Outline and evaluate cross-cultural studies of gender role. (4 marks + 8 marks)

The best approach for answering this question is to describe and evaluate relevant studies. These studies should look at whether gender role is affected by cultural or is universal. Note that I haven't included the other question on gender from this paper because it was about androgyny, which is no longer on the specification.

One aspect of gender role that appears to be universal is the division of labour. In most cultures, men hunt and otherwise provide resources while women look after children & prepare food. Munroe & Munroe found in a cross-cultural study that every society has some division of labour between genders. This universality suggests that gender roles are biological rather than cultural.

A second aspect of gender roles is differences in aggressiveness. Mead found that in all three cultures she studies in Papua New Guinea, men were more aggressive than women. However, women were still more aggressive in some cultures than in others. This suggests that there is a degree of cultural relativism in gender roles: aggression in men is innate and universal but the degree to which aggression is expressed is relative to each culture.

There is an alternative explanation for this finding that division of labour is largely universal: this division may be an indirect outcome of biological differences rather than a direct outcome. Eagly and Wood’s biosocial theory suggests that physical differences (e.g. women bearing children and men generally being physically stronger) lead to social role differences which in turn create psychological differences. This suggests that social and cultural factors explain role division.

Eagly and Wood supported this view by analysing Buss’ data on sex differences in mate preferences (he found that men seek physical attractiveness while women seek resources). Eagly and Wood found that in cultures where women had a higher status, sex differences in mating preferences were less pronounced. This suggests that cultural and social factors are the driving force in gender role, not biological factors.

While labour differences are the same in most cultures, some cultures have more unusual labour divisions. For example, Hargreaves observed that in some parts of the world women are the major agricultural producers, while in others women are prohibited from agricultural work. This suggests that although biological factors are significant in the division of labour, it can vary greatly between cultures.

Some of the research into gender role is also questionable. For example, the study by Mead mentioned earlier has been criticised by Freeman, who himself worked with people in the same cultures who claimed to have simply given Mead the information she wanted to hear. This suggests that her conclusions are not made on valid data. However, Freeman’s version has also been criticised for being inaccurate.

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