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Re: Balancing Gender Role: Panacea for National Development

By Sherif Jimoh
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According to the World Health Education, gender roles are "socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women". The social constructionists are proponents of an egalitarian society between the menfolk and the womenfolk. It sprang up with the advent of the 19th and 20th-century advocacy for egalitarian society (women's suffrage movement and conflicts in Europe - spurred World Wars I and II), which necessitated temporary shift of American women into industrial workforce to support their male counterparts who were serving as troops abroad through the means of servicing domestic industry. Subsequently, after cessation of war and arrival of American troops home, they returned to the middle-class American ideal Suburbia settlements which modern critics have labelled "private sphere".

This new arrangement was dis-satisfactory to the then American women who had tasted "industrial life" or "'public sphere" but felt compelled to lead a family and home-bound life. This scenario was depicted by writer Betty Friedan who described the experience as Feminine Mystique whereby American women equipped with knowledge, skill, and aspiration of industrial workforce were home-bound.

By the mid 20th century, precisely from 1940, sprang the contemporary family social structure, which relies primarily on the "interactionist approach" and sees gender roles as not fixed but constantly negotiated between individuals. This postulation was represented through a nuclear family model as propounded by Talcott Parsons in 1955 in the United States of America. He distinguished in-between two contrasting extreme positions on gender roles.

On the one side, is total role segregation; and on the other side is total integration of roles. This consequently led to the 1948 United Nations Universal Right declaration which granted womenfolk equal enjoyment of rights and benefits alongside male counterparts. Thus, there was influx of women into career building professions such as educational advancement, recreation and entertainments which spurred the century slogan "careerism".

The main proposition of social constructionists is argument that gender roles are dynamic, variable and acquirable across a wide spectra of sources such as cultures culture, religion, media and social interaction. For instance, in the realms of religion (Christianity), it is believed Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches do not ordain women clergies such as the priests and bishops; womenfolk positions are only limited to abbesses. Whereas, the mainstream Protestant denominations are seen "to be relaxing their restrictions on ordaining womenfolk as ministers". Likewise, in Islamic conservative religion which thrives on uphold of family unit as basis for "healthy and balanced" society; some Islamic countries (Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates) are relaxing their conservative, restrictive regulations on womenfolk such as public inter-mingling of sexes; political participation and social emancipation such as "women drivers". In the arena of media, it is widely accepted the media exert tremendous influence in the society.

Similarly, the media portray the menfolk and womenfolk characters in gendered roles. As a result, a study presented by Emerald Group Publishing Limited suggests that children, adolescents, and full-fledged adults are strongly effected by stereotypical views of media characters whose personalities are "mostly likely to be characters of the same gender".

This notwithstanding, the view of social constructionists is contradicted by evolutionary psychology theorists. From this emanates gender role theory which posits "differing distributions of men and women into roles as the primary origin of sex-differentiated social behavior, their impact on behavior is mediated by psychological and social processes".

Furthermore, evolutionary psychologists reveal that "children categorize themselves by gender by the age of three". They assert that through gender socialization, children learn gender stereotypes and roles from parents and the environment. In this context, males learn early in life to explore their

social and physical environment through physical strength and dexterity; while girls learn to adorn themselves and pacify the opposite sex (males). An evolutionary psychologist, Geert Hofstede, who is a Dutch researcher argues in his Feminine and Masculine Culture Dimension that "masculinity and femininity differ in social roles that are associated with the biological fact of the existence of the two sexes". He further asserts that femininity connotes an "overlapping" gender roles where "both men and women are supposed to be modest, tender and concerned with quality of life, on the one hand; masculinity creates clearly distinct gender roles where men are " assertive, tough and focused on material successes".

Another classic argument on reinforcement of separation of gender-based roles is the Gender Schema Theory as propounded by a psychologist, Dr. Sandra Lipsitz Bem in 1971. She based her theory on the combinative aspects of social learning theory and cognitive development theory of sex role acquisition. Thus, she developed a Bem Sex-Role Inventory to measure individual conformity to traditional gender roles characterizing them into masculine, feminine, androgynous, or undifferentiated personality.

