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1.0 Introduction
In mans primate days, physical survival was of first import in his consideration. The necessity of fighting for that survival to procure food fell to the male. He was the strongest and freer, for the children must be cared for while men hunted. Food had to be prepared and skins and rushes had to be made into body coverings. That part of the work fell naturally to the woman. As the centuries passed, man, the hunter of game for food, quite naturally became man the conqueror of men for their possessions and women became the household drudge, the tiller in the field and the slave of man, her lord and master, man alone was free. Woman did what her lord and master told her to do. For long ages woman had no such status as wife. She was mans concubine for long ages one of many concubines. Men enclosed her in harem prisons under eunuch guards where she was still slave among slaves and never a wife who could freely walk the earth like her master. And even when she was allowed to walk the earth she walked behind her master or under watchful eyes. Her value to man and her status with him was purely physical.1


Definition of Gender

Russell L., Man-Woman Equality in God will work with you but not for you; A living philosophy, published by the University of Science and Philosophy formerly The Walter Russell Foundation. Swannanoa, Waynesboro, Virginia 22980 Pg. 137-138

The concept of gender is capable of two separate interpretations, on the one hand you have; gender as a biological construct, and on the other, you have; gender as a sociological construct. Gender, in the sense of a biological construction is better referred to as sex and in this sense it means the biological condition of being male or female, referring specifically to the physiological condition of being male or female. Gender as a sociological construct however has to do with the way society views the physical condition of being male or female. Although, gender in these two sense refer to different things; they share a common factor of distinguishing between what is male and what is female, it may however be said that the two different constructions of the term gender possess different objectives. Gender as a biological factor, refers to something which is just fact with no emotions or feelings being attached while on the other hand, gender as a sociological construct comes with particular feelings and ideas being attached to being male or female. Gender for the purpose of this research project would be defined as a sociological construct and it is an apt description of gender, to say that gender in any given society is determined by the way that particular society views the physical condition of being male or female. More importantly, the question is; What is Gender? Gender is the difference between women and men within the same household and within and between cultures that are socially and culturally constructed and change over time. These differences are reflected in: roles, responsibilities, access to resources, constraints, opportunities, needs perceptions, views, etc. held by both women and men. Thus gender is not a synonym for women, but considers both women and men and their






categorization based on sex that places people into two groups: male and female. These two groups are often biologically, sociologically, psychologically, and physiologically influenced. Gender is based on four aspects: assignment, role, identity and attribution Assignment: The gender we are given at birth, either being male or female. In this aspect, our genders are prescribed by the society in which we are born. Role: This is the set of behaviors mannerisms, and other traits that society says we should express as part of our assigned gender. Identity: This is what we think our gender should be at any given time. Many people do not question their gender functions as their identity. Attribution: This is the gender we assign people when we first meet them and is based on a set of cues that differentiate from culture to culture.2 This definition which was culled from the Rwanda Development Gateway website has been adopted for the purpose of this work, because of its comprehensiveness. It not only attempts to define the concept of gender, it also gives theoretical examples of situations where these disparities in gender attitude and differences come into play. website visited on the 19th July 2007 4:36:53pm

For a shorter definition, gender could be defined as; the social construction of the expectations, behaviors, privileges and constraints associated with those identified as male or female.3 It is clear from the above definitions that while it is true that there are physical differences between men and women, society uses these differences to define roles for the members of the two different sexes. The resultant effect of this is that different societies would view members of a particular sex different ways which is a reasonable explanation for the attitude of different societies to the issue of gender disparity. A particular societys conception of gender, would therefore determine such things as the place of members of a particular sex in the society. It would also determine the rights and the obligations of the members of the different sexes. The concept of gender is one that encompasses both men and women and goes beyond women studies (which for a long time was the focus of the world). Gender also covers the roles and traits and behavioral patterns society expects from the members of a particular sex in order to maintain balance with the fact of their gender. It goes as far as our personal convictions about what or who we think we are, the way we see ourselves and the way we see others because of their sex, all these depending on the prescription of our culture and the society we live in. The concept of gender is one that touches everyone in society and determines the way people generally carry themselves or behave in a number of different situations. It is also a sensitive issue likely to attract different points of view whether religious, cultural or societal, because most people view the issue of gender from the point of view of their

Bammeke F. Understanding the gender question in Sociology for Beginners. Edited by Lai Olurode and Omololu Soyombo. Pg. 295

religion, from what their culture prescribes and from the expectations of their immediate society. It is indeed a rare occurrence to find people with their own personal ideas on what gender is all about which is free from societal, cultural or religious influences. Gender, determines as a matter of fact, in most situations what we find ourselves doing. It determines our rights, our obligations and our duties towards society and in our homes. It therefore goes without saying that if gender determines so much about us, there is a need to ensure that it does not become a limiting factor; hence the development of gender studies around world has evolved from just women studies to encompass men studies. Initially, most of the works on gender discrimination focused on women but recent developments have shown that this might be a limiting factor, in assessing the basis of the problem of gender discrimination.

