Discuss cultural influences on gender role. (24 marks)

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Discuss cultural influences on gender role. [8 + 16 marks]
Research into cultural influences on gender roles help to distinguish between biological influences
(which are held responsible if gender roles are universal) and social/cultural influences (if gender
roles are not culturally consistent). One crosscultural study observed children being raised in six
cultures ­ US, Japan, Kenya, the Philippines, Mexico and India. Researchers found that male
dominance and female `nurturing' was consistent across cultures, but that males and females
were socialised differently in some cultures ­ for example males were encouraged to be more
dominant while girls were taught to be obedient.
This study is supported by methodological strengths. Not only was it a widescale, crosscultural
study, it also employed natural observations which gave researchers a deep and realistic insight
into the children's lives and their everyday socialisation, which increased the study's ecological
validity. However, an issue is that, die to the lack of control in the study, cause and effect cannot
be established. The observed differences between males and females may easily have been down
to other factors such as testosterone levels ­ there is research evidence to suggest that genetics
vary over cultures. Therefore, due to the study's methodological strengths and weaknesses, it
only provides moderate support for the role of cultural socialisation.
The debate over cultural influences on gender also links to the wider issue of nature vs nurture.
The idea of cultural socialisation would argue that our gender roles are learned through
interaction with the environment and socialisation. However, biological differences between
males and females can explain gender differences ­ for example, males have thicker right
hemisphere brains which promote visuospatial skills, whereas females have better connectivity
between the two hemispheres, giving them better communication skills. This explains some basic
differences between the sexes, suggesting that not all gender roles are learned through
socialisation, and this could explain some of the universal characteristics seen in the crosscultural
Mead also conducted research into cultural influences on gender role. She studied three cultures
within New Guinea, and found that the first had mainly similarities between the sexes (both
peaceful), the second had men and women who were equally aggressive and uncooperative, and
the third had dominant women and passive, homemaking men. She viewed these vast
differences in gender role as support for the notion that they are learned through cultural
socialisation, and not necessarily universal.
However, her study has been criticised for its methodology. In order to study the cultures,
researchers had to listen to stories of the natives, listen to folklore etc. Due to the language
barrier, the results are likely to have involved a significant amount of subjective interpretation of
information, making the study ethnocentric and lacking in internal validity. Also, one researcher
conducted a followup on the third culture and concluded that the men were in fact more
dominant. He explained Mead's original findings by highlighting the social upheaval which was
occurring at the time of her study due to the introduction of Australian aggression laws, which
may have affected the natives' behaviour. This highlights the importance of considering historical
context as a factor in research, and Mead's study therefore only provides weak support for
cultural influence on gender roles due to the methodological weaknesses.
However, both studies have the benefit of providing practical applications. By suggesting that
gender roles are shaped by social and cultural influences, they argue that gender roles can

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This promotes greater equality between men and women
and gives people greater opportunities in life. Therefore, the cultural explanation can be thought
of as having social benefits.…read more


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