In the social sciences and humanities, a gender role is a set of behavioral norms associated with a given gendered status (also called a gendered identity) in a given social group or system. Gender is one component of the gender/sex system, which refers to "the set of arrangements by which a society transforms biological sexuality into products of human activity, and in which these transformed needs are satisfied" (Reiter 1975: 159). Every known society has a gender/sex system, although the components and workings of this system vary widely from society to society.

In many ways gender identity and roles function as any other social identity and role. Every known human society presents individuals with a set of statuses by which members of the society identify themselves and one another. Such statuses may be assigned to an individual automatically, based on the status of his or her parents, or based on some physical characteristic (including ones that emerge through the aging process); such statuses are called "ascribed." Other statuses may be "achieved" based on the activities and accomplishments of an individual. Scientists used to believe that gender was universally ascribed; today most recognize that elements of gender can be achieved. In either case, gender, like any other role, involves socially proscribed and prescribed behaviors, which may take the form of rules or values. Such rules and values do not determine or control an individual's behaviors absolutely. Usually they define boundaries of acceptable behavior within which there is always variation and room for individual creativity. Most researchers recognize that the concrete behavior of individuals is a consequence of both socially enforced rules and values, and individual disposition, whether genetic, unconscious, or conscious, although some researchers emphasize the objective social system, and others emphasize subjective orientations and dispositions.

Moreover, such creativity may, over time, cause the rules and values to change. Although all social scientists recognize that cultures and societies are dynamic and change, there have been extensive debates as to how, and how fast, they may change. Such debates are especially intense when they involve the gender/sex system, as people have widely differing views about the extent to which gender depends on biological sex.

Talcott Parsons' views of gender roles:

Working in the United States, Talcott Parsons5 developed a model of the nuclear family in 1955. (At that place and time, the nuclear family was considered to be the prevalent family structure.) It compared a strictly traditional view of gender roles to a more liberal view.

Parsons believed that the feminine role was an expressive one, whereas the masculine role, in his view, was instrumental. He believed that expressive activities of the woman fulfill 'internal' functions, for example to strengthen the ties between members of the family. The man, on the other hand, performed the 'external' functions of a family, such as providing monetary support.

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