Gender Roles
A gender role is a set of behavioral norms associated particularly with males or females, in a given social group or system. It can be a form of division of labor by gender. 4 In every given society, there are predefined gender roles set out for members of both sex. As part of the socialization process in every society, certain attitudes, customs and behavioral pattern is imbibed thereby creating a sense of self based on societal conceptions and ideas. The tendency therefore is to base ones idea of being male or female on what society says it is. Gender roles then can be said to be societal defined roles. Gender roles influence all kinds of behavior such as clothing, profession, amongst others. Right from the time of birth, girls and boys are conditioned to think, behave like the societys idea of what
4 Page visited on July 1 2007 at 6:10pm

a girl is and what a boy is. The most popular example of this is the buying of dolls and play party teacups for girls and balls, guns and race cars for boys. This conditions the girls mind to housekeeping while the boy, learns to develop his muscles. Different reasons have been given for the existence of gender roles in society to justify the existence of gender roles in society or rather to justify the existence of gender roles. One of such is that of Talcott Parsons, who developed a model of the nuclear family in 1955 which 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 the 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.5 Other views are those of the biological, cultural and materialist schools of thought which would be discussed later on in this chapter.


Gender in Eurocentric Thought

Gender bias is a factor common to all nations of the world and as a concession to the British origin of our civilization, it is therefore important to study the Western concept of gender. The conception of gender in Medieval Europe was that women were the weaker sex, easily corruptible and men were the stronger and better sex and women were to be kept in check in order to keep them visited on July 1 2007 at 6:10pm or in Sociology: Themes and Perspectives Haralambos, M. Published by University Tutorial Press London (1980)

from spreading evil. This period in Europe, known best for witch hunting therefore focused most of the hunts on women. The Medieval attitude to women could be summed up in these words from one of the best witch-hunt manuals by Malleus Maleficarum 1456; (as translated by Montague Summers in 1926): Now the wickedness of women is spoken ofAll wickedness is but little to the wickedness of a womanWhat else is woman but a foe to friendship, an inescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, a domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil of nature, painted with fair colors! The many lusts of men lead them into one sin but the lust of women lead them into all sins; for the root of all womans vices is avarice. When a woman thinks alone, she thinks evil. Women are naturally more impressionable, and more ready to receive the influence of a disembodied spirit. But the natural reason is that she is more carnal than a man And it should be noted that there was a defect in the formation of the first woman, since she was formed from a bent rib And since through this defect she is an imperfect animal, she always deceives. This period in Europe, experienced some form of feminist movements and writings; one of such writings is; The book of the city of Ladies by Christine de Pizan, where she sought to establish that some women have in the past discovered hitherto unknown knowledge using the example of the noble Nicostrata whom the Italians call Carments who is alleged to be the author of Roman laws and was the first to institute laws in that country, she

established the latin alphabet and syntax, spelling, the difference between vowels and consonants, as well as a complete introduction to the science of grammar. 6 In Early Modern Europe, there were still some traces of the witch hunting days and the Bible was considered the guide to daily living. The conception of gender and gender roles in this age was therefore justified by referring to the bible; the resultant effect was such that European Societies were patriarchal in nature. According to John Knox, (1513-1572), a Scottish religious reformer, who was the founder of Presbyterianism in Scotland, the teaching of the scripture alone is sufficient to prove that women should not bear rule over men in her greatest perfection, woman was created to be subject to man. To promote a woman to bear rule, superiority, dominion, or empire above any realm, nation, or city, is repugnant to nature; [an insult] to God, a thing most contrary to his revealed will and approved by ordinance; and finally, it is the subversion of good order, of all equity and justice7 As in the earlier age, this period also experienced feminist movements and writing. Daniel Defoe (c. 1661-1731) the author of Robinson Crusoe, was one of such writers, he wrote on the education of women and made his position clear on this saying; I have often thought it as one of the most barbarous customs in the world, considering us as a civilized and Christian country, that we

Christine de Pizan. Christine asks Reason whether there was ever a woman who discovered hitherto unknown knowledge, in The Book of the City of Ladies (1363-1431): Treasure of the City of Ladies. [At Internet Archive, from Women Writers of the Middle Ages/Millersville] page visited on August 15, 2007

