Cultural Notions of Masculinity and Femininity essay

Almost all aspects of the social interactions are culturally ascribed. How we see and perceive various issues in life is influenced by the prevailing values and norms in the society. Our interpretation of certain ideals that are important to us is mostly aligned to our orientation in regard to how we have been socialized to view them. The description of masculinity and femininity is in accordance to a society’s values, norms and beliefs. A mention of the term masculinity evokes images of a man with certain qualities and characteristics that are regarded as culturally acceptable.

These images conform to the male behaviors and include toughness and astuteness. Femininity is seen as being synonymous to women. Women are supposed to conform to the feminine behaviors and a mention of femininity evokes images of beauty, tenderness and other subtle qualities. A look at the society reveals that the values of either femininity or masculinity are ascribed to each sex through the various childhood processes. A baby boy will be clothed in attires that reflect masculinity; consequently a baby girl will also be adorned in colors that reflect femininity.

As they grow up, they can be rebuked for engaging in games that go contrary to their gender. These ideals, in regard to the specific behaviors associated and considered appropriate for each sex, are acknowledged and internalized through social interactions. Masculinity and femininity are as a result of the various constructions in the society and are culturally ascribed just as the gender roles. Gender roles refer to certain code of behaviors and responsibilities ascribed to each sex. These are the behaviors and habits that are considered normal to an extent that a deviation from the norm is considered a deviant behavior.

A man is supposed to be highly masculine and the level of manhood is determined by how one conforms to the set behaviors. Men that exhibit feminine behaviors are either seen as weak or of questionable sexual orientation. Similarly, women must also conform to a certain image of femininity lest they are seen as tomboys. A look into the society indicates that activities and responsibilities are allocated in regard to ones sex. Men are allocated handy jobs that require immense physical effort, women on the other hand engage in activities that are less physically engaging such as laundry and kitchen work.

These are roles that are culturally ascribed and even as the society progresses towards modernity, the images of femininity and masculinity are yet to wane but rather some are being reinforced by the popular media (Kimmel, Hearn & Connell 231). The issue of masculinity and femininity has been widely covered by scholars who have examined how such values reinforced by the social constructs and environment. Literature on masculinity dates back to the ancient time which explicitly and implicitly explores the expectations of men especially in the myths defining traditional heroes and legends.

History is rich with texts defining standards of masculinity. Most of these standards revolve around physical attributes and characters. Physical strength is an attribute that defines men, such kind of men are considered to be attractive to women as it is a sign of virility. Kimmel, Hearn & Connell (232) capture this aptly by observing that “men, oriented to the public sphere, are understood to be active, strong, independent, powerful, dominant and aggressive, with masculinity signifying “being in control. ” As has been mentioned, these ideals are instilled during childhood.

Boys are socialized not to have feminine behaviors. They have a cultural mandate not to exhibit effeminate behaviors and are taught not to show their emotions. The key culprit behind this socialization is the family and as Kimmel, Hearn & Connell (233) agree, “It is generally in the family that children first acquire, including personal characteristics, interpersonal skills, and social values. ” Men exhibit behaviors that point towards “power, control, dominance and entitlement. ” (Lind & Brzuzy 173). In the work places, men are seen as exhibiting qualities that are different from those of women.

As Alvesson asserts (133), masculinity is defined in line with male values such as “assertion, separation, independence, control, competition, focused perception, rationality, analysis, etc. ” Similar observations however are not made of women who are “defined in complementing and corresponding terms” that are emotionally oriented and points towards subtlety (133). What is important to note here is that the values attached to masculinity and hence men are regarded highly than those of women. Masculinity is seen as a form of strength while femininity is associated with tenderness and weakness (Turner & Cherrin 78).

Likewise, the ideals of femininity differ greatly from those of masculinity. Needless to say, femininity in the society is closely associated with women, these ideals emanate from cultural norms. Traditional femininity has been mostly centered on the physical appearances and also on a woman’s behaviors. The Victorian culture for example put emphasis on the characters of a woman dictating on the various behaviors that are feminine and hence befitting women. A look at the western societies indicate that there are certain attributes of women that are more stressed on than others as they are a sign of femininity.

The hair for example is “viewed as one of women’s “greatest assets” with long hair typically viewed as feminine and erotic. ” (Lind & Brzuzy 174). Though long hair is no longer associated fully with femininity, women are still not culturally allowed to have hair in some places such as on the hands or face. Femininity emphasizes on appearance and hence adornments and clothing are an important component of womanhood. Land and Brzuzy (175) agree further with this noting that as “women must perform their femininity through expressions of appearance, they more commonly concern themselves with dress and are more often targeted by industry.

” Masculinity is associated with masking of emotions; femininity however is the opposite of this. While boys and men are supposed to shut down their emotions only showing their hard side, women on the other hand “are encouraged to be “soft’, that is; emotionally in touch, vulnerable and expressive. ” (Spade & Valentine 281) This is an attribute that has been passed down across generations. With no regard to how women may perform in the so called masculine tasks, women are stereotyped as emotionally vulnerable and their behaviors point towards femininity.

These are ideals that are commonly associated with women, weak men and young boys in some cultures. Indeed, men who exhibit feminine behaviors are seen as not conforming to the set ideals and maybe considered weak. Gentleness and softness for example are considered feminine attributes that should not be present in men least of all in public. Public display of affection and other emotions is characteristically associated with women. Although the society is rapidly changing, some of these stereotypes have refused to die away. (Stets & Turner 67).

An analysis of the various articles on the cultural notions of masculinity and femininity indicates that most have centered on the existing differences rather than on the similarities. There has always been a controversy on whether gender is a social construct or whether it has biological foundations. The advocates of biological foundation insist that gender is naturally allocated, the rest however claim that the various processes of socialization have constructed gender differences. It is these researchers that give focus to the differences that exist between genders and consequently between femininity and masculinity.

Notable differences are on the physical and emotional attributes. This conclusion has been reached after analyzing the behaviors and physical characteristics that are considered to be a reserve of men and women. These differences are becoming gradually bridged but most of the research that exists tends to posit that men and women are structurally and physiologically different. Though they may have similarities in emotions, difference arises as men are not supposed to be displayed while women’s vulnerabilities and insecurities can be exhibited in the public.

Femininity is considered to be the opposite of masculinity and each is ascribed to the respective gender, be it a man and a woman. Physical strength is supposed to be exhibited in men while the opposite is true for women. In the society, this is further explicated by the fact that people are not yet fully open to the idea that women can take position of leadership or engage in physically engaging tasks such, these are seen as the preserve of masculine men. Household chores and other subtle office responsibilities are seen as befitting women. Both men and women grow to accept these roles conforming to the societal demands.

Works Cited

Alvesson M. Understanding organizational culture. SAGE Publications Ltd, 2002, 130- 136 Kimmel M, Hearn J. & Connell R. Handbook of studies on men & masculinities. SAGE, 2004, 230-238 Lind A. & Brzuzy S. Battleground: Women, Gender, and Sexuality. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2008, 170-176 Stets J & Turner J. Handbook of the Sociology of Emotions. Springer, 2008, 67 Turner K. & Cherrin S. Women, families, and feminist politics: a global exploration. Haworth Press, 1998, 76-78