Being a man or a woman is not wholly defined by biological aspects of an individual but goes further to include social, economic, political, culturally and other social aspects.
The idea that sex is given biologically but its roles and expectation, which are seen to be different, are defined by social aspects. This has been agreed by psychologists, sociologists its and political scientists.
Femininity and masculinity are socially and historically constructed; these aspects define the characters and life that either female or male has to play in society (Merchant, C. 1983).
This paper discusses how gender is historically and socially-constructed; it will also take a look at the role of women between1900 and 1945.
The concept of gender and sexuality (biological determinism and social constructivism)
There is no single definition of gender, as it brings a heated debate among linguists and social scientist. However, gender issues do not mean women issues; it involves issues of both men and women looked at different angles and reflection.
Sexuality is defined as the biological aspect of a person; it is defined by internal and external organs which differentiate a man and women. Other biological factors include growth at different times like adolescent differences. It follows a biological determinism approach.
When determining the sexuality that one is, there is little that human beings can do, but nature takes its cause in such cases. Gender, on the other hand, emanates from sexuality but is reinforced by cultural and social factors prevailing in the society.
Gender is socially and historically reinforced. The reinforcement of gender and their different roles is advocated and progressed through social constructivism approach. It thinks that the existence of perceived difference is as a result of social aspects and believes.
Social Construction of Sexuality or Gender: a Historical Perspective
Different races, cultures, and groups have an accepted way of conduct (behavior) that is developed, instilled and reinforced in the mind of members. Such factors exist for a long period, and conformity is expected from the societal member.
It is homogenous and transmitted to other generations through socialization. A single word to define these expectations is culture. In most societies, men are the ones who work and should assume the role of feeding the family.
On the other hand women, the role is seen and bearing of children and taking care of the man. In early life, a child needs not to be told of these roles as he/she he can see them happen. The belief, character, and attitude of a child are highly influenced by what he observes.
When he observes the woman role being in the kitchen and child rearing, he will believe that is the way life should be. For example in Swaziland Africa, there is an annual ceremony where virgins are expected to dance almost naked to the king.
Currently, King Mswati and the king is expected to choose a lady from the thousands who turn up to the ceremony. The ceremony is publically advertised and supported in the country a move that belittles women.
In pre-historic men were portrayed as hunters, which was a hard task, and women were portrayed as gatherers.
Although these professions are not existing in today’s modernized world, a similar scenario seem to exist; where men are seen to assume hard tasks due to their capabilities and women are given less demanding tasks.
Traditionally, in the Muslim community, a woman is expected to take care of her husband. This is through the notion that after marriage, a man should be the head of the family and the role of the woman is to care for the man.
On the other hand, the man is expected to be the breadwinner of the family. Among the luyha (a tribe in Kenya-Africa) in it is mythical than a man after circumcision is not expected to get into the kitchen. Ladies and women are expected to serve men.
Some traditions have even made it worse; in Uganda, a woman is not expected to look at her husband on the face, when serving him, he is expected to bow as a show of respect.
Modernization and globalization have come to challenge the tradition. This is where the roles of women and men in society have changed to be similar and equal.
Education has made human beings to understand that the difference between a man and a woman is only the biological part of it, but they can compete more or less the same.
Young couples do not have defined roles as the traditional ones, and it’s possible to find the woman as the breadwinner and man as the child caretaker. The future generation is expected to have a better approach to gender issues and equality is likely to be attained (Julia & Lauro, 1973).
Social Construction of Sexuality or Gender: a Social Perspective
Human beings are social animals; they live with each other and influence the action and behaviors of each other. Personality, belief, attitude and character of a person is highly influenced by the social network that he is living in.
Right from birth, there are certain gender-related attributes that a child is expected to have; as he/she grows, he learns that as the way of life. Different races and cultures define the role of a woman or man within society at an early age.
Women have for long being the disadvantaged gender in most parts of the world. They have been molded to believe that men are superior to them.
These roles are developed through Social constructions. Social construction is a sociological theory that defines the character of something not by what is but how it is viewed to be by the social environment that it exists.
Moving from the parents and baby sitter who socialize the child first, at school environment teachers take the role of defining the roles even further. There are games that are seen to be masculine and feminine.
Male are molded to be bold and focussed and are made to believe that they are capable of doing hard things than women. Superiority is seen even further when a man is molded to take care of a woman.
The media is another strong partisan in enforcing difference in gender based on sexuality. What the media say and how it portrays different aspects registers in the mind of individual affecting how they interpolate their sexuality.
Media contains programs that can portray superiority or equality in men and women which reinforces or challenges the perceived way or condition in communities.
