Masculinity and Femininity as Different Cultures

It is no doubt that men and women are different in many ways. First of all, they are different in their physiology and psychology, perform different social roles, dress in different ways, etc. The question is if they are really so different that they can be referred to as bearers of two different cultures?

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To pass on this task, it is important to learn more about stereotypes associated with masculinity and femininity. The term gender cannot be avoided speaking about men and women. It is used to describe the socially prescribed roles and relationships between men and women. “Gender is always lived in the modalities of ethnicity and class, nationality in the modalities of gender and race, and class in the modalities of gender and nationality” (Prins, 2006). Every society has its gender norms that help to assign specific responsibilities and entitlement to men and women.

It is believed that people learn about how to behave appropriately to their sex from society’s institutions. There are some models which men and women try to follow. Children learn about the norms of the society they are supposed to follow as men and women. Men are usually referred to as rational, aggressive, and dominant. They always want to be competent and efficient. As for women, they are more passive and submissive. Most of all, they value love, beauty, communication, and relationships. The characteristics complement each other in such a way that they create balance (Imwale, 2004, p. 15).

Culture imposes the limit between sexes; this limit allows everybody to judge whether a person is masculine or feminine. Culture determines the roles given to women or to men. Men and women are both similar and different, but culture usually stresses more on differences than on similarities.

In different countries, the problem of masculinity and femininity is treated in different ways.

For example, in Japanese culture, it is considered that there exist two main energies, Yin and Yang. These energies are involved in the process of the constant fight and mutual penetration. None of these energies can win, and there is harmony in their fight, which causes the world to develop.

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According to this theory, each person has both of these energies, but the prevailing one in men is Yan, and in women is Yin. These energies influence people in the course of all their lives. They bring people love but cause a lot of suffering too.

Gender roles are highly weighted by cultural values and influence many parts of our lives. According to Hofstede’s theory, there are “masculine” and “feminine” countries. In so-called ‘masculine” countries competitiveness and ambition are valued the most. Material possessions and wealth are highly estimated. As for “feminine” cultures, they tend to value the quality of life and relationships most of all. Hofstede assumes that Japanese culture is the most “masculine,” whereas Sweden is considered to be the most “feminine” (McSweeney, 2002, p. 92).

Japan may serve as a good example to demonstrate the stereotypes associated with gender. Historically definite gender roles existed in Japan. Men were taught to be tough and strong; they were encouraged to dominate over children and women. On the other hand, in Japanese women, subservience and reticence were welcomed. Women were supposed to obey their husbands and even their sons in their old age. Traditionally men provided food and money for their families, and women did all the housework and took care of the children. Males are considered to be more important and more dominant than females. Though Japan is one of the most urbanized countries in Asia, it still seems to keep to the traditional gender role ideology (McSweeney, 2002, 114).

When we speak about culture, we often mean some general patterns of people’s behavior.

From this point of view, there are lots of differences between men and women too. Many writers worked on the ways of overcoming those differences in an attempt to bring understanding to people’s lives. One of such writers as John Gray. He is the author of fifteen books on psychology and relationships, but he is famous for his book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, published in 1992.

In this book, the author offers the reader the idea that men and women are essentially different in their physiology and psychology. For example, according to Gray’s theory, if a woman complains about her problems, she wants somebody to know about her troubles, to share her sufferings, but as for a man, his complaint means he’s just looking for a solution. Women always want to have somebody to talk to, a shoulder to cry on. Women can even become upset if their interlocutor provides them with lots of possible ways out instead of just listening.

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Men can sometimes feel that women want them to solve all their problems, which is not quite true. As for men, they often prefer going to his “cave” rather than talking. Women’s experience is like this: “Plenty of us have experienced a man who seems to have shut us out, is quiet and nonresponsive. We feel abandoned and unwanted”. (Gray, 1992, p. 23) But it just means that a man needs to separate himself from the world to have an opportunity to think in comfort. After he finds the decision he needs he will come out of his “cave.”

So the purpose of Gray’s work was to show the reader the absolutely different ways in which men and women communicate and to demonstrate how one can accept these differences and avoid conflicts.

Men and women have different communicative patterns, which brings difficulties in a family’s everyday life. Another scientist, professor Tannen, in her article “Sex, Lies, and Conversation: Why Is So Hard for Men and Women to Talk to Each Other?” describes some common patterns of men and women communicating.