John Knox. The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women 1558 by page visited on August 15 2007 10:58:30pm

deny the advantages of learning to women. We reproach the sex everyday with folly and impertinence; while I am confident, had they the advantages of education equal to us, they would be guilty of less than ourselves.8 Modern Europe, in its early stages still had a lot of the traces of the other ages as regards thoughts on gender. This period experienced the rise of feminism. John Stuart Mills, was of the opinion that; The disabilities to which women are subjected from the mere fact of their birth, are the solitary examples of the kind in modern legislation. In no instance except this, are the higher social functions closed against anyone by a fatality of birth which no exertions, and no change of circumstances can overcome. The social subordination of women thus stand out an isolated fact in modern social institutions; a solitary breach of what has become their fundamental law; a single relic of an old world of thought and practice exploded in everything else, but retained in the one thing of most universal interest.9 Another writer of this period, Mary Wollstonecraft opined thus: Women are told from their infancy, and taught by the example of their mothers, that a little knowledge of human weakness, justly termed cunning, softness of temper, outward obedience, and a scrupulous attention to a puerile kind of propriety, will obtain for them the protection of men for, at least, twenty years of their lives [They] tell

Daniel Defoe: (On) The Education Of Women, 1719. Culled from the Modern History Sourcebook at

John Stuart Mill: The Subjection of Women. Culled from the Modern History Sourcebook at page visited August 15 2007 at 10:50:25am

us that women are formed for softness and sweet attractive grace, I cannot comprehend [this] meaning, unless, [they] meant to deprive us of our souls, and insinuate that we were beings only designed for sweet attractive grace, and docile blind obedience, to gratify the senses of man when he cannot long soar on the wings of contemplation. The period of the colonization of Africa, coincided with the Victorian Era, during which the Europeans, generally viewed the home as sacrosanct, a place of refuge from the pressures of public life. It was the duty of the women to keep the home and make it a safe haven from the vicissitudes of public and working life and of the men to provide for the home, protect the women from the harsh labour of the Industrial Era and generally from the pressure of public life. Hence, British women did not participate in Politics, did not vote and did not contest elections as they had no suffrage. Upon a total consideration of the treatment of women during the different stages of European development, it can be seen that the European conception of gender, was that women were the fairer and weaker sex who needed to be protected not only from public life, but from themselves, while the men were the superior sex, the head of the women and decider of their fate, since women did not have a say or representation in government. It should be noted that recent developments have seen the entry of women into formerly predominantly male areas due to the works of women rights movements and even more recently the integration of men studies into women studies to form one body on gender studies.



Gender in Afrocentric Thought

Traditional African society is one which recognizes the complementary roles of men and women, this can be seen in the way it designates certain activities to the two different groups, thereby ensuring that the whole society functions as one body without leaving one group helpless and the other calling all the shots. Some African societies, such as the Yoruba Society recognize the need for women in politics in order to represent the interests of the other women10, although the constitution of the polity comprised more of men, women did not have a representation and authority in Yoruba political system equal to that of men.11 Gender dualism was also evident in economic affairs, for example, in Yoruba society, men had the duty of plantation farming, hunting, fishing and long distance trading which duties took place in unsafe places beyond the town walls while within the safety of the town walls women engaged in food trading and local trading. The dividers between these male and female spheres are not impenetrable; any woman if she was keen enough could enter and shine in any field including plantation farming and long distance trading.12


This can be seen in the way the Yoruba Society is structured whereby you have women leaders such as the Iyaloja who was responsible for the market which was one of the major sources of economic activities. There was also the Iyalode responsible for women affairs.


Mba N. E. Nigerian Women Mobilized: Womens Political Activity in Southern Nigeria 1900-1965 Published by The Institute of International studies, Berkeley (1982). Pg. 13 Cited in The Historical Legacy of Gender Inequality In Nigeria by Eno Blankson Ekpe in Paradox of Gender Equality in Nigerian politics: Essays in Honor of Dr. (Mrs.) Veronica Adeleke. Solomon O. Akinboye (Eds).

Barber K. I could sing until tomorrow Published by Edinburgh University Press / International African Institute Page 19.


