gender role

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the public image of being a particular gender that a person presents to others: conventional notions of female gender roles.
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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What are gender roles?

A gender role is a way of appearing and behaving that meets cultural expectations based on an individual’s gender. Traditionally, people have been expected to fit into either a male or female gender role.

Gender is an individual’s identification as male, female, or another identification that exists between or beyond the spectrum of strictly male or female (such as people who identify as nonbinary). A role is a function or expected behavior pattern. The term gender role is used (especially in the plural form gender roles) to specifically refer to societal expectations of engaging in either stereotypical masculine behavior or stereotypical feminine behavior.

Gender roles have become a source of controversy and criticism, and many people have sought to eliminate the need to adhere to them. This is due to the perception that they limit personal freedom, especially as the cultural understanding of gender has moved away from a strict separation between male and female.

What is the significance of gender roles?

Select one: male | female. When signing up for social media accounts, creating email addresses, or filling out applications, we are constantly asked to identify ourselves by gender. Why is gender considered so important? Part of the answer is gender roles, which are essentially stereotypes for men and women.

The term gender role was coined by psychologist John Money in 1955 to better describe the set of expectations for men’s and women’s behavior. It’s easy to name the traditional gender roles for women and men: women are expected to be nurturing and appear feminine, such as by wearing makeup and dresses; men are expected to be strong and unemotional and appear masculine, such as by having a short hairstyle.

Of course, not everyone fits—or wants to fit—within these roles. Many people engage in the stereotypical behaviors associated with another gender no matter how they identify themselves. (Many men cook and like flowers; many women play sports and like to work on cars.) And some individuals do not identify themselves as strictly male or female. Their gender identification may be ambiguous, and they may reject gender roles altogether.

But that hasn’t stopped gender roles from having a huge influence on our society. Gender roles still impact the way individuals are perceived by the world and what others expect of them—from decisions about which toys children should play with to what jobs people should have. Gender roles also dictate traditional conceptions about what makes someone attractive.

There is a lot of discussion surrounding whether gender roles are helpful or harmful. Breaking gender roles can be considered liberating by some people and offensive by others. Because many people believe that gender roles inherently produce inequality, criticism of them has increased, especially in movements such as feminism.

Did you know ... ?

Pink is a “girl color,” right? Well, before the mid-1900s, pink clothing was more often worn by boys. Despite the common conception that pink is a feminine color, associating pink with women is relatively recent, driven largely by advertising.

What are real-life examples of gender role?

The following video describes gender roles and provides insight into why some people might want to break out of them.



What other words are related to gender role?

Quiz yourself!

Which of the following things are influenced by traditional gender roles?

A. How people dress
B. How people behave
C. What jobs people have
D. All of the above

How to use gender role in a sentence

Medical definitions for gender role

gender role

The pattern of masculine or feminine behavior of an individual that is defined by a particular culture and that is largely determined by a child's upbringing.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.