She opined that, through gender schematic processing, "a person spontaneously sorts attributes, behaviors into masculine and feminine categories and that, therefore, individuals process information and regulate their behaviors, based on whatever definitions of femininity and masculinity their culture provides". From the view point of sociologists, they affirm the nexus between the family unit and gender roles. According to them, a family unit is an institution of similar minded people bound with certain duties and responsibilities.

Accordingly, they argue that the preservation of gender roles which are the socio-cultural norms of any society is the primary responsibility of the family. They further argue that any disturbance in the responsibility assignment of gender roles may affect the smoot-running of family, and in extension society.

Historically, the family-based gendered role can be distinguished between traditional and egalitarian. The former thrives on exclusive family-based responsibilities by sex distinction between the husband and wife. Typically, the husband is the breadwinner of the family with financial wherewithal, while the wife is home-maker and care-giver. The latter thrives on inclusive and shared family-based responsibilities between the husband and wife with no sex distinction. Several studies (including Gayle Kaufman, 2006) have reported a correlation between family life egalitarian attitude and marital happiness.

In fact, it is reported around the year 1980, divorce rates stabilized in the United States of America due to shift in gender roles. This notwithstanding, the shift in gender role takes a great adverse toll on society at large, compared to other attached benefits. It erodes the gendered uniqueness such that as Donnalyn Pompper put it, "men no longer own breadwinning identities and like women, their bodies are objectified in mass media".

At this juncture, the movement of feminism as an ideological objective in seeking socio-economic emancipation for womenfolk could be traceable to the contemporary times consequence of shift in gender roles as relates to the family. This is further exacerbated by the 21st century globalization concept which encourages communal integration and reduces cross-cultural barriers.

For instance, a resultant off-shoot of feminism movement androgynous society is multiple gender diversity which purports a free and egalitarian society where dominion and oppression are suppressed and freedom of choice promoted. The movement of feminism rests squarely on claim of "unbalanced society" in the dichotomy of male -female polarity in which menfolk control major economic resources and consolidation of the patriarchal system. In stern contravention of the patriarchal system, feminists achieved landmark revolution in the socio-economic system which saw to their foray into the public sphere of "monetized" professional statuses.

By this achievement, womenfolk have significantly changed the socio-economic landscape by either becoming "bread-winners" or "co bread-winners" of families. For instance, in the cover page of New York

Times magazine (1975), came with the caption The Richer Sex. However, the significant encroachment of feminism movement brought about an attendant entrenched social imbalance in the society. There is a void of parentage or parental care due to contemporaneous "dual-income" families as direct off-shoot of feminism movement. Many studies support empirically that "it is mostly womenfolk that have entered traditional male sphere and not vice versa".

In the article of Nikola Balvin (2017) entitled "what is gender socialization and why does it matter?", she points attention to the fact that there is total neglect of "agents of socialization" by families as core pre-requisites for positive social order. According to her, gender roles are outward manifestations of gender socialization which is a "process by which individuals develop, refine and learn to "do" gender through internalizing agents of socialization such as their family, social networks and other social institutions". More strikingly is the inexorable and irreversible nexus between adolescent period and gender socialization.

Adolescence has been described as a "critical period in which gender attitudes and behaviors intensify and new roles emerge. It is also a period during which the negative outcomes of some gender norms begin to manifest".

According to a UNICEF report (2012) on negative outcomes of adolescents, they are "subjected to proving their manhood in initiation practices, or are forced to join armed groups, urban gangs, crime syndicates, or rebel and government forces". Notwithstanding the overwhelming negative outcomes associated with adolescence, Balvin argues "this period also presents a great opportunity to develop more equitable gender attitudes and behaviors".

In this regard, it is common and undisputable knowledge that early feminism movement which metamorphosed into latter-day neutral-gender identity is anti social order. In other words, the movement sub-consciously and obliviously leans toward contributing to what is popularly called "negative outcomes of gender norms" such as girl-child drop-out from school, unwanted pregnancy, contraction of sexually transmitted diseases STDs etc.

