They are searching for ways to live and love free from the constraints of rigid, gender-based expectations and inequities. This article discusses the roles played by gender in the family and the issues arising from it in this contemporary world.
Family and gender are so intertwined that it is impossible to understand one without reference to the other (Coltrane 1998). Families are not merely influenced by gender; rather, families are organised by gender. Gender is as central to understanding families as is the concept of generation: Gender and generation are the two fundamental, organising principles of family life. The names of family roles (mother, son, sister, nephew, grandma, uncle) tell us both the gender and generational location of family members. Gender typically indicates as much about the expectations for, and status or power of, a person in a family as does generational location.
As decades past, several theoretical traditions have evolved to better explain the role of gender in people's lives and relationships like that of Risman (1998). While there have been differences in their conceptualisation of gender, contemporary gender theorists like Coltrane (1998) and Risman (1998) agree that whereas sex is based on relatively distinct biological factors, gender is a social construction. Gender is something that we do rather than being what we are. As Coltrane (1998) asserts "we are expected to do gender to exhibit or enact those attributes or actions that are defined as masculine or feminine in a particular cultural context."
In this socially constructed gender system, the prescriptions for each gender are defined in relation to the other. Maleness and femaleness are cast as dichotomised and polarised categories; human capacities are divided up and relegated, as if they belong naturally to one gender and not the other. Traditionally, manhood is defined narrowly in instrumental terms-rationality, stoicism, independence, aggressiveness, and achievement orientation. Womanhood is defined in expressive terms-nurturance, emotionality, dependence, selflessness, and relationship orientation. Supposed differences between the genders are exaggerated, with similarities suppressed. Individuals are judged positively if they comply with the social expectations for their gender and negatively if they do not. For instance, in contemporary English culture, men or boys are commonly referred to as "wimps" or "fags" for showing supposedly feminine qualities, such as emotionality and vulnerability (Katz & Earp, 1999). Women are commonly perceived as "bitches" or "pushy" if they exhibit the "masculine" quality of assertiveness (Lerner, 1997).
The dichotomised categories of gender are granted unequal social value. Male characteristics are regarded as the ideal standard for human behavior, and there is an implicit assumption that male attributes and experiences are somehow gender-neutral and normative (Katz & Earp, 1999). In their presumed difference from men, women's qualities and experiences are devalued and used to justify inequality.
These constructed gender differences are used as a justification for sex stratification. Gender is considered a reasonable and legitimate basis for the distribution of rights, resources, power, privilege, and