- Cross cultural studies of gender roles help us to increase our understanding of the relative contributions of biology and socialisation. Margaret Mead (1935) adopted an ethnographic approach to studying three different pre-industrialised societies across Papua New Guinea and the temperament/gender roles they displayed. She found that the Arapesh men and women were similar and tended to be gentle, responsive and cooperative. The Mundugmour men and women were violent and aggressive, seeking power and position. By contrast the Tchambuli exhibited gender role differences; the women were dominant, interpersonal and managerial, with economic and political influence whereas the men were more emotionally dependant and stayed at home to look after the children.
- From her study Mead concluded that the data demonstrated cultural determinism, the position that male and female differences are determined by social factors rather than biological ones, therefore indicating that gender roles are not consistent throughout cultures.
- In addition to this there is further evidence to support the assumption that gender roles are not consistent worldwide. Antonia Young carried out a study on the unusual gender roles in Albania. She found a group called the Albania virgins who were born into families which lacked a male presence and thus adopted the male role, committed to being a virgin and dressed and acted as men. The society accepted them as male and they were admitted to all male clubs and social groups. This suggests that societies create gender roles based on the needs of their society/culture and therefore shows that genders do vary across cultures.
- However there are methodological issues with the research conducted by Mead, as she used ethnographic field research the data would have been gathered through participant observation, interviews and questionnaires, all methods whereby the results are easily subject to observer bias. Mead would have had to speculate on what the data potentially meant and acknowledge that her own cultural biases will have affected the interpretation.
- Due to the fact results may not be objective and the fact that non-scientific methods were used to collect data, both key features of psychology as a science, the validity of the findings decrease. Due to this reduced validity we cannot accurately conclude that gender roles do vary depending on culture due to the studies methodological flaws.
- Cross cultural studies have also been conducted which suggests that gender roles are universal. Williams and Best (1990) conducted a study into gender stereotypes in 30 different nations, involving 2800 university students as participants. The participants were given a 300-item adjective checklist (ACL) and asked to decide for each adjective whether it was more frequently associated with men or women.
- There was a broad consensus across countries that men were seen as dominant, aggressive and autonomous, whereas women were more nurturing, deferent and interested in affiliation. This suggests that there are universal stereotypes about male-female characteristics therefore indicating that gender roles are influenced more by our biology and evolution rather than socially constructed.
+ The findings from this study do have strengths due to the sample used. The studies sample firstly was large and also very diverse in terms of culture, religion and ethnicity; because of this the population validity of the findings increases and makes the results more generalizable and representative of the wider population. This means that the conclusion of gender roles being consistent throughout cultures is applicable to the general population.
- However there are again methodological flaws with this research, a frequent issue with cross cultural studies is that of imposed etics, this is when a technique or psychological test is used in one culture and therefore may be meaningless in another culture.
- In William and Bests study they used a checklist developed by Western psychologists, because of this Westernised perspective behaviours considered in one culture to be feminine may not be considered feminine in another, so therefore would be of little use to those in other cultures.
- They postulated that there are universal gender stereotypes however due to imposed etics these findings lack validity, this means that empirical evidence of cross-cultural studies on gender roles is less useful than initially believed as imposed etics need to be taken into consideration. This also means that we cannot accurately conclude gender roles are universal or that they are a result of biological factors.
- Cross cultural studies help us to establish whether nature or nurture has the greater influence over gender roles. Both Mead and Young's studies imply that nurture and social influences have more profound influences on gender roles, however evidence from William and Best lies on the nature side of the debate by indicating that our biology is more dominant.
- It is apparent that we cannot pinpoint one specific factor that causes our gender roles to develop in the way in which they do, and with there being strong evidence in support of both sides of the debate an interactionist approach should be taken on when looking at gender roles. This would include looking at how several factors interact with one another in order to identify why and how a specific behaviour occurs.
- This will then be more beneficial when establishing treatments for people with gender identity disorders as their condition will be treated as a whole rather than targeting specific factors which may have caused it, therefore making it more appropriate and effective.