In my own research, complaints from women about their husbands most often focused not on tangible inequities such as having given up a chance for a career to accompany a husband to his or doing far more than their share of daily life-support work like cleaning, cooking, social arrangements, and errands. Instead, they focused on communication: “He doesn’t listen to me,” “He doesn’t talk to me.” I found as Hacker observed years before, that most wives want their husbands to be, first and foremost, conversational partners, but few husbands share this expectation of their wives (Tannen, 1990, p. 46).

For a woman communicating is essential for living; she wants her husband to be a perfect listener and interlocutor. What is more, sometimes a woman can accuse her husband of not listening to her just because he doesn’t look in her eyes during their conversation. Women are used to facing each other directly, looking straight into each other’s eyes. That is why she can feel hurt if the man only periodically glances at her.

But for men, the ground for a good relationship is doing things together. Of course, men cannot do without communication, but it is nothing more than one of the constituents of happy family life.

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Men and women have different expectations about communication in marriage. In the family, a woman feels free to share her thoughts and emotions because she is not afraid that she can offend somebody. But as for a man talking helps him to prove his status, to show his intelligence. That is why a talkative wife and a silent husband are such a common pattern.

Men grow up in a world in which a conversation is often a contest, either to achieve the upper hand or to prevent other people from pushing them around. For women, however, talking is often a way to exchange confirmation and support. (Tannen, 1990, p. 17).

Men and women also cope with the stress in different ways. Usually, men tend to react to stressful situations in an aggressive way and may start a verbal conflict. Stress may also lead to hypertension or even alcohol abuse. As for women, they are usually calmer and try to look for a compromise.

Scientists say that the reason for these differences is in the genes.

The obsessively debated differences between men and women were, at least on the genetic level, even greater than previously thought. As many as 300 of the genes on the X chromosomes may be activated differently in women than in men, says the other author of the paper, Laura Carrel, a molecular biologist at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine (Hotz, 2005, p. 2).

The appropriate behavioral models for men and women shift with time and are different in many countries. There are still many stereotypes associated with gender. For example, there are some professions that are associated with a definite gender. Teaching is usually referred to as a “feminine” profession, whereas the sphere of politics is the prerogative of men. Throughout history, many jobs have changed their genders; many stereotypes shift now. Clerical jobs that used to be predominantly masculine are now dominated by women. Even the notion changed, now women are referred to as “secretaries” or “typewriters.” Now women may occupy chief positions in the workplace; they can be autonomous or nurturing. Men may take care of children at home and at the same time be achievement-oriented at work.

Nowadays, many stereotypes associated with men’s and women’s fashion change, the distinction between them becomes vaguer and vaguer. The same situation can be observed in the sphere of sexual meanings and behaviors.

Sociologists demonstrated the variability of sexual meanings, identities, and categories; many shifted their focal point from “the homosexual’ as a fixed, natural, universal sort of being to homosexual as a social category that “should itself be analyzed and its relative historical, economic, and political base be scrutinized’ (Conell, 2005).

So it is obvious that historically femininity and masculinity can be considered as different cultures. But nowadays, the tendency is that the borders between femininity and masculinity become more and more undefined. Men and women share the same roles in the family, at the workplace, and even dress similarly. In modern society, these new role models are acceptable. And it becomes clear that these days men and women share one culture.

Reference

Connell, R.W., 2005.The Social Organization of Masculinity, Masculinities (2nd edition, pp.67-86), University of California Press: Los Angeles.

Gray, John. 1992. Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus: A Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting What You Want in Your Relationship. New York: HarperCollins.

Hotz, Robert. 2005. Galaxy Of Genetic Differences Between Men & Women: Latest Research Into X Chromosome Brings Startling Discoveries. The Scotsman – UK.

Imwalle B., Schillo K., “Masculinity and Femininity: The Taboo Dimension of National CulturesJournal article.” Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol. 33, 2004.

McSweeney, B., 2002. Hofstede’s model of national cultural differences and their consequences: A triumph of faith, a failure of analysis. Human Relations, 55, 89-118.

Prins, B.,2006. Narrative Accounts of Origins: A Blind Spot in the Intersectional Approach? European Journal of Women’s Studies, vol. 13, no. 277, pp.278-290.

Tannen, Deborah. Sex, Lies, and Conversation: Why Is So Hard For Men and Women to Talk to Each Other? The Washington Post: 1990.

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