Without any doubt, most of the traditional gender or sex roles
served a valid and useful purpose 20,000 years ago when we lived in
caves and strong, capable hunters were especially valued because
they brought home more meat. At the same time, however, some
women were regarded as goddesses and bearers of the miracle of
birth. Gradually, women became less respected. Then, about 400
years ago, in 1486, two Dominican friars wrote Malleus Maleficarum
(The Witches' Hammer), which became religion's guide to witch-
hunting for 200 years. "Witch" and "women" were used synonymously.
Jane Stanton Hichcock (1995) quotes from that book: "All wickedness
is but little to the wickedness of a woman... It is not good to marry:
What else is woman but a foe to friendship, an inescapable
punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable
calamity, a domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil of nature,
painted with fair colors." This book was endorsed by the Catholic
Church, the mother of all Christian churches. We must recognize the
roots of our culture.
Within the two career families of today, the women-are-inferior
attitude is muted and concealed, but the archaic sex role expectations
are still subtly there. The old rules still serve to "put down women and
keep them in their place." Sixty years ago, Margaret Mead told us,
based on what is done in other cultures, that it wasn't innate for men
to be decision-makers and breadwinners or for women to be
subservient and raise children. Nevertheless, our culture continues to
pressure us to conform to these gender roles and do what we are
"supposed to do" (see chapter 8); the cultural, family, and friends'
expectations become internalized as our own self-expectations; guilt
may result if we don't follow the prescribed roles. Notice how people
react to a man who decides to stay home and take care of the kids.
Civilization is the encouragement of differences. Civilization thus becomes a synonym of
democracy. Force, violence, pressure, or compulsion with a view to conformity, is both
uncivilized and undemocratic.
Gender roles limit what both males and females can do. In effect,
these sex roles enslave us--force us to be what others want us to be.
We could be free to choose our own life goals and roles (from both
male and female gender roles) and that is called androgyny. See
Cook (1985), Bem (1976, 1993), Kaplan and Bem (1976), or Lorber
(1994) for a discussion of gender roles and inequality. The most recent
suggestion is to completely disassociate gender from all personality
traits. That makes sense. Why should submissiveness or cooperation
be considered feminine? They are human traits, not just traits of
women! Just define what each personal trait, such as submissiveness,
involves in terms of actions and feelings--and let each human being