The concept of “gender identity” refers to our sexual-image. Biological differences between men and women contribute to the development of “gender identity”, which refers to the self-concepts of a person being male or female. Human beings learn this gender-identity at a very early age. Generally, a child learns that she is a girl or he is a boy between the ages of 18 months and 3 years.
The concept of ‘gender ideals’ refers to the cultural expectations woven around male and female behaviour. Gender ideals reveal what men and women are supposed to be like in a particular context.
For example, in our Indian society, men are expected to be actively engaged in some good job, confident, courageous, responsible, respectful, helpful, and so on. Similarly, women are expected to be very affectionate, tolerant, obedient, loyal, dutiful, hospitable, service minded, loving, more committed to family than to their personal career, and so on. These ideals are of course, fast changing.
The concept of ‘sex roles’ which represents the fourth component of sexual identity, includes division of labour, rights and responsibilities according to sex. During the early days sex roles were clearly laid down.
For example, men went out of their homes and worked for wages to support their family members. On the contrary, women confined themselves to homes, worked in them, looked after children and other domestic affairs. But today, like gender ideals, sex roles are also undergoing fast transformation.
As N.J. Smelser points out, the four components mentioned above usually function in a harmonious manner. For example, a biological female feels like a woman and her feelings may be in tune with the cultural definition of womanhood.
The woman in this context is prepared to take on the roles and responsibilities that have been traditionally associated with her sex. It is to be noted that this assumption may not hold true always. Sometimes, peoples’ biological sex may not agree with their gender identity.
It is also possible that a person’s gender identity may not often fit the gender ideal. An individual may feel comfortable as a biological male but uncomfortable behaving according to cultural expectations for men. Further, an individual’s sex role [that is, his rights and responsibilities] may not often match the society’s gender ideals.
For example, in modern times, it is not uncommon to find women working as police officers, military personnel, bus conductors, auto rickshaw drivers, firefighters, and so on. These sex roles do not fit traditional gender ideals.