Social Psychology of Gender-Based Sex Roles Term Paper

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Social Psychology of Gender-Based Sex Roles and Romantic Love in American Society

Different human societies define romantic love according to specific cultural beliefs about gender-based sex roles and social mores about sexual expression. In the United States (and much of the Western part or the world), these cultural values include a marked difference in the sexual behavior expected of males and females. Unlike many other culturally-defined values, gender-based sex roles are not generally taught explicitly; rather, they are more likely transmitted informally and learned within peer groups of every age. Even before puberty, social conditioning emphasizes sexual promiscuity as a major component of male self-esteem while preaching the complete opposite value - of chastity - for women (Baker & Elliston 2002).

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This disparity in sexual attitudes is responsible for a tremendous amount of the dysfunction in relationships as well as for the deceptive, dishonest, and duplicitous approach that is characteristic of male attitudes toward relationships with women. This is especially ironic, because social morality is supposed to be the basis of sexual mores in society. Furthermore, Western beliefs about the relationship between sexual desire and romantic love are responsible for a tremendous amount of confusion within intimate relationships, which are often perpetuated and reinforced in messages throughout contemporary entertainment and advertising media. In truth, several aspects of the American social psychology of sex roles and romantic love reflect natural male insecurities more than any objective concepts of morality, in addition to contradicting much of what psychologists and evolutionary biologists believe about the actual nature of human sexuality and romantic love (Verene 1992).

The Western Version of Burkas, Veils, and Forced Female Circumcision:

Term Paper on Social Psychology of Gender-Based Sex Roles and Assignment

Since the United States-lead invasion of Afghanistan in early 2002 and of Iraq the following year, Americans have become more familiar with Islamic social values and female subjugation. Specifically, part of the suggested justification for forcing social change on these two societies related to the oppressive cultural expectations requiring women to cover themselves from head to toe in public by wearing a burka and a veil designed to cover their hair and facial features, exposing only their eyes.

Most Americans consider these cultural requirements to be socially backward manifestations of repressive, male-dominated society that contradicts our own comparatively socially liberal social values. Likewise, Americans are appalled by media reports detailing the brutal practice of forced female circumcision, in which preschool- age African girls are subjected to genital mutilation - usually without anesthesia or even rudimentary antiseptic precautions - as a mandatory cultural ritual. Reportedly, the purpose of female circumcision is that uncircumcised females are shunned by males as prospective wives.

According to modern psychologists, these practices are nothing more than institutionalized manifestations of male sexual insecurities and the specific male fear of female sexuality and their anxiety over their own perceived inability to satisfy a woman sufficiently to guarantee sexual fidelity (Verene 1992). Additionally, the forced suppression of even the slightest hint of female attractiveness and sexuality by laws requiring that women cover themselves completely in public is a function the fundamental inconsistency between religious teachings and natural human desires.

Islamic values preach against any sexual indulgence outside of marriage. Paradoxically, many Muslims conceive of an afterlife of sexual reward in the form of the proverbial "72 virgins" for those who live righteously and without giving in to sexual temptation in life.

For this reason, these Middle Eastern and African societies have adopted socially oppressive rules of female attire primarily as a means of eliminating the sexual temptation on the part of males, precisely because Islamic law is so contrary to natural human urges. Rather than controlling their own behavior to conform to their religious beliefs, Islamic males have entirely shifted their moral burden to women, as though women are more responsible to avoid tempting men than men are responsible for controlling their own behavior.

In Western Society, women are not required to wear clothes meant to protect men from sexual temptation, much less subjected to forced surgical mutilation to destroy their ability to enjoy sexual intercourse. Nevertheless, American sexual mores and gender- based disparate socialization with respect to culturally expected sexual behavior serve much of the very same underlying male psychological agenda in principle.

As early as grade school, boys are encouraged and rewarded socially for popularity with their female counterparts while grade school girls become sensitive to concepts related to being a "slut" even before full sexual maturity or actual sexual experimentation. By the age of puberty, young women wishing merely for confirmation of their physical attractiveness must already be very cognizant of the fine line between attractiveness and insulting pejorative assumptions and crude allegations related to promiscuity. Likewise, by the time young men and women first begin to date, sexual promiscuity is already viewed as a badge of honor in males and a mark of social shame in females. In principle, the psychological motivation for these cultural attitudes is rooted as much in male insecurity as their comparatively extreme Middle Eastern versions employing more overt forms of female suppression.

In Western culture, one of the most profound effects of this differential gender- based sexual socialization is that it inspires a predatory attitude and a focus on the element of conquest in sexuality on the part of males. In that regard, one of the most insidious elements of this social dynamic is that it encourages men to regard any sign of sexual promiscuity in females as a moral shortcoming that justifies their own dishonesty and unconcern with the feelings of women deemed undeserving of moral treatment from them.

The irony is that sexual promiscuity is not, in and of itself, a moral issue, except to the extent it involves deception, duplicitous conduct, or violating the rules of a concurrent relationship. Whether or not doing so is advisable for other reasons, promiscuous conduct of a single woman who chooses to engage in casual sexual relationships in-between more meaningful relationships usually does not violate any moral rules, simply because neither deception nor promises are necessary to entice men into sexual liaisons.

Conversely, men routinely lie to prospective sexual partners either overtly by their explicit statements of intention, or indirectly, by the reasonable inference of actions purposely designed to suggest that their interest is more than superficial, even when it is not. In this regard, one of the most common rationalizations for this subterfuge by men is their awareness that the woman in question is not sufficiently chaste to deserve greater honesty or moral consideration on their part; it is as though a woman who chooses to enjoy any degree of sexual liberation has somehow offended all men, thereby relinquishing any right to honorable treatment from them afterwards.

Again, it is possible to illustrate the similarity, in principle if not quite in degree, between this Western cultural version of punishing women deemed "promiscuous" and the more extreme manifestation of the very same social concept in Islamic culture.

According to recent news reports (NYT 2008), a woman from the Saudi Arabian town of Qatif was gang raped by a group of men who observed her in as car with a man to whom she was neither married nor related by blood. Saudi Arabian law and social culture prohibits women from being in the company of unrelated males (NYT 2008).

In addition to the vigilante "justice" meted out by the rapists themselves, the woman was also sentenced in a court of law to 200 lashes for violating this particular tenet of Saudi Arabian law. In general, instead of viewing rape victims with sympathy as we do in Western culture, many Islamic societies actually encourage the families of rape victims to shun them, and even to murder them, to preserve the family honor. Such is their degree of paranoia of sexual shame in those cultures.

The parallel in American social culture is the degree to which men differentiate between women considered to be "nice girls" and those considered to be "sluts" in determining both their possible type of social interest in them and also their perception of the moral standards of honesty and basic consideration women deserve from them.

Western law does not punish fraternization between the sexes, but the legal history of criminal prosecution of rapists demonstrates the same underlying principle that women are expected to be more chaste than their male counterparts. Likewise, it is unheard of in American society for a woman to be raped as punishment for perceived promiscuity, or for rape victims to suffer banishment (or much worse) by their own families for being victimized.

However, virtually any conversation with college-age males will confirm that, to a large extent: (1) men expect women to uphold much stricter rules for expressing their sexuality than men; (2) when it comes to meaningful relationships, men specifically prefer to date women who have had comparatively few sexual partners; (3) men - even those who routinely seek out superficial sexual opportunities themselves - are likely to be very critical of women who have ever had casual sexual relationships; and (4) even men… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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