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Kendra Brown

Equal but Different: The Ways in which Religion Shapes Gender Role Ideologies for Young Men
and Women



















Individuals with religious ties are more likely to adhere to traditional gender role
ideologies and possess traits, attributes, and behaviors expected of their gender. While at first this
observation seems harmless, a closer look at how religion shapes gender role ideologies for
young men and women reveals a less than progressive outcome for young women. In many cases
the influence of religion on beliefs about gender role ideologies ultimately perpetuates sexism
towards women. Although this sexism is carried out unintentionally its negative impact is
potentially severe. The following examines these impacts with special attention given to young
men and women in college.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, first-time female students
attending four-year institutions earn their bachelors degree at a higher rate than their male peers.
Given the strides made by women over the many decades this fact is not unthinkable. Another
fact less than surprising is the percentage of youth who report to have religious ties (religion is a
rather broad term, but here and throughout the following the term religion refers mainly to
Christianity, Catholicism, and Protestant). Among the population of youth in the U.S. 95%
declare a belief in God while 75% claim that they try to uphold the values of their religion
(Baumbach, Forward, & Hart 2006). Independently these facts are not startling, but the focus lies
in the unique relationship between the two.
Given the number of females attending and graduating from college each year it does not
appear as though religions influence on gender role ideologies is a factor preventing young
women from reaching their full potential in modern U.S. society. Therefore, the reality is that
religious beliefs held by young women do not create a gender role ideology that prevents them
from pursuing and achieving college degrees. However, this does not suggest that religion is
neither without influence nor is it an insignificant aspect of a religious womans life during her
college years. The area most significantly influenced by religion and the pressure to maintain
religious values is the shaping of gender role ideologies. This is true for both young men and
women in college but the outcome of this influence is far less optimal for females than it is for
their male counterparts.
Although a key component of religion and evangelicalism is equality, an observation of
religious communities on college campuses paints a different picture. For instance, a study of the
gender climate in religious communities on college campuses notes that even though religious
communities promote students spiritual and emotional well being while fostering closeness
between peers, female members are not exactly afforded the same level of equality or
opportunity as are male members (Bryant 2006). The disproportion of equality stems from the
subservient roles assigned to women as outlined by religious doctrines (Bryant 2006) and
communities promote students spiritual and emotional well being while fostering closeness
between peers, female members are not exactly afforded the same level of equality or
opportunity as are male members (Bryant 2006). The disproportion of equality stems from the
subservient roles assigned to women as outlined by religious doctrines (Bryant 2006) and
traditional ideologies that suggest men have ultimate authority (Colaner 2009). The subordinate
roles to which women are confined seem particularly unfair when considering the findings of
extensive research carried out by several experts on gender and spirituality and religion. For
example, research shows females are more devout in their religion than their religious male
counterparts (Mullikin 2006; Sheldon & Honeycutt 2011), females show have higher scores on
most measures of spirituality and religion than do men (Baumbach et al. 2006), and spirituality
and religion are discussed more frequently and openly among women because topics such as
these are to some extent more meaningful to women than to men (Baumbach et al. 2006).
The wayward, unbalanced relationship between womens level of commitment to their
religion and the subordinate positions to which they are assigned within their religious
community demonstrates one of the ways in which sexism exists in an evangelical climate. It is
important to uncover not only why paradoxes such as this continue to occur within the confines
of religious environments among modern society, but it is equally important and perhaps more
interesting to explore why these injustices are tolerated, especially by women.
It is likely that young men and women who begin their college career with religious ties
already in place come from religious households and have authoritative parents. Baumbach et al.
found evidence to suggest that children who grow up with religious parents practicing the
authoritative parenting style are more likely to frequently engage in meaningful communication
about religion and have an awareness of their parents spirituality which is likely to result in the
acceptance and identification with their parents religion during late adolescence and into
adulthood (2006). The ongoing exposure and communication revolving around religion lays the
foundation for how and to what extent religion shapes gender ideologies for impressionable
young men and women. As Colaner points out, religious gender role ideologies are absolutely
related to communication patterns within families (2009). Girls are more likely to be
significantly affected by the religious ideologies of their parents due to the fact that parents
religiously socialize their daughters more so than their sons (Mullikin 2006).
Research indicates that individuals who are greatly devoted to their religion are more
compelled to alter their behavior in order to adhere to gender role ideologies set forth by their
religion (Colaner 2009). This assertion by Colaner coupled with findings that suggest women are
