Anthropological studies of cultures require a consideration of cultural phenomena from different perspectives. An understanding of what culture entails cannot be effectively comprehensible without an exploration of the context within which that culture is found. Anthropological perspectives rely on historical information about a culture to determine the relevance of a particular practice within that cultural context. One essential cultural feature across the world is gender roles. In each culture, there are particularly defined gender roles, which form the basis of all gender stereotypes in the culture. Etic and emic considerations of such gender stereotypes provide insights into attributes of gender perspectives that one cannot understand otherwise. The complete anthropological analysis of a culture takes both perspectives into consideration, to come up with holistic cultural evaluations and reports. The holistic cultural perception can help shape cultural relativism as a substitute to the ethnocentrism that is commonly attributed to an entirely emic view of a culture. The African American culture for instance, has many gender perceptions that have been shaped by the history of that specific society, as well as a combination of factors in community’s contemporary living.
In this section, the African American culture pertaining to gender roles and stereotypes is examined. The etic perspective to culture describes a culture from a foreigner’s perspective, which may seem foreign to the insiders yet provides an opportunity for comparison with other cultures. The core foundation of cultural relativism is the perception that no culture is more important or more worthwhile than the others (Jardine 261). Contrarily, cultural relativism places each cultural practice within the context of its historical and contemporary social structures. A culture cannot be complete without its context hence the need for an etic consideration of cultures. The etic analysis focuses on specific cultural elements and how they fit in within the larger cultural sphere in relation to other cultures that one may not understand as much (Jardine 262). The etic perspective is best described as cultural interpretations that present cultural happenings from a general perspective or from general social phenomena that can be borrowed from one society to another. The African American perception of gender roles and stereotypes provides a perfect example of the relevance of culture to its context.
The social role theory best explains different cultures from the perspective of social standing and behaviors. Abrams posits that in social systems, men and women behave in different ways depending on societal expectations which vary from home, the workplace and other social situations (9). Gender roles for instance, are a reflection of what the society expects of men and women in the community. While discussing gender roles, the consideration of social contexts within which they occur is essential. Gender roles are universal and can be generalized from one culture to the other depending on the exact scenario of analysis. The African American woman for instance, is perceived to be strong. The expectation that they are emotionally strong automatically leads to the obligation to appear both emotionally and physically strong. In such a culture, the social role theory takes into consideration the importance of gender roles and also explains that the roles are intricate and can be influenced by the social contexts within which people find themselves. Cultural sharing across diverse backgrounds results in the formation of beliefs and stereotypes as well as behavior shaping through gender roles.
From an etic perspective, the African American culture on gender roles appears strange. Most of the societies in the West practice explicit masculinity or femininity. Men are expected to be hardworking, independent and generally providers to their families. The picture of the African woman as stronger than the African American man draws a chord that can only be fully understood through an insider’s lens. The claims that African American women are strong is explored by multiple researchers who purport that the expectation that these women ought to be strong, results in a suppression of emotional hurt, hence giving the women a characteristic that is distinct from self disclosure (Jardine 273). The etic perspective places the African American gender roles culture in the context of the contemporary social gender roles theory that can be generalized to a wide range of perspectives. In the context of this theory, historical links between the African American society and factors such as slavery can be used to explain the requisition for strength among African American women. With the disconnection of family ties that was prevalent during slavery, women were most likely expected to be independent as they did not live together as whole families hence could not be assured of consistent support from the men. To an insider evaluating the African American culture with reference to gender roles, the historical happenings surrounding the need for strength may not be exactly clear.
While cultural knowledge founded on etic perspectives consider interpretations and knowledge that exist outside the culture, the emic interpretations focus on knowledge that exists within the culture. Local customs, meanings and beliefs are best described by natives of that culture. The expectation that African American women are strong and obliged to provide support and care to others is definitely one of the features that can only be entirely understood from this emic perspective (Jardine 270). Motivations towards specific gender roles and inclinations towards particular gender stereotypes are fostered by the existence of certain social precepts that define gender socialization.
In the African American society, two elements particularly stand out in reference to gender roles and stereotypes. Females in the African American society are considered strong, resilient in spite of individualized historical injustices and with good health and inclination to help others. The reflection of the black woman as the super woman forms the basis of the strong black woman (SBW) perception, which defines the black women as capable of superseding challenges (Jones, Buque and Miville 451). In the African American society, the role of women is defined by their positions in the families as the support systems for the families as well as their roles in their communities. The view of the SBW has led to multiple research studies aimed at examining the attributes of the SBW in resisting vulnerability, suppressing emotions and determination to succeed among others.
The SBW is defined from a cultural and historical perspective based on the concepts of gender socialization and the general expectations of black women. According to Abrams (16) the SBW is expected to exhibit exceptional resilience, high expectations and strong will. Traditional African American settings trained young and adolescent girls to shun dependence, build strength and refrain from showing weaknesses in the face of tribulations. These expectations are contrary to those associated with the male gender, which point more towards weakness and lower general expectations. To an outsider, the strength of the African woman relative to that of the African American women draws attention to underlying practices in the culture such as gender socialization. Elders in African American communities generally make it clear to women that they have higher survival opportunities with greater resilience and strength. Gender ideologies among young African Americans indicate that parents have lower expectations of their boys relative to what they expect of girls in terms of emotional strength. Compared to other cultures, the African American gender stereotypes signify more of a masculine society than a feminine one in the sense that the society is characterized by competition and the challenge for success. Those who are naturally predisposed to compete (males) are not obliged to develop intrinsic strength. On the other hand, those who have higher natural vulnerability to weakness are pushed to develop notable emotional and physical strength. Other gender socialization ideologies exhibited among African American women include economic productivity, independence and caretaking.
Cultural exploration requires a holistic consideration of various elements that constitute a particular culture. From an anthropological perspective, social constructs are functions of several social phenomena that take place across a particular temporal and spatial regime. For the African American society, gendered roles explored from an etic perspective reveal the interesting perception of culture as driven by the social roles theory, which can be generalized across all cultures. On the other hand, the emic perspective explores the concept of gender roles in the African American culture through consideration of the different perspectives to the culture. The most impactful view of the culture was based on the consideration of gender socialization as the contributing factor to specific gender stereotypes.
Abrams, Jasmine. “Blurring the lines of traditional gender roles: beliefs of African American women.” VCU Scholars Compass, 2012. scholarscompass.vcu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3781&context=etd. Accessed 26 November 2018.
Jardine, Nick. “Etics and emics (not to mention anemics and emetics) in the history of the sciences.” History of Science, vol. 42, no. 3, 2004, pp. 261- 278. journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/007327530404200301?legid=sphos%3B42%2F3%2F261&patientinform-links=yes#articleCitationDownloadContainer. Accessed 26 November 2018.
Jones, Martinque K., Buque, Mariel and Miville, Marie L. “African American gender roles: a content analysis of empirical research from 1981 to 2017.” Journal of Black Psychology, vol. 44, no. 5, 2018, pp. 450-486. journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0095798418783561?journalCode=jbpa#articleCitationDownloadContainer. Accessed 26 November 2018.