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Evolution of Gender Roles

December 7, 2010
by

Gender issues have always been a social problem, not only in the present, but also in history. As we all know, women have always been seen as inferior to men because of their natural physique that they are said to be less capable than men in a lot of areas. Generation after generation, this comparison between men and women has gradually become a social value that is agreed upon without much explanation. This value has already been implemented in people’s minds that they are already used to this social routine, and they stay in their “gender roles” without any doubt.

All women are brought up from the very earliest years in the belief that their ideal of character is the very opposite to that of men; not self-will, and government by self-controll, but submission, and yielding to the control of others. All the moralities tell them that it is the duty of women, and all the current sentimentalities that it is their nature, to live for other; to makes complete abnegation for themselves, and to have no life but in their affections. -Mill(659)

Socialization plays a very important role in molding and sculpting a society and how it works, and the socialization of gender values have influenced not only certain countries, but the whole world. As of now, there are still countries, especially developing ones, that still strongly hold onto gender classification. On the other hand, as important as traditional cultures and beliefs are, a lot societies are already looking to evolve and  to bring themselves to a new era. People’s thoughts begin to change, and they begin to realize the underlying problems in the beliefs that they have held for centuries.

As I was reading Mill’s “The Subjection of Women”, a movie popped up in my mind – Mulan. You may think it’s just a cartoon by Disney, but Mulan actually existed in Chinese history, representing Chinese women’s empowerment. During Mulan’s time, China was still a very traditional country – people still wore traditional clothing; it was very different from the China you see now.

Women were treated as weak and inferior, they were to stay at home, do the housework; girls were to obey their parents, especially on marriage matters – they were to honor their families by marrying a family of decent background – and this was just a small part of women’s role in the society.

But Mulan proved herself to be brave and capable of doing what men could do – fighting in a war for her father, just like a real soldier.

And when we bring what we saw in the video clips to the current era, we would realize that women’s empowerment is one of the most discussed topics amongst people. Not only are women trying to achieve what people say they can’t do, but in fact are successfully moving up the social ladder, gaining a social status that will soon catch up with that of men.

With regard to the fitness of women, not only to participate in elections, but themselves to hold offices or practise professions involving public responsibilities; I have already observed that this consideration is not essential to the practical question in dispute; since any woman, who succeeds in an open profession, proves by that very fact that she is qualified for it. -Mill(679)

14 Comments
  1. ariellagomolin permalink
    December 7, 2010 10:53 AM

    While I do agree that socialization of women is a major topic of conversation in today’s day and age, moves towards complete equality do not rank consistent throughout. Yes, it is true that many countries, states, governments, etc do believe in equal say amongst women and men but I turn the the countries that do not believe in the word of a woman or the action of a woman. There are still countries in the world that do not believe in hearing what a woman has to say, whether that woman be a wife of a royal person, of a person in power, or of a poor man, women do not receive equal treatment. I understand that while one may believe that the world is moving towards socialization and equalization of women, the world as a whole cannot do so until it is all in sync. As a whole, there is inequality and there is injustice. In an article I was reading from the Washington Report, one woman commented on the rights as well as the fears of women in Lebanon; “Mothers care for the home and refrain from working outside,” Lycette concluded. “There is always the fear that women will displace men in the workplace and may demand a balance of power” (Delinda Hanley, Washington Report). This fear is what is setting the world back from complete equality. Later in the article, there is a distinction made between men and women with regards to marriage. It is written that even though Muslim men are allowed to marry a woman with any religious background, it is forbidden for a Muslim woman to marry a man other than Muslim decent. Although some may say this is insignificant with regards to the social move towards inequality, equality does not mean equal in certain aspects of life and unequal in others. This partial equality is what is setting back the social move because this inequality allows for empowered men to continue down the path of power without regard for change because he may believe that some rights just should not be granted to women. The belief may be held that while a woman can vote, how could she be able to be CEO of a company. While these are two distinct qualities, it still comes down to one point, why should there be a distinction made between aspects of life with regards to the equality of a woman?

  2. Jameson McRae permalink
    December 7, 2010 11:44 AM

    I found this article very intriguing on many levels. I had not previously thought of Mulan in comparison to Mill, but I think it is a good example. You see it all around today women increasingly going into the work force wanting the same rights and men and demanding equality. I have found that women want themselves to be equal in ‘most regards’. But the fact of the matter is you don’t hear a crying out for women to join the military, if they wanted to be truly equal they would be dying to get in the military and prove themselves in a traditional ‘manly’ role. Women have been excluded from many things in the West for all of time as they were inferior as Mill said. They have been crying out for rights since they turn of the century and have received many such as the right to vote, and many would say that men and women are equal in this day and age. Title 9 was passed which later turned into ‘equality in sports’, the changes that were brought about ended up effected mens sports in a negative way. Personally speaking, I played golf and the season in Michigan was moved from Fall to Spring. This may not seem like a big deal on the surface, but the fact is most states play golf in the Fall creating a major recruiting problem for Michigan golfers. So we must all ask the question, is it fair to put men at a disadvantage, so that women can become ‘equal’?

