chapter  1
35 Pages

Sex Role and Sex-Related Attributions: Constancy and Change Across the Family Life Cycle: Sharon Churnin Nash and S. Shirley Feldman

Despite the burgeoning interest in sex-role research evident in the past two decades, the field is still plagued by unclear terminology and controversy over what, in fact, is being studied. The term sex role itself remains frustratingly ambiguous: According to Angrist (1969), "Sex role singularly suffers from absence of specific definition-its meaning is connotative instead of denotative [p. 218]." This confusion has arisen in part from the very distinct foci emphasized by the three major disciplines that most commonly employ the term. Anthropologists have stressed the normative expectations that members of a given culture hold about the position men and women should occupy-the term position implying the division of labor between the sexes and the societal tasks assigned to each sex within structured social settings. For sociologists, sex role grows out of self-development during the socialization process. Individuals learn their own and others' roles through social interaction. The emphasis here is on relationships, or the process of role taking within dyads or larger groups of varying structure. In contrast, psychologists have focused on distinguishing characteristics of women and men (with social context being less relevant). The stress here is on bel:avior, as measured by object preferences, school achievement, and occupational choices, and on behavior-related attributes of the individual, such as personality, adjustment, need achievement, and aspirations (see Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974; Nash, 1979, for summaries of relevant research). The sex-related dichotomies emphasized by this approach seem to reinforce the trait theory notion (Angrist, 1969) that "women are women and men are men wherever they may live, eat, play, work, or interact [po 217]." Such a position implies consistency across diverse behaviors, situations, and time.