Sex Roles

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A gender role concept is a set of shared expectations that people hold about the characteristics that are suitable for individuals on the basis of their gender. However many non-anatomical differences lead us to believe that people are born male or female. In addition to that they are also taught how to be masculine or feminine (Moore, n.d.). The male sex hormone testosterone is believed to be the reason why males tend to be more aggressive than females. However a study by Reidy, Sloan, and Zeichner (2009), informs us that women do engage in direct physical aggression. There are factors that put women who deviate from expected gender role norms at greater risk to be victimized by those who adhere to their respective gender roles. In an issue entitled Social Context of Human Aggression, they argue whether or not gender is an important predictor or determinant of aggressive actions. The studies suggest that gender differences are likely to be the result of social roles that define appropriate behavior (Richardson & Hammock, 2007). In addition when the role of the gender is pitted against sex, gender role is a better predictor. And when gender role is eliminated or weakened through some situational constraint gender differences in aggression disappear (Richardson & Hammock, 2007).

A behavior is defined as aggressive when it is directed towards the goal of harming or injuring another living being who is motivated to avoid such treatment (Baron & Richardson, 1994). Gender roles dictate the appropriate social behavior expected by females and males. In a male perspective, two studies have tested the hypothesis that men relative to woman see manhood as a more elusive impermanent state than womanhood. Also men understand aggression as means of proving or re-establishing manhood but not threatened womanhood (Weaver,Vandello, Bosson, &Burnaford, 2010). In a recent study on Gender Role Conformity women became more aggressive towards the confederate (other women) who appeared masculine (hypo feminine), supporting the idea that gender role violations causes higher levels of aggression (Reidy, Solan, & Zeichner, 2009). Studies however have shown that women are more psychologically aggressive than men. Psychological aggression are actions intended to attack the person’s self worth and self concept such as ridiculing, verbal offending, derogating or being controlling (Richardson & Hammock, 2007).

The gender of the individual can lead to aggression depending on different factors. A man understands manhood as a state that requires action and that physical aggression is part of a man’s behavioral script to restoring that manhood (Weaver, et al., 2010). When that manhood is threatened or questioned aggressive acts can occur. Based on the research discussed, a woman becomes more aggressive when the gender role norm is violated than when it is adhered (Reidy, et al., 2009). In addition when woman feel threatened or belittled, they may then turn to some type of psychological aggression. Therefore gender differences in aggressive responses are best understood by their association with one of the many social roles that influence aggressive behavior (Richardson & Hammock, 2007).

Example / Application - Real-Life

In a recent news story from The Brown and White entitled “Women aggression and drinking” (Smith, 2010). A verbal dispute between a woman and a bouncer turns physical. Determining the culprit in this situation could be tricky because when women are involved in incidents involving aggression and drinking, the line gets blurry between identifying who is wrong or right in the situation (Smith, 2010).

Some of the previous research we have identified may be able to help us explain why aggression in women and men are viewed different and why aggressive acts are acceptable for men and not for women. The consumption of alcohol is often accompanied by several other conditions that may underlie the apparent relationship between aggression and intoxication (Baron & Richardson, 1994 p. 41). In this article, we are informed that a verbal dispute arose after the bouncer prohibited the woman and one of her friends from taking alcohol to the second floor. The woman then disputed his reasoning and derogatory language was exchanged between both individuals. The woman then becomes physical by slapping the bouncer. According to the police reports, the bouncer then grabbed her, dragged her down the stairs, and kicked her out (Smith, 2010).

The aggressive behavior did not occur when it became physical; it occurred the moment derogatory words were exchanged. This is a perfect example on how psychological aggression plays an important factor in the escalation process. As the bouncer was being interviewed by the police he made an observant assumption on how women feel they can get away with certain behaviors. He sated, you try to be a little gentle, but most of the time you get the “you can’t touch me I’m a girl” response (Smith, 2010). Gender role beliefs become gender stereotypes when individuals employ these behaviors as rules to be applied to all male and females (Moore, n.d). Femininity includes expectations to be domestic, warm, pretty, emotional, physically weak, and passive, on the contrast men are thought of as being more physically strong, independent, aggressive, and competitive (Moore, n.d). These stereotypes can then make judgments on how lady like woman behavior should be, thus establishing that when these behaviors are not adhered it becomes a gender issue. Because of this we must consider that society has determined that aggression is viewed as a more acceptable behavior by men.

