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Essay on Gender Roles and Stereotypes

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Gender roles play an important role in shaping the way we think about others in society and the way we study and write about sociology. Typically, the characterization of women as being ‘weak’ has prevailed in many different facets of women’s lives. For example, they are mainly perceived as being physically weaker, smaller and more fragile. Culturally, they are depicted as being passive and domesticated, all oriented towards submission and weakness.

This model argumentative essay tackles some of these perceived stereotypes and offers research and commentary to prove many of them wrong.

When gender stereotypes fail

Kim Addonizio’s poem titled What do Women Want? reflects how women’s roles in society were about wanting to be taken care of. However, these gender stereotypes deserve inquiry because their merit can be tested against the tools of science. For instance, thresholds of pain and biological differences between men and women can show whether the societal stereotypes of weakness are true or merely socially constructed. While women have a lower threshold for pain, they endure more of it on a regular basis; consequently, gender stereotypes and notions that men are inherently stronger than women are false.

Woman operates a turret lathe in 1942Source: WC
Though commonly depicted as weak and frail, women demonstrated the ability to endure the discomfort and rigors of factory work in 1942 at the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation plant in Fort Worth, Texas.
A woman operates a turret lathe at the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation plant in 1942.

Surely, society’s tendency to label women as weak stems from a multitude of factors. For example, the Costa Rican President noted that it was “women’s greater desire to build a consensus” that subjected them to criticism from their male counterparts (Goudreau). The socially constructed nature of how women are perceived has been built over time and physical factors also come into play. There have been some attempts to clear up the question based on quantitative measures and through essay writing. For example, Lowri Turner published an article that compared men and women on a few physical traits and found that women are the weaker sex based on her criteria (Turner). However, the aspects of pain threshold and tolerance reflect different results.

Related Content:Learn about Alexandra Elbakyan, a woman who demonstrated strength in challenging the status quo.

Genetic data vs. sociocultural gender roles 

In terms of pain thresholds, it seems that women are more susceptible and vulnerable. Because pain is highly influenced by endorphins and other chemicals in the body, women may have more variability in terms of how strongly they experience pain. For example, Bob Calandra argued that “when healthy men and women are subjected to heat and other types of pain tests, women almost always report feeling discomfort first” (Calandra). That is, women usually report being in pain before men do for similar experiences. This would suggest that women are more vulnerable in that respect. Moreover, hormonal factors that affect the perception of pain and output of pain-killing endorphins are also more variable in female bodies due to menstruation (Calandra). In this respect, women’s bodies are designed to be more susceptible and vulnerable to pain in order to maintain critical reproductive organs and processes. Ultimately, the pain threshold example does support the norm that women are weaker. 

Women are not weaker than men 

However, it is important to also understand that women are strong because they must deal with more physical pain on the whole.

Dennis Thompson remarked that “women experience more chronic pain more often and more deeply than men” because of how their bodies are biologically made up (Thompson). To exemplify, he cited that hormones, brain structure, genetic and biological factors all contribute to higher levels of chronic pain for women that often go undiagnosed (Thompson). Given the ubiquitous nature of pain for women, it is easy for society to construct an image of women as being frail. However, the fact that they have to undergo more pain neglects to reflect the fact that this makes them stronger, not weaker. Ultimately, women are not weaker than men with respect to pain, they just have to deal with more of it.

Want to weigh in? Order an essay representing your opinion.

Men are not inherently stronger than women

It is a long-standing counter-argument that men are inherently stronger than women in every facet of life because of evolution. Despite the fact that men were native hunters and women gatherers, recent research suggests that men have many more inherent weaknesses than women.

Men vs. Women: Who's better? Source: SKR
As the age-old debate continues, here are six scientifically proven facts about the relative strengths of men and women.
Men Women
...are better at acoustic size judgements. Men have an enhanced ability to determine a person's size based on the sound of his or her voice. ...are better at locating specific items. Women are more likely to remember the location of an item.
...have better spatial awareness. Men have a stronger ability to think of objects in three dimensions. ...are better at detecting colors. Women can detect subtle variations in color that men fail to identify.
...can better tolerate sleep deprivation. Men are better at handling a lack of sleep than women. ...have better immune systems, less risk for blood diseases, and less propensity toward risk-taking. As a result, women tend to live longer lives.

For instance, Marianne Legaton argued that at younger ages and throughout the lifespan, men are more likely to develop disorders, commit suicide and die violently than women (Legaton). These vulnerabilities were documented with case studies and supported by research focused exclusively on gender differences. Also, Legaton noted that there are “poorly understood — and underappreciated — vulnerabilities inherent in men's genetic and hormonal makeup” (Legaton). This suggests that there are still more opportunities to learn more about the differences between men and women in terms of weakness and strength. Nonetheless, it is clear that men are subject to trials that extend much further than just hormones and pain thresholds; moreover, this further exemplifies the issues with characterizing women as a weaker sex in society.

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Works Cited

Addonizio, Kim. "What Do Women Want?" Browse Poems. Poetry Foundation. n.d. Web. 31 May 2012. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/42520/what-do-women-want.

Calandra, Bob. "Feeling Your Pain." Gender: Some Painstaking Differences. MedicineNet, Inc. n.d. Web. 31 May 2012. https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=51160.

Goudreau, Jenna. "The 10 Worst Stereotypes About Powerful Women." Forbes Media, LLC. 24 Oct. 2011. Web. 31 May 2012. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jennagoudreau/2011/10/24/worst-stereotypes-powerful-women-christine-lagarde-hillary-clinton/#2a0d8fb561ca.

Legaton, Marianne. "The Weaker Sex." The Opinion Pages. The New York Times Company. 17 June 2006. Web. 30 May 2012. https://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/17/opinion/17legato.html.

Turner, Lowri. "Are women really the weaker sex? The intriguing medical facts that settle the oldest argument of all." Health. Associated Newspapers Ltd. 24 Apr. 2008. Web. 30 May 2012. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-562627/Are-women-really-weaker-sex-The-intriguing-medical-facts-settle-oldest-argument-all.html.

Thompson Jr., Dennis. "Women and Chronic Pain." Chronic Pain. 22 July 2013. Web. 31 May 2012. https://www.everydayhealth.com/pain-management/women-and-chronic-pain.aspx.

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