    • nickcolaccino permalink
      December 7, 2010 1:31 PM

      Personally I don’t think that it is ok to put one group at a disadvantage so that another group can become equal, but I do think that it is important for the group that is already at a disadvantage to be raised up and brought to a competitive level. In my opinion, things such as Title 9 and Affirmative Action should be viewed as means to an end. They are both aimed at helping political minorities gain equal opportunities to learn and participate in academics and athletics, but they shouldn’t be permanent. I know this is extremely idealistic thinking, but eventually the goal is that we would no longer need these programs because they accomplished what they were supposed to do. Women’s rights advocates and civil rights leaders such as MLK argue for equality, not special treatment. So I guess it’s necessary to give priority to a minority (women) at the expense of the majority (men), but only as long as that group is indeed a minority.

  3. saralustberg permalink
    December 7, 2010 12:34 PM

    Mulan is a great example for a comparison to Mill’s argument towards the subjection of women. There are so many countries all around the world that still hold a tight grasp on gender classification, as well as their traditions and beliefs. These traditions need to be modernized to include the empowerment of women and their equal capabilities to men. In the movie, Mulan proves that she is able to do the man’s job of fighting in the army. The belief that women are weaker and less capable as men is just based on the older traditions of that country, but once these notions are forgotten and the country is able to modernize it’s beliefs, gender classification will be able to disappear and women can be considered equal to men.

  4. December 7, 2010 1:24 PM

    This is a very interesting analysis of Mulan and its connection to Mill and the feminist movement. I fully agree with your argument about socializaiton being a fundamental contributing factor to the oppression of women in today’s world. However, I believe that the social norms that define women in our modern society are so deeply imbedded in our culutre, they have essentially become irreversible norms. The U.S. is a very developed nation with a relatively rational and progressive governemnt. I believe that equality for women certainly lies in the future of the United States. However, I think that equality for women in many countries overseas is unrealistic. Some societies are not nearly enough developed and have a deeply engrained patriarchal structure. Your argument is very interesting but I think, unfortunately, it is unrealistic to believe that one day there will be full equality between men and women.

  5. Kelsie Breit permalink
    December 7, 2010 2:07 PM

    Mulan was a wonderful choice as a blog post! I missed listening to these songs!

    In terms of Mill, it is a good comparison as well. Mulan emulates what women have been trying to do for years; be considered equal to men. The fact that she goes against her culture and her gender norms is a real inspiration for women of our time today. Woman are expected to be the complete opposites of men, the subordinate “other half”, fulfilling the empathy that men lack, so they say. ‘There are already men out fighting for their country, so we need women at home to hold down the fort at home.’

    This oppression brings about many other gender-normative issues today. Take for example, restroom signs. The sign for the women’s restroom is the same as the men’s, only wearing a dress. As if women are the ‘other’, and man is the control group.

    Very well written post though.

  6. rhampton27 permalink
    December 7, 2010 3:48 PM

    I found this blog post very interesting. Mulan reflects a great example of the breaking of gender-norms in a society. I also believe that the focus of her story as a Disney film shows that American culture is moving forward in their depiction of women and gender-roles. However, I did find this example interesting because it is, in fact, a Disney film. Historically, Disney films have been notorious for re-enforcing gender-norms that have existed since the beginning of civilization. Thinking about my childhood collection of movies, films such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Beauty and the Beast come to mind. I would honestly consider these films counter-active to the movement of women equality merely because of the ideals they promote. With them, it’s always the classic story; The woman is helpless or suffering a life of sorrow and it is not until she finds her prince charming, that everything becomes better. I consider these ideals of how a woman should act as insulting and unequal. Why can’t we focus on stories of successful, independent women? While Mulan may emulate one story of a strong female, why can’t Disney and society promote even more focus on women equality?

  7. Dimitri Roumanis permalink
    December 7, 2010 5:14 PM

    The subject of social equality for women is a hotly debated topic around the world. In our social system here in the united states women are legally viewed as equals in the workplace, educational systems, and at home. Sixty years ago however, women were considered as second class citizens in our own country. Most women did not hold jobs and were known to stay at home and take care of the families children and home. How we moved out of this social normality is what needs to be viewed by developing countries throughout the world who do not hold women’s equality in high praise. Kelsie Breit made a comment earlier about how Mulan is an inspiration for women in our time today. It is this inspiration that needs to be practiced around the world if our society wants to see global women’s equality. This inspiration needs to come from women activists in unique countries. No outsider, for example and american women coming to Lebanon, can actually help a social culture. From within each culture’s own populace of women there needs to be the bold and the brave who stand up and demand for equal rights. We saw this in our country with women’s activists supporters rallying outside of Washington, building enough influence to start a prohibition movement, and eventually making the people of America aware of women’s equality. Each country needs their own Maya Angelou and Alice Walker. Women’s equality on a global scale needs to stem from strong women willing to make sacrifices in cultures that have the severest punishments for “bad” thinking so that an actual push towards an end goal can be made, this goal being women’s equality.