It is extremely difficult to reduce aggression in terms of gender roles. We have to take into consideration that women have became an equal and surpassed male dominance. We must also look at the present values, morals, and perception of each individual. When looking at gender roles and trying to find a connection to aggression we must also look at the state of mind of the individual. Like this example presented to us about the intoxicated woman, we must determine whether not the alcohol influenced her behavior. In addition we must also consider that perhaps it may be that aggressive people drink more, that is, rather than alcohol causing aggression, aggressiveness may lead to large consumption of alcohol (Baron & Richardson, 1994. P41). Gender roles can not reduce or minimize aggression because you have to look at all the factors that contribute to aggression. Society has already dictated appropriate behavior for each gender; however each individual is different and should be examined independently. The individuals may not fit into that gender norm that society has predetermined. If an individual feels they are being violated, endangered, or challenged by their morals or values, then regardless of gender your biological defenses and responses are to use aggression as a defensive strategy.

Example / Application - Columbine

Did gender roles aid in the plotting or killings at columbine High School? Both male and females are capable of aggressive behavior, males will aggress when their manhood is threatened, and females perhaps when their morals, or values are violated. We can then state that based on past research t gender roles can influence both female and male aggression dependent on the stimuli. Research done by Tapper & Boulton, (2000) suggest that females hold expressive social representations of aggression as a loss of self control, and males hold instrumental representation of aggression as means of imposing control over others. The two individuals involved in the Columbine killings were exhibiting hostile aggression. Their goal was to attack and cause the victims to suffer. The masculine gender role is associated with the ability or willingness to engage in aggressive behavior (Walker, Richardson, & Green, 2000). This is important to consider in a situation like columbine, because they aggressed in a hostile manner due to their lack of social status and their exclusion. Gender roles may play an important factor on how aggressive a person can be, but as mentioned before in order to determine the magnitude of aggression a person possesses, you must take into consideration the mediating factors or stimuli the person is exposed to.

Gender roles when seen as the norm can lead to aggression; however the question is; is gender a meaningful determinant or predictor of aggression? In an article by Richardson & Hammock (2007), they state that the answer will almost always be “it depends” because the effect of gender depends on contextual factors, such as the cultural milieu, relationship between the interactants, or the situation in which the interaction occurs. Aggression involves interaction between two or more individuals; it is not a solitary activity, and it requires some level of interdependence. With this said we can conclude that gender roles aid in the process of aggression but do not cause aggression alone.


Baron, RA, Richardson DR. editors. 1994 Human Aggression. New York: Plenum Press.

Moore (n.d.) Sex Roles-Sex-role stereotypes, Sex-role socialization. Retrieved May 8, 2010 Retrieved from Roles.html.

Reidy, D., Sloan, C & Zeichner, A. (2009) .Gender role conformity and aggression: Influence of perpetrator and victim conformity on direct physical aggression in women. Personality and Individual Differences, 46(2), 231-235.

Richardson, D., & Hammock, G. (2007). Social context of human aggression: Are we paying too much attention to gender? Aggression and Violent Behavior, 12(4), 417-426.

Smith, a (2010). Women, aggression and drinking: three’s a crowd? A sociological peek into the experience at Lehigh’s bar scene. Retrieved May 8, 2010 from The Brown & White. estyle/Women.Aggression.And.Drinking.Threes.A.Crowd-3912564.shtml#cp_article_tools

Tapper, K., & Boulton, M. (2000). Social representations of physical, verbal, and indirect aggression in children: Sex and age differences. Aggressive Behavior, 26(6), 442-454.

Walker, S., Richardson, D., & Green, L. (2000). Aggression among older adults: The relationship of interaction networks and gender role to direct and indirect responses. Aggressive Behavior, 26(2), 145-154.

Weaver, J., Vandello, J., Bosson, J., & Burnaford, R. (2010). The proof is in the punch: Gender differences in perceptions of action and aggression as components of manhood. Sex Roles, 62(3-4), 241-251.

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