more committed to their religion than are men (Sheldon & Honeycutt 2011; Mullikin 2006;
Baumbach et al. 2006) may help to explain why young women readily accept their inferiority to
men within the domains of their religion. In other words, because religious cultures see
submissiveness and eagerness to please as favorable traits for females, women actively conform
to ensure they do not violate the gender norms accepted by their religious community. By now, it
seems that sexism towards women in their religious community continues because women allow
it to happen. In fact, women not only commit themselves to their religious communities but they
also support oppressive gender norms (Bryant 2006). Is this because women do not acknowledge
their treatment as unfair or is it because they do not wish to challenge authority for fear or
reprimand?
Already established is the fact that women willingly conform to gender norms and accept
gender role ideologies as their own in order to uphold the values of their religion. However, what
is not known is whether or not women actually like how they are positioned within their religious
communities. According to Bryant the idea that men and women are somehow created equal but
also created differently at the same time is a belief strongly upheld by male and female
members of a college campus religious organization (2006). Members of this organization also
distinguish between the desires of men and women and infer that a mans desire is to lead while a
womans desire is to be led and when the man assumes his role as the leader the woman should
then assume her role as the encourager and supporter (Bryant 2006). Traditional gender role
ideologies and religious socialization are considered factors that compel women to seek out
dominant male figures (Baumbach et al. 2006), which suggests that women do in fact prefer to
be led rather than lead. During an investigation of the religious climate on college campuses
members of a religious organization provide their universally agreed upon definition of equality
and explain that the term does not mean the same but instead equality means to have the same
value and worth (Bryant 2006). The most crucial piece of evidence to indicate that women do not
merely tolerate sexism but actually help to preserve it, is Bryants finding that women within the
religious organization are significantly more determined than men to maintain traditional gender
value and worth (Bryant 2006). The most crucial piece of evidence to indicate that women do not
merely tolerate sexism but actually help to preserve it, is Bryants finding that women within the
religious organization are significantly more determined than men to maintain traditional gender
role ideologies (2006). It is apparent that women have a strong desire to occupy their current
roles at subordinates and believe by doing so they gain far more than they lose but that is not
necessarily the case.
Young women who conform to religious ideologies do so in an effort to accomplish
several religious goals such as please God (Baumbach et al. 2006) fit in with their peers who
share the same values (Colaner 2009), and to maintain the order of their religion (Bryant 2006).
By doing so, young women successfully meet these goals but it is most often at their own
expense. For instance, young women are not afforded positions of power within the church or
religious organization and are mainly assigned auxiliary roles secondary to men (Bryant 2006).
Gender role ideologies even influence the decision making process when it comes to women
working outside the home (Colaner 2009), in fact the influence is so significant that young
women approaching college graduation find themselves already contemplating forgoing a career
in order to become a stay at home wife and mother (Bryant 2006). Should these young women
continue to uphold their religious values in their marriage, they are expected to remain
submissive and compliant with their husband as well as their male superiors within the church
(Bryant 2006; Colaner 2009).
In many cases these young women are socialized at an early age in a religious
atmosphere where they are encouraged to be obedient, modest, and devout in their religion
(Baumbach et al. 2006). Upon reaching late adolescence these young women begin college and
continue their spirituality all the while becoming more religiously socialized with their religious
peer group, which results in the strengthening of their evangelical beliefs (Mullikin 2006) and
the motivation to adhere to traditional gender role ideologies (Colaner 2009). Although these
religious young women are more likely to graduate from college than are their secular peers
(Mullikin 2006) the presence of religion and act of maintaining traditional gender role ideologies
creates for them a slightly oppressive existence. By choosing this existence these young women
unknowingly cultivate and foster a climate that imposes on women unfair treatment, limited
opportunity, and ultimately sexism.




















References
Baumbach, K., Forward, G. L., & Hart, D. (2006). Communication and parental influence on late
adolescent spirituality. Journal of Communication & Religion, 29(2), 394-420.
Bryant, A. N. (2006). Assessing the gender climate of an evangelical student subculture in the
United States. Gender & Education, 18(6), 613-634.
Colaner, C. (2009). Exploring the communication of evangelical families: the association
between evangelical gender role ideology and family communication patterns.
Communication Studies, 60(2), 97-113.
Mullikin, P. (2006). Religious and spiritual identity: the impact of gender, family, peers and
media communication in post-adolescence. Journal of Communication & Religion, 29(1),
between evangelical gender role ideology and family communication patterns.
Communication Studies, 60(2), 97-113.
Mullikin, P. (2006). Religious and spiritual identity: the impact of gender, family, peers and
media communication in post-adolescence. Journal of Communication & Religion, 29(1),
178-203.
Sheldon, P., & Honeycutt, J. (2011). Impact of gender and religiosity on forgiving
Communication. Journal of Communication & Religion, 34(1), 59-74.