Gender is a Prison: How Traditional Gender Roles Cage Human Diversity

It is first necessary to have a foundation of what a traditional, nuclear family dynamic looks like before exploring the various non-traditional dynamics that each subsection of this exhibit will delve into. The term “nuclear” is used to describe how this type of family has a central nucleus, a core for lack of better words, consisting of two parents and their children. The most common family unit leads with the father, is maintained by the mother, and is grown by the children. Traditional family roles have plagued society and ingrained the image of the nuclear family into everyone’s everyday routines. While Dad is busy at work and too busy to personally contribute to childcare or household chores, Mom serves as the full-time housewife, cook, nanny, and maid. 

Nuclear Family

An image showcasing an example of a nuclear family

Each of the subsequent sections will tie back to the traditional gender roles that come from the traditional nuclear family of America in the 1950’s, which is why it is necessary to have a foundation. Three of the subsections will focus on how these traditions cage people from going beyond the norm and the other two subsections will provide different examples of men and women who have escaped the cage. 

The “Religion’s Part in Perpetuating Gender Roles” subsection seeks to answer the following questions: how has religion continued to reinforce gender roles overtime? What impact does the fulfillment of gender roles in the name of religion have on women specifically? Why is there a link between religion and gender roles in the first place? And what modern day stereotypes have ties to religion? Because of the writer’s identity as a cis black woman, this section of the exhibit will specifically focus on how the Black church has played a major role in the delegation of gender roles and their perpetuation through generations. The black community is the main subject of this research because the intersectionality of gender roles is not often a major focal point in popular discussions and debates. Examples from the writer’s life such as what she has personally been told are the characteristics of a “good” Christian black woman, wife, and mother will be mentioned in conjunction with those found in the resources explored. This subsection will end with a discussion about how black women are recently able to dissociate from such unrealistic expectations by redefining their existence among current day society.

The “Gender Roles & Ambivalent Sexism” portion of our exhibit will take a deeper dive into the traditional gender roles from 1950’s America. It will aim to provide an overarching definition for each position within the nuclear family, while primarily focusing on the mother and father. Furthermore, it will dive into the expectation placed on men and women to fulfill this tradition, though this is not often the case nowadays. Then we will dive into the ambivalent sexism theory, which is the theory that sexism is not just one dimensional but multidimensional with two different forms of sexism: hostile sexism and benevolent sexism. Continuing with the ambivalent sexism theory, this portion of the exhibit will also attempt to show the different kinds of people in America who apply these kinds of sexism in their daily lives and how that application may change with age, gender, and religion.

The “Construct of Virginity” subsection will explore how the social construct of virginity, and the traditional enforcement of remaining a virgin until marriage, impacts varying segments of modern American culture. It will achieve this by first outlining how this social construct has weaved its way into the traditional expectations of lifestyle and marriage. Secondly, it will define both virginity and sex in order to provide background before delving into the argument proposed. The subsection will then explain the religious reinforcement and root of the virgin expectation. Continuing with its social impact, the subsection will divide into both educational examples, like virginity's impact on abstinence-only education,  and examples from pop culture like Madonna’s Like a Virgin.

The "Women in Politics" portion will analyze how traditional roles prescribed to genders has impacted women's image in politics. This subsection will dive into gender stereotypes that exist towards women when running for political positions. It will continue on to major years and influential women that have fought and won the batttle against this perception. They have proved that these automatic biases against women becoming leaders and making policy decisions are incorrect and women are equally capable as men. Further, this part will inspect how voter choice from citizens is persuaded by these stereotypes whether is steers them from voting for women or increases the chances. Overall, this will all tie back into the traditional roles prescribed to families in the 1950's and how it was changed over time but kept some fo the stereotypical roles on women, specifically when they attempt to run for political positions.

The “Transgender Parenting” subsection will explore how parenting is highly-gendered, and how the norm of one cisgender male father and one cisgender female mother clashes with people’s real experiences, particularly with people outside of traditional gender norms. A transgender parent will often have difficulty fitting into the gender role they are supposed to, for a number of reasons. Transgender people are often in queer relationships, where the experience the same hurdles as their cis queer counterparts—it’s not any easier to be a pair of dads if one of you is trans, for instance. Additionally, it can be challenging trying to fulfill the gendered expectations of your parental role; trans fathers can find pregnancy gives others an excuse to challenge their masculinity, trans mothers can face scrutiny over their inability to perform the duties a mother is ‘supposed’ to, like birth and breastfeeding, and non-binary or otherwise genderqueer parents can face an eclectic set of confused expectations. This portion of the exhibit will analyze research on and personal narratives from transgender parents and their children.

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