Traditional versus egalitarian sex role ideologies.
Sex role ideology refers to basic values and beliefs about how men and women should function in life. In many societies there is a basic conflict between those that believe in the traditional roles of men and women related to home and work compared to more egalitarian perspectives. Traditional gender ideology views the role of women to be that of a home maker and men as breadwinners. The traditional viewpoint also support men as the head of families and chief decision makers about all matters related to family functioning whereas the mother is considered the heart of the family being supportive and looking after the family’s emotional needs. Traditional values are expressed in gender roles that sharply demarcate the differences in the function of males and females, whereas egalitarian roles deemphasize the distinction between males and females.
Young adolescents were asked in one study to describe the characteristics of the ideal man or woman, and the results revealed that the most important psychological traits were not sex typed as both genders preferred someone who was honest and kind (de Silva, Stiles & Gibbons, 1992). At the same time there were gender based differences based on reproductive needs and evolutionary fitness where being attractive and good looking (and therefore fertile) was mentioned more often for women and good employment seen as more important for men. Another study (Gibbons, Stiles and Shkodriani, 1991) supported the idea that girls hold less traditional views than boys probably because they have more opportunities in egalitarian relationships. At the same time adolescents from poorer and collectivistic countries were more traditional compared to adolescents from richer and more individualistic countries. Globalization and modern technology are changing traditional gender ideology even in conservative societies as television, the Internet, and modern education show alternative possibilities for girls. Religious beliefs and practices are powerful traditional forces in many cultures resisting the forces of modernity and social development.
Williams and Best (1990b) examined sex role ideology in another study among respondents in fourteen countries including representation from Europe, Asia, North America, Africa, and South America. The results showed significant differences between countries in sex role ideology partly related to socio-economic status. Countries that scored higher on the socio-economic index, that had a higher proportion of protestant Christians along with a low proportion of Muslims, had a larger proportion of women working outside the home, and who were more individualistic tended to favor egalitarian sex role ideology. The countries that scored lower on these indexes were more likely to endorse and favor traditional sex roles.
Since women are often the victims of sex role stereotyping it is not surprising that research show males and females having differences in sex role preferences. In the Williams and Best study the sex role ideology opinions of males and females were examined in fourteen countries, examining their beliefs about how men and women should be and act in their relationships. In all countries (except two) males showed a stronger preference for the traditional sex roles and women scored higher in the direction of egalitarian relations. Since males benefit by controlling women in the traditional household there are strong male incentives in favor of the status quo. On the other hand women have become more conscious of the injustice of traditional sex role functioning and therefore favor a more egalitarian ideology.
That this remains a continuous hot topic for researchers can be seen in the number of published reports. The Larsen and Long (1988) sex role ideology scale measuring egalitarian versus traditional attitudes toward sex roles have appeared in 83 published studies and hundreds of student theses and dissertations. That result alone would indicate that the issue if far from settled in Western countries, and is a source of continuous conflict as men and women seek to find balance in a rapidly changing world that challenges traditional thinking.
10.2 Gender stereotypes and discrimination against women.
Gender stereotypes have had many negative consequences for women. It has caused women in modern times to become obsessed with their bodies seeking to reach impossible standards of thinness with health consequences that include anorexia and bulimia. Further, violent behavior by men toward women that is found broadly throughout Western and other cultures in the world is promoted by gender stereotypes where women are seen as having no independent and valuable existence.