What Is Social Role Theory in Gender?


Diego Sanchez

Social Role Theory is an essential theory that explains the differences in behavior between men and women. The theory states that the differences are a result of the roles individuals play in society.

These roles are shaped by social norms and expectations. In this article, we’ll delve into social role theory in gender to understand its concept better.

What is Social Role Theory?

Social Role Theory is a framework that explains how gender roles are created, maintained, and enforced through socialization. It suggests that men and women behave differently because they occupy different positions within society. These positions or roles are defined by cultural norms and expectations.

According to the theory, individuals shape their behaviors based on the expectations associated with their respective roles. For instance, men are expected to be competitive and assertive while women are expected to be nurturing and caring. As a result, men tend to exhibit more aggressive behaviors while women tend to exhibit more passive ones.

Origins of Social Role Theory

Social Role Theory was first proposed by Alice Eagly and Valerie Steffen in 1984. The theory was developed as a response to the biological determinism theories that suggested that differences between men and women were innate.

Eagly and Steffen argued that biological factors cannot fully explain gender differences because they do not account for the variability in behavior across cultures. They suggested that socialization plays a significant role in shaping behavior.

The Impact of Social Roles on Gender

Social roles have a significant impact on gender because they define what it means to be masculine or feminine within a given society. These roles include attitudes, behaviors, values, beliefs, and norms associated with each gender.

For instance, boys are often encouraged to participate in sports while girls are encouraged to participate in dance or cheerleading. Such activities reinforce traditional gender roles where boys are expected to be tough and aggressive while girls are expected to be graceful and passive.

The Role of Socialization in Gender

Socialization is the process by which individuals learn the norms, values, and behaviors associated with their respective cultures. It begins at an early age and continues throughout life.

Children learn gender roles through a process called gender socialization. They acquire attitudes, beliefs, and values associated with their gender through interactions with parents, peers, and the media.

The Role of Media in Gender Roles

Media plays a significant role in shaping gender roles by portraying men and women in stereotypical ways. For instance, advertisements often portray women as homemakers while men are portrayed as breadwinners.

Such representations reinforce traditional gender roles where women are expected to be nurturing while men are expected to be providers. As a result, the media has a significant impact on how individuals perceive themselves and others.


Social Role Theory explains how social norms and expectations shape our behavior based on our respective gender roles. It suggests that masculine or feminine behaviors are not innate but rather learned through socialization.

Understanding Social Role Theory is crucial for creating a more equitable society where individuals are not limited by their gender roles. By recognizing the influence of socialization on behavior, we can work towards breaking down traditional gender stereotypes and creating a society where everyone has equal opportunities irrespective of their gender.