Are Gender Roles Holding You Back From Love?
Here’s a radical thought: Suppose, just suppose, that most of the personality characteristics associated with men and women are culturally determined, not the result of biology. Then further suppose that all those vast differences between the sexes and the resulting communication gap, are exaggerated. What if men and women are really far more alike than different?
While I am not suggesting the end of gender, there is strong evidence from research in sociology and neurobiology that culturally acceptable male and female behavior is much more about social norms than biology. Decades ago, in my own psychoanalytic training, I was taught that, because men’s sexual organs were outside their bodies and women’s were inside, men were innately more aggressive and women more passive. Even as a young, untutored therapist this sounded like B.S. What about breasts? They stick right out there on a woman’s chest! How did the theory of female passivity account for that, Dr. Freud?
In 2005, Janet Hyde, PhD, published a famous meta-analytic review of research on gender and sexuality called the Gender Similarities Hypothesis. Dr. Hyde, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, tested the Gender Differences Model, which maintains that women and men are profoundly different biologically and psychologically, by examining two decades’ worth of gender studies, 46 in all. Her findings? A person’s gender had little or no impact on most psychological traits, including aggression and passivity.
Dr. Hyde went on to point out that men and women have been taught they come from “different planets,” and therefore speak different languages. Unfortunately, she says, these ideas are so widely disseminated that they become self-fulfilling: Men learn that they’re poor communicators and inept with emotions, so they clam up and thus “prove” it. Women are taught they aren’t destined for leadership, so they put the brakes on at a safe distance and settle for something more in keeping with their “natural” talents (like nurturing). When you consider the huge toll these beliefs have taken on the personal and professional lives of both women and men, you just might feel that it’s time for a change. I do.
Back in the 1940s and 50s, the Alpha Male-Beta Female combination wasseen as the ideal couple. They complemented each other: he, the dominant breadwinner, she, the deferential stay-at-home wife and mother, embodied by June Cleaver and other idealized 1950s housewives. In an upwardly mobile postwar economy, these gender roles provided stability for the nuclear family. But those culturally defined norms for women became soconfining, so unfulfilling, that by the 1960s women were rebelling againstsuch a narrow definition of femininity, and the women’s movement gathered momentum.
Still, despite the vast changes since then, the Alpha male is still mythologized as the most virile and desirable male. Beta males—their thoughtful, collaborative, responsible brothers–are still getting a lackluster score on the manhood scale. Alpha women have been caricatured as pushy, bitchy, and unfeminine, while the old-fashioned submissive Beta woman conjures a powerful nostalgia. Even after their expiration date, these unfortunate stereotypes have had an amazing shelf life. As long as we still buy into them, we perpetuate distorted views of ourselves that lead to making unhealthy romantic choices.
I propose that we look at personality characteristics on an Alpha/Beta spectrum that applies to both genders. Some men are Alpha, but so are some women, and there are plenty of Betas in both genders. We should see ourselves as individuals, not stereotyped by culturally determined “male”and “female” characteristics.
If you’re dealing with difficult relationship issues in the 21st century (and who isn’t?), take the Alpha/Beta Personality Quiz to pinpoint your own personality and relationship strengths and weaknesses. This quiz could be incredibly helpful for people seeking a deeper understanding of themselves and their choices – for those looking for a partner who’s their best match!
Excerpted from “The Alpha Woman Meets Her Match: How Today’s Strong Women Can Find Love and Happiness Without Settling,” by Sonya Rhodes, PhD, with Susan Schneider. Copyright © 2014 by Sonya Rhodes, PhD, and Susan Schneider. Reprinted by arrangement with William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
Dr. Sonya Rhodes is a psychotherapist and expert on marital and family relationships. She is the co-author of four books. Her next book, co-authored with Susan Schneider, “The Alpha Woman Meets Her Match: How Strong Women Can Find Love, Success and Happiness Without Settling” (William Morrow), will publish on April 15, 2014.
Susan Schneider is a writer living in New York City. The “Alpha Woman Meets Her Match” is her third book written with Dr. Sonya Rhodes. Susan published her first novel, “The Wedding Writer,” in 2011, and is working on her second novel.