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Margaret Mead's gender theory

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Gender: masculine and feminine, woman and man. Traditionally, both sexes have been differentiated and have been considered to have different characteristics and roles. The passive, obedient and loving woman who raises and cares for children and their home. The tough, domineering and aggressive man, whose mission is to work and provide sustenance for the family.

These roles have been, throughout history, considered certain and natural, and have implied criticism and repulsion towards those people who deviated from it. Even today it is not uncommon to hear criticism that someone is not very masculine / feminine. But gender roles are not something natural but rather a social construction, which in different cultures may not be shared. Knowing this fact, which has allowed gender equality over time, has contributed greatly to Margaret Mead's gender theory.

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Who was Margaret Mead?

She was born in 1901, at a time in history when

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differences between men and women were considered to be due to their biological differences innate being the productive man and the expressive woman, Margaret Mead was an American psychologist and anthropologist whose field of interest focused on in researching the culture and ways of raising infants in different cultures, and how these have an effect on the development of being human.

Mead made numerous trips throughout his life analyzing different cultures and the differences they presented between them and with respect to western culture, observing, among other aspects, that the consideration of the role of each sex could vary enormously according to the beliefs of the population.

In this context, she would be one of the pioneers in describing the concept of gender, detaching gender roles from biological sex.

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Analysis of cultural groups in Nueva Guinea

One of Mead's most iconic works regarding genre appears in the book Sex and temperament in three primitive societies, based on his analysis of different ethnic groups in New Guinea in which the roles attributed to both sexes differed greatly from the traditional roles considered by the Western world.

Specifically, Margaret Mead analyzed the Arapesh, Tchambuli and Mundugumor tribes. In Arapesh society she observed that regardless of biological sex, all individuals were raised from so that they assumed a calm, peaceful and affable conduct close to what in the West would be considered female.

Her observations of the Tchambuli would reflect that in that society the woman is dedicated to the search for livelihood in activities such as fishing and leads the community, while the male performs household chores, assuming behaviors attributed to the other gender in other societies and showing them greater sensitivity in aspects such as art and the search for beauty. In other words, the gender roles of that society could have been considered the reverse of those of the West.

Finally, the behavior of the Mundugumor is practically the reverse of that of the Arapesh, being both genders educated in ways that are aggressive, violent and competitive in a way similar to what would be considered typically masculine at that time.

Margaret Mead's gender theory

Observations in these and other societies reflected that in different cultures the roles attributed to men and women were different. From this it follows that, contrary to what was thought at the time, the biological differences between both sexes do not determine social functioning that men and women should have, but it is upbringing and cultural transmission that incites the existence of most social differences.

Thus, the behavior, roles and traits attributed to each sex are not linked to sex itself. The reason that in some places the role is one or the other can be found in that each culture, in its beginnings, establishes a character or pattern of desirable performance for its components. A pattern that ends up being internalized and replicated through the generations.

Based on it, the author considered that the rigidity of gender roles had to be reduced and the differences that these entail, so that both sexes could develop fully.

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Consequences of Mead's theory

Mead's gender theory, which reflects gender as a social construction, has had repercussions in various ways. The search for gender equality and the progressive blurring of gender roles and stereotypes have been facilitated by these investigations.

Likewise, although the author did not place great emphasis on it in her investigations, she has also contributed and encouraged other researchers to contribute to debunking myths and beliefs regarding orientation and sexual identity.

Bibliographic references:

  • Mead, M. (1973). Sex and temperament in primitive societies. Barcelona: Laia.
  • Molina, Y. (2010). Gender Theory. Contributions to the Social Sciences. Malaga University.
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