to secure a brighter future for myself. I never understood why my parents pushed me harder than they did my siblings in regard to performance. As years went on, I started realizing that as a woman, I had to work twice as hard as my male counterparts in order to succeed.
By observing my parents, I learnt that while women participated significantly in the job market, they still have to play a supportive role to their families and husbands. Despite the fact that women today are more empowered and can gain useful employment in terms of status and pay rate, men’s careers and needs often take precedence over those of their women counterparts (Eich-Krohm, 2007).
Choices made often prioritize the man’s career. This is further insinuated by Eich-Krohm (2007) who asserts that men’s careers often take priority and in most family settings, if a man’s career is in jeopardy, women are forced to relocate with their families regardless of their careers.
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This goes to show that society expect women to support their husbands even if it affects the woman’s career negatively (Eich-Krohm, 2007).Despite the fact that women are increasingly taking up office roles, their gender roles as mothers and homebuilders greatly hamper their professional development.
This is demonstrated by Eich-Krohm (2007) who states that, in as much as equality has taken form in today’s society, women are in most cases taking career breaks (maternity leaves and other family related leaves) in order to cater for the needs of their family members. In addition, the author states that women often request for a reduction in their working hours so that they can redirect some extra efforts to their homes. This further shows that gender roles affect the professional development of women in America.
Similarly, religion has been documented as being among the main factors determining gender roles in society. The Amish communities, as well as most Christians believe that a woman’s place is at home. As such, you may find that some women in such religions have little aspirations of developing a professional career. The truth behind this sentiment can be evidenced from results collected from a study by Bang et al (2005), which showed that religious fundamentalism had a significant impact on how people perceived gender roles.
In addition, the study also showed that religions that focused on the traditional gender role expectations had fewer women professionals. Women with greater religious commitment were inclined to carry out their traditional roles as dictated by their religion (Bang et al, 2005). As such, women with strong religious affiliations are more likely to cut short their careers in order to take up a more supportive role as homebuilders and parents as long as their husbands can provide for them.
Rubin (2000)refers to gender as the activities, behaviors and roles that society expects from men or women. In as much as this is true, it should not be static since society is always evolving and changes have to be made so that we can adapt to current affairs. Gone are the days when women were considered as the weaker sex.
Basing on recent experiences, women are actively involved in politics and business management among other professions, which were in the past dominated by men. This is proof that women have what it takes to fight for equal opportunities with men, all the while, maintain their gender roles as mothers and home builders.
In addition, education has further promoted equality among the sexes in the sense that we all follow the same curriculum and learning process. As such, gender should not be the determining factor when it comes to delegation of roles.
In today’s society where the input of both men and women remain invaluable, sharing chores enables parents to build a better and stable future for their children. This means that gender roles should not be allowed to hinder the success of women because their contribution is as important as that of their male counterparts.
This paper set out to perform a gender analysis of today’s society. From the discussion herein, it has been argued that women emancipation is of great importance. In addition, a discussion on how gender roles affect a woman’s professional and personal life has been provided and a personal reflection on gender presented.Considering the hardships that are inherent in today’s society, gender should not mitigate people’s ability to succeed.
Bang, E. et al. (2005). Ethnicity, Acculturation, and Religiosity as Predictors of Female College Students’ Role Expectations. Sex Roles, 53(3/4): 231-237.
Eich-Krohm, A. (2007). Make It or Break It–Women’s Career Interruptions in the Age of Professional Migration. International Journal of Sociology, 37(2): 75-93.
Giele, J. Z. (2007). Homemaker or Career Woman: Life Course Factors and Racial Influences among Middle Class Americans.Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 54(2): 393-409.
Rubin, M. (2000). Women in the American Society for Public Administration: Another Decade of Progress but Still a Way to Go. Public Administration Review, 60(1): 61-71.
Scott Carter, J., Corra, M., & Carter, S. (2009). The Interaction of Race and Gender: Changing Gender-Role Attitudes, 1974–2006. Social Science Quarterly,90(1): 196-211.