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Gender Stereotypes: Definition, Examples & Quiz

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Ross Davis

Gender stereotypes are over-generalizations about the characteristics of an entire group based on gender. While gender stereotypes have been popularly perceived as having negative connotations, they can also have positive ones as well.

Definition

A man can say 'women aren't meant for combat,' while on the other hand a woman can say 'men do nothing but watch sports.' Such expressions represent gender stereotypes, which are over-generalizations about the characteristics of an entire group based on gender, as in women or men. While women were barred from serving in military combat in Western nations until the latter half of the 20th century, in recent times they have served in combat roles as capably as men. And while many men may watch sports, not all men would necessarily do so.

Gender stereotypes can also have positive connotations, even though they're often over-generalized. For instance, the notion that women are better caregivers than men. This is not necessarily true in all cases, as some women may lose custody of children in court cases where neglect is proven. This is similarly so for the notion that men are better providers than women, particularly in cases where men have abandoned their families and back-owe on child support ('deadbeat dads').

Sociological Perspectives

A 2-year old girl wanders away from her playgroup and becomes lost outside. A man happens to drive by her. He thinks about going back to help get the toddler back home or where she belongs, but drives on. Later on it turns out that the girl drowned in a garden pond. An investigation ensues, and the man who drove by the girl told authorities that the reason he had not stopped or gone back to assist her was because he did not want anyone to mistakenly think that he was a pedophile trying to abduct her.

The above true story illustrates the impact that stereotypes, even perceived ones, have on someone based on his or her gender. The following sociological perspectives are highlights of the varying interpretations of such stereotypes.

Structural-Functional

The structural-functional perspective represents a view that gender stereotypes serve a necessary function in society by reaffirming traditional roles about men and women, respectively. For instance, stereotypes help maintain men in instrumental roles, such as that of provider, while stereotypes help maintain women in expressive roles, such as that of caregiver.

Symbolic Interaction

The symbolic interaction perspective is a view that gender stereotypes are the result of daily small group interactions between men and women. This perspective deals with conversation and gestures that attempt to mediate the interpretations that men have of women and vice versa.

Conflict

The conflict perspective views gender stereotypes as attributes of a struggle in men maintaining dominance over women, as a form of gender exploitation. Conflict theorists may cite as an instance women's ineligibility to vote in the United States until the early 20th century, or in modern times woman not being allowed to hold positions of power or drive vehicles in Arab countries.

Summary

Gender stereotypes reflect the dynamics of beliefs, norms, and behaviors among men and women. Stereotypes can have negative and positive connotations. The significance of such stereotypes can depend on a person's perspective.

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