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Family Roles

Cultures And Role Restriction

Cultures vary considerably in their degree of governing gender roles in families. Some cultures closely prescribe male-female roles, and others permit a variety of roles. Worldwide, the male role in early cultures is described as hunter-warrior and the female role as gatherer and childcare giver. However, continuing research suggests that early cultures may have practiced diverse gender roles. Descriptions of wife-husband roles emerging from the nineteenth century Western world assumed a male provider role and a female mediator-nurturant role. Crossing gender lines, such as women doing traditionally male tasks during war, was tolerated and expected, but it followed that with peace, traditional gender roles ought to follow. Deviance from gender roles met with overt and covert punishments and, in some cultures, punishment by death. Generally, punishments were more harshly applied to women than men (Stephens 1963).

Cultures that strictly enforce one role for men and one for women are meeting with considerable criticism. Such countries assume a division of labor based on political and economic conditions no longer suitable amidst economic and industrial change (Ashford 2001). Although loosened roles might focus on lessening female restrictions, both males and females often see personal advantages in moving toward more role options. Some people want to incorporate role dimensions not currently assigned to their gender; males may want to be more expressive and nurturant and females more career-oriented. Extensive research shows that assumptions about roles and actual role behavior do not necessarily coincide.

Industrial and postindustrial cultures tend to permit husbands and wives more role latitude. Cultures ease role restrictions by allowing women to emulate men's greater freedom in the marketplace and inducing men to have greater domestic responsibilities. Single parenting requires even more flexibility in both female and male parenting roles. Although cultures permit multiple parenting roles, parenting is based on gender identity.

There are signs that married roles are becoming even more flexible, as reflected in the individualized ways marriage ceremonies are conducted. Individualized ceremonies and agreements may elaborate traditional norms or reflect innovative lifestyles.


Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Theory & Types of FamiliesFamily Roles - Cultures And Role Restriction, Personal Identity And Roles, Role Expectations And Demands