Sex and Gender Roles, Critiques of

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    The term “sex roles” refers to the social functions that are ascribed to individuals based on their sex. Sex roles was initially the dominant paradigm to explain sexual inequality in second-wave feminism; its feminist scholarship was role theory. Role theory focused on practices of socialization into male and female roles, for example, different expecta-tions and behaviors toward male and female infants. Both women’s liberation and the burgeoning women’s scholarship inspired by the movement sought to challenge dom-inant assumptions of the “naturalness” of sexual inequality as merely expressions of biological difference. The oft-quoted statement from Simone de Beauvoir that “one is not born, but becomes a woman” was the foundation text of this period ([1949] 1953, 249). The positive contribution of role theory was the growing awareness of diversity in male and female roles across cultures and historical periods and the possibilities for changing roles and expectations. Anthropologist Margaret Mead had foreshadowed thesex-rolesapproach in herinfluentialbook Sex and Temperament in Three Primi-tive Societies ([1935] 1959). Although she did not use the terminology of sex roles, her idea of socialized sex temperament that differed and contrasted between these soci-eties rejected the “naturalness” of socially expressed sex differences and laid the ground for the idea that differential male and female behavior was socially and culturally con-structed. But role theory emphasized bimorphic sex differences, neglecting both sim-ilarities between the supposedly divergent sexes and diversity within sex categories. In rejecting the determining power of biological difference, it also ran up against the question of what basis individuals were sorted into one category and not the other. And the implicit answer was the ontology of biological sex difference.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationThe International Encyclopedia of Anthropology
    Editors Hilary Callan
    Place of PublicationUnited Kingdom
    PublisherJohn Wiley & Sons Ltd.
    ISBN (Print)9781118924396
    Publication statusPublished - 2018


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