Define the terms masculinity and femininity. In your opinion where do traditional gender roles come from?


CSS Solved Gender Studies Past Paper 2023 | Define the terms masculinity and femininity. In your opinion where do traditional gender roles come from?

The following question of Gender Studies is solved by Ismat Younus, the highest scorer in CSS Gender Studies. Moreover, the question is attempted on the same pattern, taught by Sir to his students, scoring the highest marks in compulsory subjects for years. This solved past paper question is uploaded to help aspirants understand how to crack a topic or question, how to write relevantly, what coherence is, and how to include and connect ideas, opinions, and suggestions to score the maximum.

Question breakdown:

In this question, the examiner is enquiring about the definitions of two key terms “masculinity” and “femininity”. One should understand that both these terms are socially constructed. In the second part, the examiner is asking about students’ opinions on the nature versus nurture debate of gender roles. In other words, he is asking whether the traditional roles are biological, psychological, or sociological outcomes. A student can take his stance but he has to prove that stance as it is an opinionative question. Predominantly, many feminists believe that Gender roles are the social product. In the last, the student needs to conclude his/her question comprehensively.


1- Introduction

The terms masculinity and femininity refer to traits or characteristics typically associated with being male or female, respectively. These terms are directly related to traditional gender roles. Gender roles are social expectations for how men and women should behave. Generally, most communities agree that the traditional gender roles definition states that women are more nurturing and men are more dominant. 

2- Definitions of masculinity  and femininity

3- Different meanings of masculinity and femininity in society

  • ✓Blunt versus shy
  • ✓Rational versus irrational
  • ✓Assertive versus emotional
  • ✓Independent versus dependent
  • ✓Dominant versus oppressive

4- What are different gender roles?

5- Nature versus Nurture Debate

6- Social construction of traditional gender roles

  • ✓Structural Functionalism
  • ✓Conflict Theory
  • ✓Feminist Theory
  • ✓Gender Performative Theory
  • ✓Social Learning Theory

7- Conclusion

Answer to the question


Femininity and masculinity are acquired social identities. As individuals become socialized, they develop a gender identity. An understanding of what it means to be a “man” or a “woman” gender identity is often naturalized. It relies on a notion of biological difference, so natural femininity encompasses, for example, motherhood, being nurturing, a desire for pretty clothes and the exhibition of emotions. “Natural” masculinity, in contrast, encompasses fatherhood, acting “tough” a desire for sports and competition, and hiding emotions. The nature vs nurture debate centres on the contributions of genetics and environmental factors to human development. Some philosophers, such as Plato and Descartes, suggested that certain factors are inborn or occur naturally regardless of environmental influences. Other well-known thinkers, such as John Locke, believed in what is known as a tabula rasa, which suggests that the mind begins as a blank slate. According to this notion, everything is determined by our experiences. The different social theorist has substantiated their nurture debate through multiple theoretical perspectives. For instance, gender performative theory suggested that gender roles are not fixed and are determined by repeated practices of those roles performed by different genders.

Definition of masculinity and femininity

  • Masculinity:

“Masculinity is defined as possession of attributes or features associated with men.”

This is a traditional perception of masculinity. There are many socially created definitions of masculinity for being a man and these can change over time and from one location to another. Masculinity is usually associated with:
1- Blunt
2- Rational
3- Assertive
4- Independent
5- Dominant

  • Femininity:

“Femininity is a set of attributes, behaviors, and roles generally associated with women and girls.”

Femininity is a force of energy that encompasses life with love, compassion, and the inherent desire to nurture and protect what is precious, holy, and beautiful. Femininity is associated with: 
1- Shy
2- Irrational
3- Emotional
4- Dependent
5- Oppressive

What are different gender roles?

“Gender roles are stereotypes regarding attitudes, attributes, and actions imposed on men and women based on gender. “

What Are Some Modern Examples of Gender Roles in Society?

Gender roles vary greatly depending on where you live, as stereotypes differ among countries and cultures. These are some of the most common gender stereotypes.

  • Women in the kitchen

One of the most common and hurtful stereotypes is that women should be the ones taking care of the cooking. For example, while men are expected to leave the house to work a job, women are expected to welcome them back with prepared meals.

  • Domestic chores

In the same vein, some societies also expect women to take care of most of the chores related to the household. Because they should be the ones staying at home, things like cleaning, taking care of the kids, and similar tasks fall to them.

  • Masculinity

The idea of masculinity is a stereotype imposed on men, as they are expected to be strong, muscular, and tall. Personality-wise, this stereotype dictates that men should be dominant and aggressive, never leaving room for more measured or sensible thoughts.

  • Work and aspirations

Men are often expected to occupy hard and public jobs, while women are thought of as being more suited for nurturing jobs. For example, one might think of men as pilots or doctors, while women may be expected to be nurses or teachers.

