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Gender Roles in Different Cultures: North America and Middle East

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Gender among other aspects of social life are identified differently between societies. Each society has a different view on gender identity and gender roles. Different societies have different views on the right and wrongs in their daily lives. These differences are more distinct when the society/cultures are more different from each other. Different in terms of religion, beliefs, culture, values and etc. In this paper, we use North America and the Middle East to understand these differences.

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Gender identity is defined as a personal conception of oneself as male or female (both or neither). This concept is intimately related to the concept of gender role, which is defined as the outward manifestation of personality that reflect the gender identity. Gender identity, in nearly all instances, is self-identified, as a result of a combination of inherent and extrinsic or environmental factors. Gender roles, on the other hand, is manifested within society by observable factors such as behaviour and appearance. For example, if a person considers himself a male and is most comfortable referring to his personal gender in masculine terms, then his gender identity is male. However, his gender role is male only if he demonstrates typically male characteristics in behaviour, dress, and/or mannerism. Gender role in society means how we’re expected to act, speak, dress, groom, and conduct ourselves based upon our assigned sex. For example, girls and women are usually expected to dress in typically feminine ways and be polite, accommodating, and nurture. Men are generally expected to be strong, passive and bold. Every society, ethnic group, and culture has gender role expectations, but they can be very different from group to group. For example, the North American culture has very different views on gender roles compared to the Middle East. Similarly, gender role expectations can also change in the same society over time. For example, pink used to be considered a masculine color in the US while blue was considered feminine. Therefore, gender identity and roles vary from different parts of the world and the biggest determinant of this is religion. Religion sets the base for any culture which then adopts the cultural norms according to the religion.

Gender roles around the world have changed throughout the course of history. Gender roles in North American households evolved from a traditional single-income family where the husband is responsible for the family income while the wife worked at home and took care of the kids to a dual-income family where both spouses work to generate income. While many people claim that this was a sexist structure, others believe it to simply be a division of labor or a social system in which a particular segment of the population performs one type of labour and another segment performs another type. Similar to before the mid 19th Century North America, the Middle East still has societal norms regarding gender identity and gender roles. Most families rely on a single-income, usually from the husband, while women are expected to look after the kids and take care of the house. But as of recently, there has been a change in this ideology, mainly in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Women are given more freedom compared to before to be equal to men and work in their professional fields rather than at home. Saudi Arabia recently gave women in the kingdom the right to drive which is a huge stepping stone for the women in the area. Ban on women driving was an internationally recognized symbol of unequal status. Along with the ability to drive has come new rights and freedom like the ability to join the military, work in intelligence services and attend sporting events and concerts. Senior clerics are also pushing to make the requirement to wear Abaya (Religious garment) non-compulsory. Across the middle east, countries have been upgrading women’s rights since the early 2000s. Practices like “Gender Quota”, meaning, parties are required to nominate a minimum percentage of women as candidates for office are being used to increase women’s representation in politics allowing them to have a stronger voice in society and politics.

Religion is a very important part of any culture. It is the building block of a society and the societal norms that people follow. Religion and the religious practices and beliefs in North America and the Middle East are very different from each other. While both religions may have given preference to a more patriarchal society (Christanity: Man is created in God’s image), the main determinant of society and societal norms is how the people perceive the message of their religion. For example, in the 18th century, women in North America were believed to be properties of their husbands. Anything they earned belonged to their husbands and women were expected to be submissive to their husbands as they were seen as a source of sin (Eve). While in Islam, women are expected to cover themselves in front of men out of their family which imposed dfficulties when it came to working through which cultural norms forbad women to work outside of the house as it was a male dominated society. The main reason why the ideology of equal rights of women came about in the middle east so much later than in North America is because the population in the middle east are more traditional and religious than the North American population. People in the middle east are traditionally have been more strict in practicing the Islamic religion. Even though, Islam itself does not deny women from working, but as a restriction of not being able to interact with men outside of the family, it was easier for women to stay at home which later led to become a part of the culture which became hard wired into the people that women are not allowed to work outside. This shows that even though religion is a building block for culture, culture still has more impact compared to religion when it comes to societal norms. Whereas the population of North America is not that religious when it comes to religious traditions and practices or ideologies which allowed the cultural change of allowing women into the workforce before the middle east. For example, a survey done in 2009 by Gallup, Inc. stated that there’s a huge difference between the percentage of population in North America and the Middle East that believes that religion is an important part of their daily life. The data supports that for countries that are more religious, acquiring equal rights for women in that country has been more difficult because of the culture a strong religious society creates where there is little to no room for flexibility in the religious/cultural norms.

