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Right. Good evening. Tonight we continue our series woman as my topic is role definition has been written recently about preparing children for a society in which the traditional masculine and feminine roles are less rigidly structured. That's what we're going to be talking about with our guest Scott Heidi. She's a behavioral scientist the national president
of NOW National Organization for Women. How much of the conventional male and female passing of behavior do you feel is programmed in early childhood and how much is genetically inherited. Well we can't really measure it but we do know that a good deal of it is programmed and that is the gender learning that is the so called mask in the so-called famine and what we also know is that. For those few children who say have been born biologically as a boy but raised in terms of gender teaching as a girl. And and the reverse in the instance of girls that the gender learning this programming. Is more difficult to reverse or change then changing the biological sex of either the girl or the boy. And that ought to tell us something about the impact. And the influence of this programming or the gender learning
sex differentiation does occur in the brain that there is a different chromosome pack. For a man and. A woman. And how easy is it. Do you think to create a sexual flexibility given this biological fact. Well we won't we won't really know those things that are uniquely and innately Baile and those are innately and uniquely female until such time we reach the point that we do that we cease defining the social and the psychological roles of girls and boys and women and men based on the assumptions that those differences that do exist should make all the difference in terms of the kinds of roles people will play as adults. We are well aware of what the differences are between the sexes but we are also aware that whatever those differences they need
not and indeed we believe should not make all the difference in terms of the life opportunities. The expectations and the kinds of behaviors that are different for me rewarded for boys and girls beginning indeed from the second birth. So the other biological differences for instance menstruation in a woman's gestation lactation impregnation in a man. You feel that these also would not condition us psychologically affect us to such an extent that they would constrict will impede sex accident I think. Yeah that's that's right I think they do make some difference. But but not the kind of difference that make a difference of course in our sexuality. But they do not make the difference in terms of the capacities of individuals to perform any kind of role. Outside of the reproductive area. We know that there's nothing in the world to stop.
The possibilty of a woman doing anything except being a sperm donor. That's the only thing that no woman can do or be qualified to do. Just as we know that there are only two things that no man can do or be qualified to do as far as we know to be a human incubate are or what. Now once we understand that. Then we can begin to raise our children along individually appropriate lines according to individual interests individual aptitudes. And individual inclinations. And this is the sort of thing that. We think is appropriate to begin doing in more ways than we have. Do you think it's necessary to have normal heterosexual behavior. Which the fact that you eliminate as much as you can of this these these trappings these socially acceptable. Well I think it's necessary to heterosexual behavior and indeed homosexual behavior and and for that that behavior that is bisexual
or asexual. We really know very little about the full potential of human sexuality. We know that we've been taught for instance of homosexuality is not normal. Apparently it is for some people. But until we let people free to develop long lines it's compatible with their own nature. It's not somebody else's notion. We really won't know what's natural. Scientists sometimes say that it is dangerous to cross over these sexual boundaries so to speak and try to oppose the natural biological behavior. What do you think of the advantages of doing this. Well first I must note that most of the scientists are men and they have a variable from the usual cultural biases and limitations in their conception and have that or they are women who have to accommodate to these male oriented conceptions. Your question was what were the what are the dangers are they going to the advantages
of actually the question was What are the advantages of crossing over these lines and cultivating more flexible behavior in male whole female. The advantages are enormous I don't think I'd look at it in terms of crossing over the lines because I think the lines are created by people so they can be removed by people the advantages are in terms of the individuality. The fact that we won't have so many people as we do now where there's a benefit is that are not as good as children or as adults trying to conform to a role definition and trying to behave a long way simply because. They are male or female when it is at all odds with their old interests and inclination and aptitudes. So what we are speaking to is the individuality of the child and of the adult. The advantages beyond that in terms of people simply being comfortable
with themselves are in terms of the enormous town the enormous town that we think will be released and the enormous kinds of insights. That we have not yet had it in terms of human behavior and its potential that we are quite sure that we do. We already are beginning to see as we begin to get ravenous doing behavioral research without starting with the lists of the givens or promises that that make the assumption that those things have been normal are indeed those things which are natural and normal natural course are not the same things at all. Well if you want to bring up your child to have more mobility in this primary what age do you have to start about it. Well from the second birth and really before the act in terms of thinking about becoming a parent and thinking about what it would be like to have a girl or to have a boy and also in terms of the fact that we are aware that we're
