Gender is one of the most important sociological concepts that are also actively discussed in the context of religion. In modern society, the distribution of gender roles is a controversial question because of the appearance of such issues as shifts in masculinity and femininity, same-sex relationships, and transgenderism among others.
According to Woodhead (2013), it is possible to speak about two extremes while discussing gender in relation to religion. On the one hand, researchers support the ‘gender-blindness’ of religion, and on the other hand, religion is one of the constructions that determine gender roles strictly (Woodhead, 2013). From this point, gender can be viewed as a concept that is not accentuated in the field of religion because all people are equal before God.
Still, gender inequality is often regarded as one of the most promoted ideas in the context of conservative religious views focused on the dominant position of a male in society. As a result, it is possible to speak about a certain conflict in a society based on gender inequality. Although researchers can note that religion is ‘gender-blinded,’ the traditional approach to viewing gender roles is based on religious dogmas, and it is associated with the idea of inequality and principles of Conflict Theory.
Religion and Gender Roles
According to the religious principles typical of Christianity and Islam among other world religions, social roles are distributed with reference to the person’s sex that is normally corresponds with gender as a social construction. Woodhead (2013) states that religion plays a key role in determining “systematic structural inequalities between men and women as the basis of sex/gender difference” (p. 60).
In addition, religion is the force that accentuates sex and gender differences and contributes to distributing roles according to masculine and feminine qualities. As a result, it is possible to speak about gender inequality in society as the consequence of the spread of traditional religious dogmas.
Woodhead (2013) supports the idea that religion “can be integral to the existing gender order, and can serve to reproduce and legitimate gender inequality for those who practice the religion and those who fall within its penumbra” (p. 62). The strict difference between sex and gender roles typical of Christianity among other religions explains why religious persons are inclined to divide into two opposing camps: those who support same-sex relationships and marriages in the context of religion and those who oppose them.
In this context, the people who cannot identify themselves with their sex or prefer same-sex relationships and regard themselves as religious persons can experience not only stress and anxiety but also the social pressure because certain gender roles are actively promoted and accepted in the society (Johnson, 2012; Vandersall, 2013).
In addition, religion can be discussed as a source of stereotypes regarding male and female roles that prevent people from coping with ideas regarding domination and subordination in the society. Still, opponents of shifts in genders and same-sex relationships discuss them as the direct violation of religious norms according to which people are born having a certain sex and their gender and roles are determined by it (Johnson, 2012). The variety of interpretations related to such a controversial questions creates the grounds for the conflict.
Gender Roles from the Perspective of Conflict Theory
Conflict Theory is based on the idea that the society is divided into dominant and subordinate groups of people whose interactions are associated with protecting interests of this or that group, and such relationships lead to the development of a conflict (Christiano, Swatos, & Kivisto, 2015). In relation to the concept of gender, Conflict Theory explains the reasons for gender inequality in the society. Males are traditionally regarded as the dominant force in the society, and this view is also reflected in the religious texts.
On the contrary, the social roles of females are determined with reference to their subordinate position in the society. From this perspective, males have more power, and their positions are often leading. Still, the problem is in the fact that women often do not agree with their roles and positions, and they are inclined to fight for the equal distribution of roles and social rights (Johnson, 2012).
While referring to religion, it is also possible to state that it reinforces such inequality and can provoke the development of the conflict. The society that is built on the principles of the conflict between genders requires the support for the role distribution presented in the form of religious beliefs. Contemporary examples that support the presence of a conflict in the concept of gender roles are changes in sexual roles of women and men, transgenderism, and changes in social roles of males and females associated with women’s masculine behaviors and goals to take leading positions in the society.
The situation according to which dominant males chose to limit the rights of females resulted in the women’s struggles for their freedoms and interests. However, according to the principles of Conflict Theory, this situation also led to affecting the overall balance in the society in terms of gender roles. The social understanding of genders can be changed with reference to the idea that sexes cannot be discussed as grounds for genders and people can have different social and sexual identities without reference to their sex (Johnson, 2012).