Another example of gender duality in political roles could be seen in Kemet where the office of the Pharaoh was reserved for the males but could only be transmitted by marriage to the Pharaohs daughter. Even here exceptional women became pharaohs in exceptional times and circumstances such as Nerfreti of the 6th Dynasty and Hashepsowe of the 18th Dynasty.13 Traditional African society believed that authority should follow function; the resultant effect of this was that women had authority in those spheres assigned to them. In the home, male functional authority was assigned to the husband/ father/ patriarch while that of the female was assigned to the wife/ mother/ matriarch. The authority of the mother was in regard of the homestead alongside with responsibility for the kitchen and the home generally while the responsibility of the husband was as regards the defense of the home and external affairs. Gender dualism, with its attendant gender diarchy, means that in a well ordered society of the African type, powers and responsibilities are shared between the genders and acknowledged as shared, both in the home and in the polity.14 It must however be noted that the advent of the Europeans in Africa changed these fundamental African concepts.


The Emerging Interest in the Subject Area of Gender

Chinweizu. Gender and monotheism: The Assault by monotheism on African Gender Diarchy in The Essentials of African Studies Volume 1 Edited by Sophie B. Oluwole. Published by General African Studies Programme, University of Lagos, Akoka. Pg 15

Ibid. pg 18


the full and complete development of a country, the welfare of the world and the cause of peace require the maximum participation of women on equal terms with men in all fields15 Interest in Gender as a subject area, has come from the study of women rights and women rights movement. It has become clear that while an attempt to eliminate discrimination against women is a good cause, it would never really be achieved without a change in the social conception of gender. The societal idea of male superiority is a problem which needs to be contended with; since men and women or alternatively boys and girls are brought up to believe that the male sex is superior to the female. It might then be said that the emerging interest in gender studies as a subject area is a means to an end in the elimination of discrimination against women. The gender approach was considered better suited to achieve the goals of Equality, Development and Peace set for the United Nations Decade for Women.16 This was to be achieved by studying gender relations in different societies rather than looking at issues of importance to one sex by considering it in isolation. This approach, places such issues within the context of socially constructed relations between men and women.17 The long term goal of the gender approach is to ensure equality in relations between the two sexes thereby creating a balanced society. It is to this end that men studies have been incorporated into women studies, since it is clear that little can be achieved by focusing on one side of the

Opening paragraph to the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

F. Bammeke. Understanding the Gender Question in Sociology for Beginners, edited by Lai Olurode and Omololu Soyombo. Pg. 297

Ibid. At pg297-298


story, i.e. women studies. The ultimate understanding of the basis of the discrimination is what would help to eliminate the existence of the discrimination on the basis of sex.


Exploration of thoughts on theories of gender

There are basically three schools of thought on the issues of gender relations and gender roles in the society. These are (1) The Biological School, (2) The Cultural School and (3) The Materialist School. The Biological School believes that male dominance in society is inevitable. They use the physiological differences between men and women to justify male superiority, they believe that women are naturally limited in their social and economic activities because of their being biologically designed to menstruate, gestate and lactate.18 The Cultural School criticizes the Biological School because they believe that it is the culture as opposed to the biological differences that accounts for male superiority. They believe that the gender roles are culturally and not biologically defined. The Materialist School includes Marxism and Feminism. Marxism says that the subordination of women is as a result of the economic system. This sub-school is divided into three sub-categories. The first category represented by Marx and Engels postulates that the subordinate status of women is as a result of the institution of private property, that womens oppression was part of class oppression which could only cease


I. Robertson. Money in Sociology published by Wortth Publishers Inc U.S.A. 1980. Cited by Funmi Bammeke in Understanding the gender question.


as a result of proletarian revolution. The second school represented by Eliz Zaretsky believes that capitalism exploits women through the separation of wage labor and unpaid housework. They believe that women actually worked for capitalism and not men by reproducing and nurturing the workforce needed for capitalism. The third approach was proposed by Mariarosa Della Costa, who argues that since women reproduce labor force and produce surplus value needed for the survival of capitalism, women should demand payment for housework and refuse to participate in wage labor. The Feminist school believes that traditional gender roles are oppressive for women. They believe that the female gender role was constructed as an opposite to an ideal male role, and helps to perpetuate patriarchy.19 The theories of the different school are perhaps best considered together, since these theories do not in themselves completely capture the basis of the existence of gender roles. It is my belief that every one of them is right in one sense or the other. The physiological difference between men and women does limit women since at different stages in her life; the womans body performs certain functions which limits her activities as mentioned above. Whilst this should not be a good reason for her oppression since she does have days when her body is not performing any of these functions, society uses these excuses to keep her in the home and the capitalists take advantage of this factor since it means the men who are stronger physically are freer to work longer hours. It may therefore be said that all these factors play some role or other in the existence of gender roles.


F.U. George. Theoretical Positions on Gender Roles in society in Women and Social Change in Nigeria edited by Lai Olurode (1990) Published by UPRECOL Lagos.