The aim of society is commendable. No one can argue that it’s useful to work together where we all have our roles to support each other. Ultimately, together we promote a healthy life for everyone. Sadly, nothing is perfect and fixed traditional gender roles often lead to discrimination and angst.
What are traditional gender roles?
The list of traditional gender roles in marriage varies subtly across cultures. Nevertheless, these are social expectations for how men and women should behave. Generally, most communities agree that the traditional gender roles definition states that women are more nurturing and men are more dominant.
Traditional gender roles in relationships exist to divide the work that needs to be done to support families and society at large.
The idea is that we leverage our natural skills. For example, people view women as more gentle and caring. So, they become the obvious choice to take on the role of caregiver at home.
Whilst division of labor makes sense at the bigger level, it can have disastrous consequences. That’s because traditional gender roles don’t take into account individual preferences. This leads to judgment when people try to break away from the list of female gender roles, or male ones, to establish their own way of doing things.
As this chapter on creativity explains, for instance, gender role expectations can lead to underachievement and low creativity at school. That’s because to be creative, you need to combine sensitivity, a traditionally female trait, with independence, more typical for most traditional male roles in society.
11 types of traditional gender roles
Gender roles examples are varied and range from behavioral to occupational and personality differences. Society then tends to reward compliance and ostracize those who try to be themselves.
Some changes are happening to gender roles in relationships with more women going into science careers and abandoning housewife occupations, for example. Although, it seems that men are still holding on more tightly to the idea of traditional gender roles, as this research summarizes.
1. Men earn money
Traditional husband and wife roles are usually split between the male breadwinner and the female housewife. This originally came from agricultural influences where muscle and strength were needed to work the tools.
As this professor of economics describes in her article on the origins of traditional gender roles, beliefs are now shifting as work tools no longer need muscle strength.
Traditional gender roles in marriage usually mean that women do the cooking, cleaning and food shopping. It is assumed that they are naturally drawn towards cooking, and are better suited for this responsibility.
The gender roles is based on the traditional notion that women are more proficient at most matters related to the taking care of the household. Although, interestingly, men still dominate the chef profession in the food industry.
Traditional relationship roles include the man protecting the women. That can be anything from carrying things for her to opening doors. You might also see men walking on the roadside to protect women from cars.
The notion that ‘men don’t cry’ is based on this notion that men are chivalrous, and stronger than women, both physically and mentally. Thus they are seen as the protectors and caretakers of women.
4. Job selection
Nontraditional gender roles are when women become engineers and men join the teaching profession, for instance. Sadly, women are still paid less than men for the same jobs though as per this article on the gender pay gap by the WE Forum.
5. Behavioral norms
Traditional relationship roles also include behaviors. So, many families assume that men are more intelligent and push their sons onto further education. On the other hand, women learn that they should focus on finding a husband.
Watch this video to discover what we know from neuroscience and how there are negligible differences in our brain anatomy.
Both male and female brains are plastic and can adjust and learn as much or as little as the individual chooses:
6. Nurture versus discipline
Traditional relationship rules state that women are the caring ones who show emotions. Women become the primary nurturer at home because men are the tough ones who do the discipline.
7. Clothing style
It’s useful to consider fashion when wondering, “what are traditional gender roles.” How many girls’ baby clothes are pink whilst boys’ clothes are blue? Even in the workplace, many assume that women wear skirts and men wear trousers.
8. Children’s toys
The list of female gender roles includes how we play as children. Society expects boys to play with cars and make Meccano train sets while girls play with dolls. This further adds to the pressure that boys are tough and don’t cry but girls are free to express their emotions.
Traditional gender roles in relationships mean that women stay at home and look after the house. The word househusband isn’t in everyday use although the proportion of men who take on this role is perhaps increasing, as this study suggests.
Traditional male roles in society also involve the type of hobbies people take on. For instance, men go and play golf or football whereas women join knitting groups. Of course, this isn’t so much the case in Western societies anymore but there are still some lingering beliefs.
Gender roles examples also cover personality. The same traits in men and women are not described in the same way. So, men are confident and persuasive but women are bossy and pushy, to quote some examples.
Why we have gender roles
The traditional gender roles definition states culturally accepted behaviors that men and women should adopt according to their sex. Biological differences are often quoted as the reason we have traditional gender roles.
As you can imagine, traditional husband and wife roles involve the women caring for the children while the men hunt for food. In this era, they provide money from their jobs. The idea behind today’s housewife is very similar to the hunter-gatherer approach from when we lived in caves.
Nontraditional gender roles are when men and women swap their positions. So, the woman might have a higher paying job meaning that her husband becomes a stay-at-home dad. Of course, this goes against the list of traditional gender roles in marriage such that others might scorn this approach.
We all take on roles in our lives whether this is at home or with our friends and colleagues. This makes us more effective. Nevertheless, many cultures are now questioning whether our biology is enough of a reason to have traditional gender roles.
After all, women don’t need extra muscle to do a desk job. Even the military opened its doors to women after the Second World War. We have the tools and we now know that our brains can adapt to anything and pick up so-called male or female traits as needed.
Drawbacks of traditional gender roles
Gender roles in relationships can be stifling and restrictive. Studies show that girls are influenced at a young age to believe they need protection whilst their education is often restricted by societal expectations.
The language we use every day reinforces traditional gender roles for females. Women are constantly reminded to be calm and passive. They’re then reprimanded for being aggressive whilst the same behavior in men is lauded as confidence.
Such judgemental language and fixed traditional relationship rules can damage self-esteem. Many women, for example, will try to conform by suppressing certain traits and emotions. Men might also sacrifice having a deep relationship with their children by prioritizing work and so never being home.
Not only can people not truly fulfill their potential with fixed traditional gender roles but society also suffers. Without women engineers or more male nurses, businesses and professions don’t benefit from having diverse skill sets in their teams.
The IMF further proves in its study that closing the gender gap could increase GDP by 35% for those countries with the highest inequality. Moreover, people will be happier. They can finally take on equal roles and presence in their children’s lives without the burden of expectations.
The power of labels can hold any of us back. Sadly, we’re conditioned into traditional gender roles from a very early age by our families, schools and friends. Whilst that’s changing, it’s worth challenging yourself as you review the list of behavioral expectations to see if you break away from the norm or not.
So, rather than naturally fall into traditional gender roles for females, such as housewives, or males, such as the breadwinner, work with a coach.
Understanding traditional gender roles will help you discover who you are and what you really want in this life. That means understanding and questioning your inner beliefs to liberate yourself and live a fulfilled life that transcends rules and expectations.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Annes passion and purpose in life are to guide people to find their own path and contentment by learning about themselves. Only then can we build and nurture the deep connections we all deserve to have. With a background in psychology and neuroscience coaching, she has helped countless couples transform their communication from aggression to assertiveness and appreciation.
She is both an ICF certified coach and mindfulness-certified, while being a counselor in training, meaning that she offers a holistic approach. You can expect to transform your view of yourself, your relationship, and the world by better understanding the habits of your mind and letting go of the unhelpful ones. You have power over your mind but you dont have to do it alone.