This is majorly due to the total neglect and relinquish of the most essential agent of socialization (social institutions such as schools and religious centers; social networks such as peer groups; and neighborhood influences) by families in active engagements and interactions of parents with these agents. Rather, self - discovery alternate course is the contemporary times order of the day by which individuals (children) resort to recognition of selves by biological gender difference, sexual maturation, cognition or motivation, personality. As a result of this, Balvin opines that "when developing policies and programs aimed at increasing gender equality, decision-makers can use multi-level frame-work to position their efforts, understand the key areas and actors they may be able to influence and the outcomes to which they can contribute, and construct a more comprehensive

Theory of Change".
In conclusion, the national development of any society hinges crucially on the concept of familism as opposed to feminism. Familism is an ideology that puts priority on the family and family values. Family value, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary "are values, especially of a traditional or conservative kind which are held to promote the sound functioning of the family and to strengthen the fabric of the society". For instance, the banner of family value is being used by social conservatives to express opposition to "abortion, homosexuality, and major feminist objectives".

A family is a good of group of people who are united either by marriage or ancestry or adoption. Marriage ordinance from the point of view of Islamic culture, according to Mutahir et al (2014) is the "union of two families, not just two individuals". Historically, in most cultures and at most times, non-traditional family model, commonly called "extended family" is the most popular. The traditional "nuclear" family became common and established by the United States of America (USA) in the 1960s and 1970s.

Either the nuclear or extended family, the role of positive parentage on the part of parents can not be over-emphasized. This role is assumed by balancing the inexorable social conflicts between gender role and identity through "necessary intervention" in all the relevant socialization agents a child encounters in life-long experience.

Nidhi Lodha (2014) has aptly and brilliantly summarized family value ethics in a seamless (practice what you preach) manner which behooves on every family household to internalize and immortalize. According to her, family

values begin from family relationship. This is subsequently built on family memories, family communication and values. Family communication is "process of sharing information, thoughts, ideas, or feelings with other members of society".

The importance of this "is to provide love, protection and guidance, build confidence and self-esteem, and to provide a sense of belonging and independence". Similarly, she asserts to guarantee peaceful and happy family life, there must be "holding of family meetings, discussion of family issues by planning together and suggesting improvements, help and support of one another when need arises, respect one another's positive values and good manners, informing one another about invitations, phone calls, notices so that every one knows what is happening to another".

Conclusively, she buttresses need for both family responsibility and duty. Responsibility, according to her, "is something for which an individual is accountable; duty is an obligatory task or activity showing respect that one knows what one would have to do".

On parental responsibility, she mentions "provision of basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, education, and love; caring in times of sickness of children; teaching children behavior that is acceptable to the family and to the society". On children duties, she mentions "respect for one another in the family, asking permission or seeking approval from parents in making important decisions, sharing family responsibilities such as house-hold chores".

All these age-long conservative family values needful and important for social well-being and national development of any society were obliviously eroded mostly through feminism advocacy. Through careerism, parents especially mothers, ignored the core aspect of parentage which is consistent parent-child dialogue and monitoring. By such, children grow up to develop their own self-acquired identities which not be compatible to the society's own.

This has significantly withered contemporary society to a level beyond repairs. This is evident in freedom and choice of individuals to perpetrate anti-social actions inimical to well-being of society. The most ugly of those scenarios are young female spouses resolving to murder at will their male spouses upon slightest provocation.

This brings to mind incident of a young "beautiful in face but evil at heart" mother by name Maryam Sanda who murdered her spouse in cold blood in 2017. Currently, she has just been judicially pronounced to put to death by hanging. From her post-trial reaction, she loathes death but she could carelessly and dangerously put someone to death. This is to serve as severe warning to other contemporary young spouses to teach themselves good lesson!

Unfortunately and sadly, Balvin family-value checker which has been posted online has not received the deserved viral online attention and curiosity. (Her writing has 12.042 views; 4 comments; 14 likes!) A testimony to the sheer height of decadence of our societal family values heritage.

Sherif Jimoh writes from Kwara State

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Sherif Jimoh and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."