Gender Ideologies as Complex Social Forces

  • Deborah Rotman
Part of the Contributions To Global Historical Archaeology book series (CGHA)


To say that gendered social relations are complex would be to profoundly understate the dynamism of the human experience. The ways in which individuals understand their roles as gendered beings and their relationships to other gendered beings is constantly pushed and pulled by forces both internal and external to the individual and the family/social/economic unit to which they belong at multiple scales from the household to the community to the nation. Identity, sexuality, cultural prescriptions, socioeconomic class, ethnic heritage, life cycle, and other dimensions of the cultural milieus of human agents create tensions between societal structures, gender ideals, and individual choices that require continual negotiation, interpretation, and implementation. Although challenging for scholars who seek to understand these social relations, these complexities are precisely why gender is an endlessly fascinating subject for study.

During the mid-eighteenth through the early twentieth centuries, there were a number of ideologies that shaped gendered social relations in the eastern United States – including republican motherhood, the cult of domesticity, equal rights feminism, domestic reform, and many others. These ideologies can be imagined as a kaleidoscope, “a tubular optical instrument in which loose bits of colored glass at the end of the tube are reflected in mirrors so as to display ever-changing symmetrical patterns as the tube is rotated; a continually shifting pattern, scene, or the like” (Random House 2001:677). Each gender ideology was defined as a discrete entity, a bit of colored glass, yet when intersected or overlapped with another, a new entity was created.


Gender Role Gender Relation Gender Ideology Colored Glass Cultural Milieu 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Deborah Rotman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of Notre DameNotre DameUSA

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