now in for some time. Boys are preferred and I think it's very interesting they are because I think that what this reflects is the notion that the kind of role definition made for boys this sort of ready made me that is there that the boys are to conform to are girls for boys. It means that it's a facilitating sort of thing and we've got to develop this person's potential. We know that there are all kinds of possibilities available for him as an adult and he's probably also going to become a parent whereas for the girl the ready made me is just sort of saying where there are some possibilities for her as an adult. She also in equal numbers is going to become a parent. But we make that parent role presumably. First of all her having little choice psychologically because she's rewarded for behavior that is directed toward her becoming a parent because toward her becoming a wife toward her becoming a mother and and she's
rewarded in terms of the differential way that we handle children. We handle girls. Yes if they were more delicate than boys when actually of course a female is constitutionally not much stronger than the male is from the second of conception the female organism is constitutionally a stronger organism. We do it in terms of the differential blanket you know the pink blanket for the girl and for the boy the fact that we respond more to a girl when she cries is a girl in front than a boy in the roughness of a hand. In terms of as time goes on in terms of. Allowing a girl to cry and almost encouraging that and expecting that because you know everybody knows that women are presumably more emotional than men are and so forth and other similar mythologies. We do it in terms of the kinds of toys that we give reason we start very early to give dolls to girls and discourage little boys from having dolls or discourage it beyond a very
young age when boys too will become parents and boys and men have the capacity and the potential to be nurturant. To be carried and to be sensitive. But we did not do this to boys just as we did NOT a voice crying you know we say to a little boy who's hurt me a man when he's not a man he's a human he's equipped to cry we must be free to do that because there are situations where indeed crime is the only appropriate response and that it's natural we are equal with that females and males. So it's been in every aspect of life the way we relate to children the kinds of toys we give the expectation of behavior toward. We've got boys go further to play boys can get 30 or than girls can they can experiment more they're encouraged when they go in for problem solving if they don't solve it. The first time they're encouraged to go back and they're told they're not going to be a man if they don't you know face it overcome barriers whereas with girls if they if they sense a difficulty they will
get support. You're say are inclined to cry about it or think it's too difficult because we make the assumption that it is just too difficult. Why not because of the individual but because the female to the sounds of things like this go on in our everyday lives and still go on much too much. You know so many people emphasize completely with what you're saying but feel that they are fighting a losing battle because they have been conditioned and programmed to affect such a mode of behavior in their own lives. And children learn by example that no matter what you say about what you should do now you should be. They still see Mother pouring over the kitchen stove and father going off to the office. So what can you do to remedy this situation started to do it we've only started this rebirth of feminism is just a little over six years old depending on how you're dated That's when Mel started. But I think it is happening. There are people who are self-conscious for trying to research children according to their individual potential and provide a variety of models for them women and men. As competent adults
in and outside the home so that it's not only a matter of men helping around the hope and helping with childcare we don't even make the assumption. That femaleness is a bona fide occupational qualification for childcare or that being a male is a disqualification for childcare. So that's the first thing. So it isn't a matter of helping because if you're helping somebody else and you assume that it's really somebody else's job you're just being good enough to help that. So we don't make any assumptions about who should be the primary breadwinner who should be the primary challenger. We've got we've got the people concerned work that out themselves so the children must see these models and see these models in the home among their friends and the see them in the school see women and men as teachers women in minutes and ministers that might see them in the mass media of communication. Even the the the technically well produced sesame program has much of the sex role stereotyping that reinforces the same patterns. So it's a matter of. The
behavior that we support and courage to individually appropriate behavior and seen models outside the home. The question of what children learn when they get in school so that there are not the sex segregated programs are not textbooks and schools that again stereotype that have very very few models of any women and women in very limited roles that don't even reflect present reality let alone the potential of women. This has an enormous very damaging effect. There's also the whole question out of the language itself which is what we call the language you know man the generic for people when it really reads male and using he hears in him for person sex some specified what I'm talking about is every aspect of life. Now about people getting discouraged I suppose act different in this what I call behavioral revolution incurable optimist.
