WHAT ARE GENDER ROLES FOR SEXUALITY?
Gender roles for sexuality are based on a heterosexual model and are consistent with a belief in the biological explanation. Gender roles prescribe an active, agentic, autonomous sexuality for men based on a sexual identity associated with characteristics of assertiveness, dominance, power, and insistence (Lott, 1987). Gender roles for women prescribe a reactive sexuality in which women’s sexual response is a potential that is waiting to be released by the agentic action of her male partner. If one likens a woman’s body to a harp and her male partner to a harpist, then her sexuality is the music that is produced when he plays on her. Before he does so, it is a potential with no independent existence. Thus, there is no societally appropriate autonomous sexuality for women. This lack is justified in the biological explanation by the fact that women are assumed to have a weak biological sexual drive. If one goes outside the accepted expectations for women, there is the option for women to play the masculine gender role for sexuality as the bad girl of pornography. Although exciting, this woman is perceived as damaging and ruinous to men and society at large. She is ruinous to men because she leads them away from their selfinterests and social obligations. She is ruinous more generally because she fails to perform the caretaking of children and men that is the central characteristic of the female gender role. Fear of women’s unchecked sexuality thus justifies the accepted gender expectations for no autonomous sexuality at all for women. It should be noted that although an agentic sexual identity is defined for men, cultural expectations for men’s sexuality are nevertheless rigid. Therefore, men’s sexual identity is stereotyped and not individualized.
These stereotypic gender expectations for sexuality coincide perfectly with more global gender expectations. It is a stereotypic global gender expectation for women to care for the physical and emotional needs of men (Gallant, Coons, & Morokoff, 1994). Just as women are emotional and physical caretakers for men, they also serve as sexual caretakers. It is very convenient that they have no autonomous sexuality, because autonomous sexual needs would interfere with women’s ability to care for men’s sexual needs. It is, therefore, women’s responsibility—codified in marriage vows—to take care of men’s sexual needs. Stereotypic gender expectations say that if men are hungry, sad, sexually aroused, and so forth, it is women’s responsibility to attend to their needs. Thus women should not refuse sex to their legal partners. The biological explanation justifies this by the fact that men’s sex drive is stronger than women’s and the preservation of the species depends on it. An alternative, relational view indicates that men operate in relationships from a societally dictated position of power and use that power to have women meet their needs. If violated, men’s social standing as men is lessened.
Another expectation is that women are gatekeepers who are held responsible for any sexual activity that occurs, even if they have no physical way to stop it. Gender roles for sexuality prescribe that women are sexually passive and, because of their passive objectivity, at the same time act as sexual gatekeepers (see McCormick, Brannigan, & LaPlante, 1984). This means that women are traditionally expected to not take the sexual initiative and are expected to prevent unwanted sexual activities from occurring. It is considered appropriate for men to initiate sex as often as they would like and to try to get partners to engage in desired sexual activities. It is the traditional obligation of women to both provide sexual satisfaction to husbands and to set limits on inappropriate sexual behaviors requested by husbands and other partners. Since men are strongly sexually motivated according to the dominant explanation, they are unable to control their sexual urges, hence the need for external controls imposed by women.
The biological explanation does not presume that men have greater power to get their way sexually than women except potentially as a result of greater physical strength. Therefore, it is not problematic to assume that women will be able to effectively exercise this gatekeeping option unless physically overpowered. As the gender with the weaker sex drive (but equal sexual power), it thus makes sense that women should simply stop men if they go too far sexually. Men should initiate sex; women should submit to sex or refuse sex. The biological explanation also asserts that it is not a gender role to be the initiator but rather that this behavior flows from the natural order in which men desire sex more than women. If women initiate sex, then men may be troubled by the need to perform sexually when they do not want to.
Women who do initiate sex play the role of the bad girl. Thus, inherent internal inconsistency of the dominant explanation is apparent because it is also clear that a social role open to women is the bad girl who does not conform to traditional gender expectations and is sexually aggressive. This role is standard fare in pornography and also represents a threat to conventional society. Men are sexually experienced and can demonstrate their sexual prowess by sexually satisfying women. Women can do the same for men when they play the role of bad girl.