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Gender Roles from a Cultural Perspective unit 3

英语

Gender Roles from a Cultural Perspective

Joan Young Gregg

1 Over the past few decades, it has been proven innumerable times that the various types of behavior, emotions, and interests that constitute being masculine and feminine are patterned by both heredity and culture.1 In the process of growing up, each child learns hundreds of culturally patterned details of behavior that become incorporated into its gender identity.2 Some of this learning takes place directly. In other words, the child is told by others how to act in an appropriately feminine or masculine way. Other details of gender behavior are taught unconsciously, or indirectly, as the culture provides different images, aspirations, and adult models for girls and boys.

2 Recently, for example, a study of American public schools showed that there is a cultural bias in education that favors boys over girls. According to the researchers, the bias is unintentional and unconscious, but it is there and it is influencing the lives of millions of schoolchildren every year. Doctors David and Myra Sadker videotaped classroom teachers in order to study sex-related bias in education. Their research showed that many teachers who thought they were nonsexist were amazed to see how biased they appeared on videotape. From nursery school3 to postgraduate courses, teachers were shown to call on males in class far more than on female students. This has a tremendous impact on the learning process for, in general, those students who become active classroom participants develop more positive attitudes and go on to higher achievement. As a matter of fact, in the late 1960s, when many of the best all-women’s colleges4 in the northeastern United States opened their doors to male students, it was observed by professors and women students alike that the boys were “taking over” the classroom discussions and that active participation by women students had diminished noticeably. A similar subordination of female to male students has also been observed in law and medical school classrooms in recent years.

3 Research done by the Sadkers showed that sometimes teachers unknowingly prevented girls from participating as actively as boys in class by assigning them different tasks in accordance with stereotyped gender roles. For instance, one teacher conducting a science class with nursery school youngsters, continually had the little boys perform the scientific “experiment”5 while the girls were given the task of putting the materials away. Since hands-on work6 with classroom materials is a very important aspect of early education, the girls were thus being deprived of a vital learning experience that would affect their entire lives.

4 Another dimension of sex-biased education is the typical American teacher’s assumption that boys will do better in the “hard”, “masculine” subjects of math and science while girls are expected to have better verbal and reading skills. As an example of a self-fulfilling prophecy, American boys do, indeed, develop reading problems, while girls, who are superior to boys in math up to the age of nine, fall behind from then on.7 But these are cultural, not genetic patterns. In Germany, for example, all studies8 are considered “masculine”, and it is girls who develop reading problems. And in Japan, where early education appears to be nonsexist, both girls and boys do equally well in reading.

The different attitudes associated with the educational process for girls and boys begin at home. One study, for example, showed that when preschoolers were asked to look at a picture of a house and tell how far away from the house they were permitted to go, the boys indicated a much wider area than the girls, who generally pointed out a very limited area close to the home. Instead of being encouraged to develop intellectual curiosity and physical skills that are useful in dealing with the outside world, as boys are, girls are filled with fears of

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