The term "gender" refers to the social differences between males and females, which is different from "sex," which refers to whether someone is biologically male or female. Gender norms define what society considers male and female behavior, and it leads to the formation of gender roles, which are the roles males and females are expected to take in society. These, as you might surmise, have changed significantly over the years and they continue to evolve.
A "gender norm" is a behavior or attribute that society attributes to a particular sex. Gender norms change from culture to culture and from time period to time period, since they're based on the expectations of societies that are consistently evolving..
Anything society attributes a particular gender to can be considered a gender norm. Things as simple as the colors boys and girls typically wear are gender norms; people usually consider pink to be a girl's color, while blue is for boys. Gender norms in the past have been deciding factors in the type of work someone can do. For example, in the early 1900s in the U.S., most women didn't work and were expected to take care of the family from the home.
How Gender Roles Form
Someone's gender role is the role that society expects him to take on. Gender roles start forming early in development through a child's interactions with parents, teachers, and his peers; parents decorate their baby's rooms and buy toys that agree with the gender norms for their child's sex. Once a gender role is established, children who attempt to deviate from it may experience peer pressure, which reinforces the gender norm.
Critics of gender norms say they put pressure on males and females to act a certain way, and get certain jobs. Some people are also uncomfortable with the gender role society places on them because of their sex. For example, in March 1998, "The Washington Post" reported a story about a 5-year-old boy whose favorite color was pink; his parents let him have his choice of color when they bought him a bike, but his peers teased him for having a pink bike.
As of 2006, the number of stay-at-home fathers has been rising in the U.S., a trend that challenges the gender role for the male of the household to be the "breadwinner." Despite this, the stay-at-home father is still not a traditional gender role.
- Sloan Work and Family Research Network; "Traditional Gender Roles"; Bahira Sherif Trask; August 2006
- University of Kansas; "Changing Gender Norms"; Barbara Eliman and Morris Taggart
- "The Washington Post"; "Reexamining the Plight of Young Males"; Megan Rosenfeld; March 1998
- "The Electronic Journal of Communication"; "Stay-At-Home Fathers: Masculinity, Family, Work, and Gender Stereotypes; David John Petroski, et al.; 2006