For example, the kind of programs which shows women heading big corporation s effectively enforces equality between men and women. In Christianity for instance, women in the bible have been portrayed to have a limited role to play in the community.
They were seen as inferior to men and only lived to support men. In Jewish tradition, if a woman had more than one affair, she was seen as immoral and punished to death. However, there were many chances that men were allowed to have a chain of women.
When such programs are aired by the media, Christians are likely to believe that the religion they follow portrays men as superior and thus it reinforces believe.
In incidents where people had to be counted in the Bible, only men were counted, but women and children were considered together. This was a move to be-little a woman (King James Bible, 1977).
Life is becoming harder and is calling for the involvement of both parents in search of daily bread. This is leaving children especially teenagers with the media as their major socializer.
Advertising and different programs aired bring the difference between men and women clearer to the mind of teenagers. For example in advertising what belongs to a woman and what brings to a man are portrayed differently.
The kind of clothes, the kind of car and the role that a woman plays in the community; an example is when advertising washing detergents. It is the woman who is advertised cleaning and sometimes cleaning for the man. This creates a difference between them.
In movies like soap operas, men role in the society is seen as the breadwinner and is expected to plead with women for their hand in marriage or love situation. This reinforces the man as the dominant sex and women are expected to follow and abide by men ways.
Other than the media reinforcing a difference among men and women, it has been a string tool advocating for equality among man and women. It is increasingly airing programs that portray men and women as equal partners.
Programs advocating for the respect of women rights are increasingly given air time. For example, news anchors are almost equally dominated by men and women a move that shows there is no difference among gender.
In leadership, women are increasingly taking an active role with Liberia having a female president and Rwandese parliament having more women than men. These factors are aired by the media and are reinforcing equality among man and women (Heiskanen, 2006).
The role of women between 1900 and 1945
During this time, women were considered inferior to men. They were expected to respect and be submissive to men. Their role in society was seen to be childbearing and rearing. Men were the breadwinners and heads of the family.
Inequality was seen in education access; women were not supposed to go to school as they were believed that going to school could be a waste of money and resources. They were taught how to take care of a man.
In taxation laws during the time, income was only declared by men, and it was expected to be the income of husband and wife. Women could not file their returns independently. It was a system that was seen to be supported by the government.
Families were patriarchal were men dominated in almost all areas. Women were not given the right to own property; in most cases, they were not expected to inherit property from their parents.
The role of a woman in the time can further be defined in the kitchen. She was expected to cook and care for her man. This belief was reinforced by mother and grandmothers when they showed their female children how to cook but not men.
Women were seen as the creator of wealth in families when they were married off, and their worth calculate in terms of animals like cows. During the time en was allowed to marry more than one wife, but women could not be allowed to marry more than one husband.
In Luo (a tribe in northern Kenya), after the death of a man, a woman was expected to be inherited like any other property of the deceased. The decision of who to inherit her was defined by society.
The saliency of the system was because of reluctance in-laws to recognize women rights as human rights and they should be respected the same way men’s rights are respected. The society was patriarchal, and men looked for various ways to dominate over women.
The most used way was resource distribution where men owned much f the resources at the expense of women. Education of women and girl child advocacy challenged the system (Aristotle, 1977).
Sexuality can be defined as the biological difference that exists between a man and a woman. On the other hand gender and gender differences are defined by social and historical aspects of societies.
Social aspects include what people go through and establish/reinforce difference/equality between men and women. Humanity and gender issues can be defined from prehistory, historical, modern situation and postmodern.
Prehistorically and historically, the role of men and women were defined by the society where men were seen as superior to women.
Advocacy for equality started in modern times, where it got repellence from both men and women. In postmodern life, equality is increasingly being embraced in the communities.
Aristotle (1977). The Difference Men and Women, “History of Ideas on women” pg.40-54. Rosemary Agonito. Ed. New York: Perigee Books & The Berkley Publishing Group.
Heiskanen, T. (2006). Gender issues in action research: implications for adult education. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 25(5), 519-533. doi:10.1080/02601370600912147.
Julia O’Faolain & Lauro Martines. Eds. (1973) Witches, Not in God’s (p.207-218), New York: Harper and Row.
King James Bible. (1977). “The Creation and Fall of Man and Woman” (Genesis), History of Ideas on Women (p.19-22). Rosemary Agonito, Ed. New York: Perigee & The Berkley Publishing Group.
Merchant, Carolyn. (1983). Nature as Disorder: Women and witches, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution (p. 127-148). New York: Harper San Francisco, a Division of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.