 Nature versus Nurture debate

To better understand the nature vs. nurture argument, it is imperative to know what each of these terms means.

Nature refers largely to our genetics. It includes the genes we are born with and other hereditary factors that can impact how our personality is formed and influence the way that we develop from childhood through adulthood.

  • Genetic factor

Biological sex is often confused with gender in our society. The two sexes are differentiated as females, who have ovaries and produce eggs, and males, who have testes and produce sperm. In mammals, females typically have XX chromosomes, and males typically have XY chromosomes.

  • Hormonal differences

Researchers have long known that the sex hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone, drive certain differences in behavior between men and women. For example, estrogen prompts maternal behavior, while testosterone drives aggressive, territorial behavior in males.

  • Brain differences between men and women:

On average, male brains are about 10% larger than female brains. 

Nurture encompasses the environmental factors that impact who we are. This includes our early childhood experiences, the way we were raised, our social relationships, and the surrounding culture.

The social construction of traditional gender roles

“The meaning of the word ‘gender’ has evolved and differentiated from the word ‘sex’ to express the reality that women’s and men’s roles and status are socially constructed and subject to change.”

(Judith butler)
  • Structural Functionalism

The functionalist perspective sees society as a complex system. This approach looks at society through a macro-level orientation, which is a broad focus on the social structures that shape society as a whole and looks at both social structure and social functions. The functionalist perspective of gender inequality was most robustly articulated in the 1940s and 1950s, and largely developed by Talcott Parsons’ model of the nuclear family (husband, wife and their children). A structural functionalist view of gender inequality applies the division of labor to view predefined gender roles: women take care of the home while men provide for the family.

  • Conflict Theory

According to conflict theory, society is defined by a struggle for dominance among social groups that compete for scarce resources. In the context of gender, conflict theory argues that gender is best understood as men attempting to maintain power and privilege to the detriment of women. Therefore, men can be seen as the dominant group ad women as the subordinate group. While certain gender roles may have been appropriate in a hunter-gatherer society, conflict theorists argue that the only reason these roles persist is that the dominant group naturally works to maintain their power and status. According to conflict theory, social problems are created when dominant groups exploit or oppress subordinate groups. The conflict between the two groups caused things like the Women’s Suffrage Movement and was responsible for social change.

  • Feminist Theory

Feminist theory is the extension of feminism into theoretical or philosophical discourse. It aims to understand the nature of gender inequality, and examines women’s social roles, experiences, and interests. While generally providing a critique of social relations, much of feminist theory also focuses on analyzing gender inequality and the promotion of women’s interests. Radical feminism, in particular, evaluates the role of the patriarchy in perpetuating male dominance. In patriarchal societies, the male’s perspective and contributions are considered more valuable, resulting in the silencing and marginalization of the woman. Feminism focuses on the theory of patriarchy as a system of power that organizes society into a complex of relationships based on the assertion of male supremacy.

  • Gender Performative theory

Influenced by Austin, philosopher, and gender theorist Judith Butler argued that gender is socially constructed. Gender performativity is a term first used by the feminist philosopher Judith Butler in her 1990 book Gender Trouble. She argues that being born male or female does not determine behaviour. Instead, people learn to behave in particular ways to fit into society. The idea of gender is an act, or performance.

  • Social learning theory

Social learning theory (SLT) explains behaviour through observation and copying. A child may exhibit gender-specific behaviours due to copying role models of the same sex, such as their older siblings.

Bandura went on and described five processes that took part when gender was developed through social learning:

1- Observation: For social learning to occur, the behaviour must be observed.
2- Attention: Then, the individual needs to pay attention to his/her role model’s behavior.
3- Retention: Then, the individual would need to encode and retain the gender-appropriate behavior.
4- Reproduction: The individual would need to replicate gender-appropriate behavior.
5- Motivation: Lastly, some kind of reinforcement would need to take place for the individual to be motivated to continue the behavior.


Masculinity is seen to be the trait that emphasizes ambition, acquisition of wealth, and differentiated gender roles. While femininity is seen to be the trait that stresses caring and nurturing behaviors, sexuality equality, environmental awareness, and more fluid gender roles. Both of these are socially acquired phenomena. Men are considered more assertive in nature while women are assumed to be fragile. Masculinity and femininity carry different meanings in society. As a result, different gender roles are associated with each gender. Contemporarily, there is debate in gender studies that whether these roles are the result of nature or culture. According to many cultural theorists, gender construction begins at an early age through a process called socialization. Gender roles are the result of this socialization. For instance, a father who disallows his son from coddling dolls or, worse, berates him for it, will push the son toward the internalization of masculinity from a young age. At the same time, the encouragement of a girl for playing mother and pushing her doll around in a stroller demonstrates how girls from a very young age are pushed toward idealizing a domestic and feminized lifestyle. Hence these traditional roles are the outcome of socialization.

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