As a result, today, authorities try to address the changes in the social vision of the gender roles’ distribution while connecting biological sexes and genders for the purpose of maintaining the balance. However, the society has changed significantly, and many people discuss such attempts as violations of rights of those people who are diverse in terms of their sexuality and identity (McLaughlin & Berlinger, 2016). It is also important to state that the conflict associated with the distribution of gender roles in the society became also associated with supporting ideas of tolerance and liberation promoted by those persons who see the current gender inequality as a problem from the social and religious perspectives.
Relationship of Gender Roles to Conflict, Socialization, and Media
The discussion of the problem of gender roles and gender inequality with reference to the framework of Conflict Theory allows for speaking about the relationship between such concepts as ‘gender’ and ‘conflict’. The society is oriented to determining certain roles for males and females while using the knowledge regarding traditions, cultures, and religious principles (Christiano et al., 2015).
However, the direct division of roles into dominant and subordinate creates the background for the conflict development. The problem becomes even more influential when expected gender roles are correlated with the person’s sex and religious views, but they are not correlated with the individual’s sexuality (Muchina, 2013). Therefore, while discussing the problem of gender, it is almost impossible to ignore the associated conflict in interpreting gender roles.
Socialization is another concept that is directly related to the notion of gender. According to Woodhead (2013), “individuals are socialized into sex roles in childhood,” but “sex/gender differences are continually negotiated throughout the life-course, in a process which is active as well as passive” (p. 58). From this point, when a child is born, he or she has the biological sex, and this child is brought up according to the gender roles typical of this sex.
However, the process of accepting his or her gender and inheriting roles associated with it can be lifelong. This process can be discussed as socialization that is directly related to gender. In order to behave in accordance with gender expectations, it is necessary to learn these roles (Johnson, 2012). However, when gender roles are not accepted by an individual or the process of socialization is not successful, it is possible to speak about the inner conflict.
One of the main sources that inform persons about expected gender roles or religious dogmas are media that can play the key role in the individual’s socialization. Media are directly related to gender because they traditionally demonstrate the social expectations regarding roles, as well as desired and accepted behaviors (Christiano et al., 2015). However, modern media are inclined to demonstrate the variety of choices that can be made by people in terms of their social or gender roles. As a result, it is possible to speak about the significant pressure that is experienced by people who have problems with identifying their gender roles, suffer from internal conflicts, and who are on their socialization path.
Gender roles and gender inequality are problems that can be discussed from many perspectives. While interpreting gender roles in the religious context, it is possible to observe the tendency of avoiding the accentuation of genders. Still, there is also an opposite tendency, according to which gender roles are determined in religious texts strictly, and many believers expect that people should focus on these roles.
From this point, males perform dominant roles, their positions in the society can be discussed as higher, and females perform subordinate roles. In addition, there is no single idea regarding the evaluation of the tendency to shift gender roles or declare homosexuality and transgenderism. These problems are also explained with reference to Conflict Theory. If the society is based on the strict division between gender roles, it is possible to expect the development of the conflict between those persons who have higher and lower positions.
Furthermore, the question of gender roles and associated inequality can also be discussed while focusing on such social concepts as socialization and media in addition to the studied conflicts. Socialization is an important process in order to learn gender roles and the public’s expectations. When socialization indicates the individual’s unwillingness to associate oneself with the certain gender, it is possible to concentrate on the inner conflict. This painful process can also be provoked by religious ideas that are adopted in this or that community. Moreover, media also play the key role in order to demonstrate what gender roles are accepted in the certain society. As a result, the question of gender roles is controversial and requires its discussion from the perspective of Conflict Theory.
Christiano, K. J., Swatos, W. H., & Kivisto, P. (2015). Sociology of religion: Contemporary developments. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield.
Johnson, W. S. (2012). A time to embrace: Same-sex relationships in religion, law, and politics. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.
McLaughlin, E. C., & Berlinger, J. (2016). North Carolina, U.S., square off over transgender rights.
Muchina, P. (2013, August 5). What is God’s gender agenda? The Huffington Post.
Vandersall, M. (2013, May 5). Learning to tell my gay, Christian story. The Huffington Post.
Woodhead, L. (2013). Gender differences in religious practice and significance. International Advances in Engineering and Technology, 13(1), 58-85.