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Gender Roles: An Evolutionary Perspective

Avyukth is a thinker who has a great interest in evolutionary theories.His favorite one is Lamarck's theory of use and disuse of organs.

Introduction

Gender is one of the most commonly discussed topics in today's generation. Predetermined gender roles have been prevalent in society for ages. In the modern era, people have been trying to break these gender stereotypes. We have been trying to make the world more inclusive to all people.

While we have many genders, there are only two sexes, male and female. But for a very long time, the words sex and gender were used interchangeably. So the sex you were born in was assumed to be your gender. You were expected to play a certain role, failing which you were shamed. And because we failed to understand the differences between sex and gender, these transformed into gender roles. This article is an attempt to explain where this could have started. It also explains how these roles are not relevant any more.

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Evolution

To get to the root of any issue, we must look at things from an evolutionary perspective. Millennia ago, society did not exist. The only motive of the human species, like any other, was survival. So all the activities of early humans were only focused on staying alive. In order for the species to propagate, three things are of absolute importance.

  1. Food
  2. Protection
  3. Reproduction

Gender distinction

Gathering food and ensuring protection could be undertaken by any of the sexes. But females have a much larger role to play in the process of reproduction.

It is much easier to repopulate with 2 men and 10 women than with 2 women and 10 men. So naturally, the life of a female was far more valuable than the life of a male. Therefore it did not make sense to risk a female life by undertaking dangerous activities.

This is where I believe that the responsibility of earning bread and protecting the family came upon men. And women had to keep themselves safe and not venture outside.

Desired Qualities

Now that the gender roles were assigned, certain qualities became more desirable. Basically the qualities that made them better at their role were looked up to.

Men

Men were required to face danger at every turn. They were expected to be strong enough to protect their family from danger. Physical strength and the courage to face deadly situations were important. They were required to be tough and not show emotion. They couldn't show any sign of weakness. Therefore, strength and bravery came to be considered as masculine qualities.

Women

Women were required to be more attractive. This increased the chances of finding a mate. So they started paying more attention to their looks. They also had the responsibility of nurturing little children. So they had to be emotionally sensitive too. Over time, beautification and emotional sensitivity came to be considered as feminine qualities.

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Later stages

When civilizations began to form things should have changed, but they didn't. Men had been using their physical strength more often than women. So due to evolutionary changes the male body became significantly stronger. The female body too had undergone its own changes. Now they looked very distinct. These physical differences solidified the idea of gender roles.

Thousands of years later, women are still attracted to men with well formed muscles. We live in a civilized society now. We don't have to face life threatening situations on a daily basis. Yet due to evolutionary memory and survival instincts, women still choose men who possess strength and bravery.

Even 50 years back, things were a lot different. Men were expected to earn while women were expected to be homemakers. Women weren't encouraged to pursue a lot of professions like sports or engineering. These were considered to be 'male dominated'. Society also frowned upon men who applied makeup or adorned jewelry. It wasn't considered manly to be emotionally sensitive.

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Time for change

It is great that there is a lot more awareness in today's world. I am glad that people have started breaking gender stereotypes. We are definitely heading towards a better place. A place where it is acceptable for men to cry. A place where women can also be providers.

Nevertheless, this is an arduous task. We have to undo centuries of evolutionary and societal conditioning. This cannot happen overnight. It will take a lot of time. But I am happy to say that the change has begun.

© 2020 Avyukth Krishna