The term gender roles is coming up more often in conversations and in society in general as we begin to rethink long-held notions about gender. Gender was once seen as a relatively straightforward concept. With time, examination, world events, and myriad social changes, however, it has become obvious that we must treat gender roles as a more complex and nuanced issue.
What Are Gender Roles?
Consult a sociology dictionary and you’ll find gender role defined as, “the expected role determined by an individual’s sex and the associated attitudes, behaviors, norms, and values.” What that means in simple terms is that some attitudes, activities, and interests have traditionally been considered inherently feminine and others inherently masculine. Over time, these notions have become increasingly obsolete, having been challenged and defeated in irrefutable ways. The following example shows a major shift in gender roles that took place in the United States within just the last century.
War Catalyzes a Major Shift in Gender Roles
For a sizable portion of the 20th century, women in the United States were expected to get married, have children, and generally take care of their family’s daily domestic needs. Men held traditional jobs in the workplace and looked out for the family financially. Many women did not enter the workforce, whether they attended college or not. Attending college was seen as a way for women to prepare for being a wife and mother—and an ideal place to meet a future husband.
The onset of World War II forever changed the role of women in American society. With many men off fighting the war overseas, the need for skilled workers skyrocketed. Who was left to work on assembly lines and do other jobs that would’ve otherwise been done by men? Women. This new workforce trained the same way men had, took on the same roles, and did so with excellence. Rosie the Riveter inspired and exemplified the new working woman. World War II laid the foundation for women’s widespread emergence in the workforce.
A Global Event Shifts Gender Roles Again
While significant changes to gender roles began to develop and solidify in the second half of the twentieth century, in the modern era, many sociologists have cited COVID-19 as a driving force for yet another wave of shifting gender roles. As the pandemic began in 2020, multitudes went home to continue the work they had previously done in an office setting. However, an estimated 1.1 million women in the U.S. left the workforce entirely from early 2020 to early 2022. Many of these women devoted themselves to full-time care for children or aging relatives when the pandemic shuttered schools and daycares and increased health risks in elder care facilities.
Our nation’s longstanding gender wage gap may be at least partly to blame for this mass exodus of women from the workplace, since for many families, the lowest wage earner is seen as the most expendable. But the still-entrenched gender norms of male breadwinners and female caregivers are undeniably a factor in the division of domestic duties, particularly in heterosexual households. As the pandemic lingers, a full-scale return of women to the workforce remains to be seen, though COVID-19 certainly reversed some progress toward eliminating traditional gender role expectations in the professional context.
The Limitations of Gender Roles
Adherence to gender roles can prevent some individuals from seeing through arbitrary social constructs and considering a wider range of alternatives. If a person wants to pursue a career or a role that is not typically associated with their expressed gender, they may be discouraged and opt for something else—even though they may have excelled in that desired role. Predetermined gender roles may compel a person to conform to a path that’s not right for them. That’s one unfortunate example of how gender roles can negatively affect people, but it’s not the most consequential.
If the gender an individual identifies most closely with does not match the sex designated on their birth certificate, and they are unable to express their gender identity, it can have deadly consequences. One study showed a shocking 52% of transgender youth considered suicide during 2020. Societal acceptance—in the form of a less rigid view of gender roles—and self-acceptance are key to reversing such alarming trends. A reexamination of gender roles can help a broader segment of our population experience a more fulfilling life with a healthy self-image.
An Online Exploration of Sociology
The University of Texas Permian Basin’s online Bachelor of Arts in Sociology examines gender issues from multiple perspectives as part of a robust, diverse curriculum that includes core and elective sociology courses and a broad spectrum of general education topics. Our program equips you with a crucial understanding of human interaction within a culture and its various subcultures, and between differing cultures.
Career Potential With a BA in Sociology
As you complete our BA in Sociology program, you’ll develop key skills that will help you in all aspects of your life, from your personal relationships to your career, including critical thinking and communication. Studies by major companies and U.S. government agencies show that “soft skills” like these are highly sought after by employers and, in some cases, are considered of equal importance to “hard skills” for job candidates. These soft skills are transferrable to any profession and will serve you well no matter what route you follow. BA in sociology graduates can pursue a variety of rewarding roles, such as:
- Management consultant
- Nonprofit specialist
- Human resources professional
- Guidance counselor
- Public administrator
- Teacher or teaching assistant
- Social researcher or social worker
A Quality Program With Added Flexibility
Our online BA in sociology program features the same courses taught by the same acclaimed faculty who teach them at our Odessa, Texas campus. The asynchronous online format offers added flexibility, so you can complete coursework at your own pace from virtually any location in the world. No campus visits are required. Earning a bachelor’s degree need not interfere with any existing personal or professional obligations. Six start times per year allow you even greater flexibility in pursuing your degree.
Begin the degree that can open up countless possibilities for your future—apply to our online BA in sociology program!