  8. reedmarcus permalink
    December 7, 2010 7:30 PM

    Especially internationally, the equality of women in society is one of the most highly debated topics amongst many others. Whereas women have been equal in the United States for decades, around the world, gender mistreatment still exists. Disney does a great job with the film “Mulan” in that it gives women hope, that if they put their minds to it, women can do anything and deserve equality throughout the world. It depicts the shift in society from one solely run by men, to the universal operation of the world, regardless of gender and class. The ideas set in Mulan are directly correlated with what Mill had to say about the equality of women; that they must strive to be equal and not stop until they were recognized as simply people and not based on their gender. Overall, these clips are a perfect match for the ideas set forth by Mill, that with effort and determination, women could and deserve to be equal throughout the world.

  9. chris070310 permalink
    December 7, 2010 10:46 PM

    The Mulan film was a great way to show the diversities between gender. I believe that women are put at a disadvantage against men in everything they do. However statistically women are proven to have more degrees and academic knowledge than men. Which may help them to gain power for jobs which men typically disable them from getting, because they may feel less powerful if a woman is as equal in their position of leadership. This filmed showed that if a woman is treated as equal as a man and gains the same techniques and knowledge of a task, she may even be better.

    • dmalks permalink
      December 8, 2010 11:08 PM

      There are a few great arguments made in the comment above. It has been proven that women are clearly capable of performing equal to a man. And I feel that we live in a country that allows women to do so. But saying that women will be better if given the same opportunities as men is contradicting any feminist argument. It is true that there should be no gender discrimination, and by saying that women will be better than me if treated equally is still gender discrimination, just flipped around.

  10. llawal permalink
    December 8, 2010 3:14 AM

    I thought that your post was very interesting to read and to think about in comparison to the movie Mulan. I definitely agree with you on the fact that in the United States, people learn about their gender roles within society very quickly. Even as young children we are aware of our roles, as girls know that they are supposed to play with Barbie dolls and wear dresses while boys understand that they should play with G.I. Joe’s and only wear pants. It is interesting to think about the fact that a male wearing a skirt is a behavior that is frowned upon in the United States, but in Scotland a male wearing a skirt, or kilt, is viewed as completely acceptable. It just goes to show the emphasis that is placed on gender roles truly differs from place to place. I noticed that you said that thoughts are now beginning to change but I beg to differ. I would say that thoughts changed a long time ago but it is a matter of people implementing what they know is true. For example people still claim that certain jobs are unsuitable for women and that they are incapable of performing certain tasks as well as a man. However, whenever war time seemed to come around, it suddenly seemed suitable for women to do “men’s work.” People ideals of women being homemakers and unable to handle men’s jobs such as working in factories go out the window when men are need to go to war or the economy is not booming. When demand for money is high, female employment increases. World War II played a major role in the increase in female employment and after the war which resulted in the baby boom also caused the increase in females in the work force. This proves that women are just as capable because they were actually performing those duties.

  11. December 9, 2010 8:34 AM

    Mulan is a great example of female empowerment and with my recent study of the femenist movement, women are difinately making progress in terms of bridging the gap between gender norms and forms of oppression that are perpetuated by them. There are some differences between the two sexes that places them on different playing feilds in which one may have an advantage over the other; however, in many cases, females have and are proving themselves just as capable as men to carry out the same tasks. Nevertheless, social change in this aspect is still a slow process and will take quite some time to change people’s views about women in comparison to men. More people are acknowledging and treating the two sexes equal, but there are still many social constructs in place keeping women in an inferior position, in relation to men.

  12. rickover09 permalink
    December 9, 2010 11:01 PM

    Even though women are making strides in the direction of equality, in a variety of different fields (work place, home, in the public realm), and seen to be able to “hold their own” I still believe there are ways to go before real equality in ALL aspect will be reached. As stated, I believe a lot of it has to do with the way we, as a society, have been socialized. Sure we are making progress and women are being viewed to be just as fit to do certain jobs however, the pay gap makes the equality aspect of things questionable in my eyes. Even though woman are receiving a higher education when compared to men and are in college in greater numbers they still have to do that much more to be seen as capable as men to fulfill any particular job. I guess I just find the idea of women having to prove themselves as to be accepted and seen as capable a little ridiculous, especially nowadays, in our nation of all places. …We’re in the twenty first century with our first black president, I think we have ways to go by those standards alone.

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