20 Literature Review: Gender Relations and Expectations for Men and Women

Gender remains one of the most influential social constructs as it permeates individual behavior and societal norms. From childhood to adolescence and adulthood, gender defines the expectations and roles of men and women. Sifting through various sociological studies and concepts, it becomes apparent that existing inequalities dominate gender dynamics. This section will focus on synthesizing different academic studies to provide contextual information on themes and concepts relevant to gender imbalances between men and women.

Interestingly, men and women are encouraged to inhibit traits and values that are considered either feminine or masculine. In a study on the stigma of sexual promiscuity amongst teenage girls, Orenstein observed that young boys demonstrate an affinity towards technology and sports, whereas girls are attracted to make-up and clothing (116). Subjects relating to STEM are typically seen as boyish interests, while fashion and make-up are considered girly. Noticeably, in a study on the gendering of behaviors within preschool, teachers were more likely to scrutinize the girls’ clothing, which made them more conscientious of their bodily adornments and physical appearance (Martin 499). In the same study, 61% of girls wore pink every day, while boys tended to wear majorly primary colors, which shows that even arbitrary concepts like colors can become gendered (Martin 498). Conceptions of masculine behaviors and feminine behaviors carry on until adulthood and parenting. For example, when evaluating the role of gender in South Korean parenting, Park noted that fathers practice “public fathering” in the form of resource accumulation and networking, while mothers practiced “private mothering” by providing emotional support for their children (580). Such gender imbalances amongst parenting provide models that reinforce emotional intelligence as being feminine and career success as masculine. These examples and studies demonstrate how everyday activities and traits can become gendered through the influence of personal milieus.

Within gendered behaviors, those associated with femininity tend to require passivity and sensitivity, and those associated with masculinity are aggressive and assertive. A study found that activities among boys consisted of playing with blocks and pretending to be superheroes (all active activities), while girls crafted and played dolls (activities that required minimal body movement) (Martin 502). In another example, girls were more likely to be reprimanded for hyperactivity and loudness, which served to condition them towards a passive nature (Martin 504). On the other hand, boys and men are socialized to value physical strength and competition. While focusing on the correlation between masculinity and athleticism, Messner observed that public recognition concerning athletic skill served to reaffirm masculinity by increasing self-esteem (82). Sports provide a “competitive hierarchical environment” that men are encouraged to pursue, but which forces them to abandon their vulnerability to fit in with an archetypal macho man (Coontz 15). Besides male competitiveness, there exists a dynamic where men are believed to dominate women. Messner’s study showed that sports became the embodiment of masculinity as “men’s power over women becomes naturalized and linked to the social distribution of violence ” (79). In other words, sports affirm notions of dominance over women by portraying the male form as violent and powerful. Adding on, in fraternities, men are “initiators of sex,” while women are “passive partners” or “active resistors,” which illustrates the notion that men can conquer women as sexual exploits (Boswell and Spade 134). Furthermore, men contextualize sexual endeavors with women as “sexual conquests,” which perpetuates the association of a dominant man and a submissive woman (Boswell and Spade 138).

Studies also suggest that an element of gender dynamics consists of women being objects of desire for men. Studying the propagation of rape culture in fraternities, Boswell and Spade noticed that men defined hooking-up as a means of “getting as much sexual, physical pleasure” without any commitment, which equivocates women to objects of pleasure (139). Additionally, women involved in hook-ups are perceived as “faceless victims,” as men do not extend courtesy or respect towards them (Boswell and Spade 138). In her study on the role of women in providing narrative pleasure to men, Mulvey terms the “male gaze” to encapsulate the idea that in media, women are portrayed as a projection of the male fantasy (62). This type of gender relation is also further encouraged by the accentuation of physical appearance on women. Interest in make-up and clothing demonstrates that women seek desirability, therefore creating a system where their self-worth is dependent on their ability to be desired by men (Orenstein 116). Men are never held to the same standard as they can express their self-worth through technology and sports (Orenstein 116; Messner 75). All of this helps to create a system where women are encouraged and expected to be desirable for men, but the same is not necessarily reciprocated.

By fostering a society where behaviors and interests are gendered, inequalities will inevitably form. Currently, the patriarchal structure influences and controls the inequalities experienced by men and women. Conveying male dominance and female subserviency, women are viewed as objects of desire, and men are viewed as pillars of strength. Such beliefs help to create a system that facilitates the objectification of women and men.



Power: Origins, Instances, and Protest Copyright © by Candy Lucero-Sanchez; Leah Rivera; Leslie Paz; and Liam Madigan. All Rights Reserved.

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