Gender Roles as a Social Force
One can better understand the historical oppression of women by considering three social factors
throughout the world’s history: religion, tradition, and labor-based economic supply and
demand. In almost all of the world’s major religions (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism,
Judaism, and many others) very clear distinctions have been made about Gender Roles, or
socialized expectations of what is normal, desirable, acceptable, and conforming for males and
females in specific jobs or positions in groups and organizations over the life course. These
gender roles have very specific meanings for the daily lives and activities of males and females
who live under the religious cultures in nations throughout history and even in our day. The
Book of Leviticus in the Judeao-Christian Old Testament has many biological rituals based
specifically on Womens’ hygiene.
A close friend of mine performed her Master’s thesis in Ancient Near East Studies on the
reproductive hygiene rituals described in the book of Leviticus (see Is God a Respecter of
Persons? : another look at the purity laws in Leviticus / Anne M. Adams , 2000 in BYU Library
Holdings). In brief, she found no modern-day scientific support for these religious rituals on
female’s health nor on their reproduction. Her conclusion was that these were religious codes of
conduct, not biologically-based scientifically beneficial codes.
Many ancient writings in religions refer to the flaws of females, their reproductive
disadvantages, their temperament, and the rules that should govern them in the religious
community. Please don’t get me wrong, if it sounds like I’m bashing religious beliefs, I’m not.
In fact many current religious doctrines have transformed as society’s values of gender equality
have emerged. I am also a fan of religious worship and participation in whatsoever religion a
person chooses to follow. My point is that throughout history, religions were a dominant social
force in many nations and the religious doctrines, like the cultural values, often placed women in
a subjugated role to men at a number of different levels.
The second social force is tradition. Traditions can be and have been very harsh toward women.
Look at Table 3 below which shows a scale of the outcomes of oppression toward women that
have and currently do exist somewhere in the world. I have always found it remarkable that even
though the average woman outlives the average man by 3 years worldwide and 7 years in
developed countries, there are still a few countries where cultural and social oppression literally