Similarly, people in the Middle East face the same problem when it comes to gender identity and sexual preferences. The Quran narrates the story of the people of Lut (Prophet of the Islamic religion) who were destroyed by the wrath of God because they engaged in lustful carnal acts between men. Since the muslim believe that the Quran is the word of God, most mostly due to their inflexibility with religious ideologies and also due to the fact that there is no central governing authority for the Islamic religion, the people percieve the Quran however they best understand it. It has only been recently that Muftis, a Muslim legal expert who is empowered to give ruling on religious matters, have started looking into to study it deeper and try to understand if the text is really against the LGBTQ community. A growing number of Islamic scholars, mainly in the West, have started re-examining Islamic teachings on same-sex relationships and whether a blanket condemnation of LGBTQ people is a misinterpretation. There are also growing opportunities for alternative and meaningful worship and community. Many Islamic cultures have started to accept Transgender men and women. In fact, the idea of a man or woman identifying as a member of the opposite gender is more likely to be accepted than that of a man or woman expressing sexual desire for someone of their own gender. But nonetheless, the difference in acceptance of gender identity and assigning gender role is heavily dependent on religion but more so dependent on the culture. Culture heavily influences cultural norms and beliefs even when some of it might contradict with religion.

While there are a lot of differences between how the two cultures, North America and the Middle East, approach the notion of gender identity and gender roles. While they do have a lot of differences, there are some similarities between them too.

First of all, both cultures/societies are making a transition from a patriarchal society into an egalitarian society. Even though North America is far ahead of the middle east in terms of gender roles/women’s equality but it is still not to the point it should be yet. For example, a study in 2015 suggested that corporate America has made almost no progress in improving women’s representation. Women are underrepresented at every level, and women of color are the most underrepresented group of all, lagging behind white men, men of color, and white women. Due to this, women are also outnumbered in senior leadership positions. Only about 1 in 5 women make it to the C-suite while others remain at lower positions throughout their careers.

While many believe that we have moved on from the traditional ideologies of women as housewives, there are women who leave their jobs to focus on family. Even though women are allowed to work, there is a social/cultural understanding that if needed, women are going to be the ones who will leave their jobs for the family rather than men. Similarly, women in the middle east suffer from the same discrimination. The World Economic Forum estimates the wage gap between men and women in the Middle East to be between 20 and 40 percent. Women are unable to achieve promotions into higher positions due to a high number of male counterparts. These discriminations in both cultures are similar as it seems like even though they have accepted women to have power, they still don’t believe them to be equal to men. It is clear that there is still a cultural bias over who is more suitable to work in the career force and if needed, who is to leave work and look after/focus on the family.

Another similarity the two cultures share is the transition both cultures are making from a patriarchal society into an egalitarian society. Even though we are not there yet, it is an idea that the younger generation is working towards from both cultures. The new generation for both cultures are more flexible with their cultural views and religious ideologies acknowledging the rights of everyone as an equal person. This would a person to identity themselves as whoever they want and gender roles would not be labeled on people based on their gender. This would eventually sort the differences that North America and the Middle East have between each other which has resulted into a lot of conflicts and might promote peace and unity between the two cultures.

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The notion of gender identity and gender roles come from cultural beliefs, values and traditions. Even though religion does play an important part in the formation of cultural values, sometimes the culture becomes more important than religion itself and ends up affecting ideologies like gender roles and gender identities. Gender roles are set by cultures implementing the rights and wrongs for a gender which may include how to dress, act, speak and etc. The two cultures, North America and the Middle East, are very different from each other. The biggest difference that affects gender roles has been religion/culture. Due to these, there has been differences between the two cultures.

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Gender Roles In Different Cultures: North America And Middle East. (2021, December 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 28, 2023, from
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