We don't even think we're sick. So I think we have started to make some progress but only begun and we are addressing ourselves to all of our social institutions. But it is very important in terms of the role definition. First of all we don't make the definition for somebody else. Supposing you come to this feeling when your child is let's say the age of 8 or 10 can you bring about certain changes in that child or would it be likely to have some traumatic effects later on upon his personality development and perhaps bring about feelings of insecurity and inadequacy was with his role. I think it's simply harder. The later we start I don't think it's impossible and I think that where it makes problems if we try to make a reversal. For instance if we assume that those kinds of things are considered appropriate for women are not appropriate for any girl but we now see some of them. Some girls and women will find at least parts of this
compatible with their own nature just some boys will. I think the thing is to have the kind of climate of learning and loving if you will and caring. So that the child will feel comfortable and accepted whatever she or he does that as long as it's not harmful. What do you get about instincts. Is this another cultural myth. Is there such a thing as a maternal instinct. Can this be. Well I think there's a parental instinct and that's interesting that's been cold and maternal instinct for instance. I think it's it's interesting that US seldom ever see hear any programs or thought given to man as a father just as we're talking about woman as a mother. And I think that's something for people to think about. I've got to ask you given what you said I've lost my train or the instinct you know this is this there is a parental instinct but it's a matter of fact if we go back
into history and it is his story not her story. What we find is that men have had this but they have exhibited in today's terms the kind of behavior exhibited like the band stuff Spock's in the Bruno Bettelheim in the high status lucrative positions. And as a matter of fact there have been periods of time when women had to be taught. To have this maternal caring kind of behavior you know there was there were there have been periods of time in different civilizations where women were very destructive to their children. And I had to be taught and it was men who indeed had the so-called maternal or the parental caring inclinations I would call rather than instinct. But they did it not from the standpoint of doing the day to day work some considered by some people kind of crappy work. You know and the emotional support for children so forth. But they did it from the high status you know giving the
advice sort of thing and are still doing it today. So so what we say is these men that have had these inclinations and interests must also have the opportunity to have their day to day care and and and and not be teased or not discouraged from doing this sort of thing there are men you know. And we're beginning to realize this as well as we look into it like very much being with children. And who do very well. And after a lot of it is physical work. I was going to ask you what do you think is the effect of the children in school on having predominantly women teach us. Well I think that in the early grades. For those teachers who are women who have been conditioned I bought the family in the state that only certain things are appropriate for women and not so appropriate for men and vice versa. I think that it has had what's been called a feminizing influence but it's still done in the
schools. Even if all the teachers are women in the context of a male oriented and a male and minister educational system and in a male oriented and or male dominated culture. So who gets it that isn't the only thing that makes a difference. But if it is true that in the early grades it is easier for girls with older other conditioning or programming to adept to a kind of school system that is very rigid requires children be quiet for a long period time. Long periods of time. More of a reward than is comfortable for girls or boys and that is more career more difficult for boys given their programming and cultural conditioning to be active and to. To find it more difficult to be quiet and so forth and so on. So it
does have an effect on your grades now later. There's a different effect where the boys varied interests are encouraged and the girls are either suddenly or brightly discouraged in counseling programs again with the textbooks and then the sex segregated programs. Do you think in the schools that should be perhaps small emphasis on physical education building up bodily strength with judo and absolute physical confidence. The figures differ from school system school system but on the average we found across the country about 10 times as much for public runs. So all of our friends in public school which is given for a physical education program for boys as it were girls and that's not counting the interscholastic education. Now what this does and the nature of the physical education program for girls is it reinforces the notion that it teaches girls and women the disability of being a female
rather than teaching them the abilities. The potential of being female the kinds of things that we're learning we can do you know it's no accident that it's part of the feminist movement that women are taking their own physical education judo karate now whatever the motivations for taking this. One of the very healthy results is the self-confidence and the self-confidence that is destroyed whatever the motivation. Even in girls so young and in so many ways and one of the ways is girls being taught in the thousands of ways the kinds of things we cannot do. Instead of learning the thousands of things we can do that we have never even tried. Education should be developing individual potential. Not telling us in anyway things we can do but facilitate for all of us girls and boys and adults the things that we can do.
Do you do you notice any changes I mean with all this talk and this awareness of what we should be doing. Did you notice any changes. I think I think the changes in individual lives are numerically fairly small. In the very obvious kinds of ways I think the call tied to qualitative changes which in the long run the ones who will make the difference are are the ones that I see happening in terms of people's awareness. This is a subject you know that wasn't even discussed just a few years ago. Now and it's dated in some 400 chapters around the country has been I think in the vanguard individual volunteers doing studies in the schools of this conditioning. We have gotten some legislation that will prohibit this as we get this in force. We have gotten in Pennsylvania the secretary of education to make a commitment as a priority to get rid of sexism in the schools. That's a healthy thing so we will be moving on this this coming year. This will be I think up a
priority of more and more attention not only of now but of the. Feminists who aren't at this point members of now and I think it's a very important and a very healthy kind of development. Let's get back to the male and female child for a moment. Do you do you think that it's also sort of rather dangerous what's happening with the male and female stereotype regarding dating I mean the male is automatically sort of the predator the female is the prey. Do you think we're a long way off the time when the girl will also be able to choose who she date wise and I'm saying that this is already happening more and more. I happen to have two two teenage daughters and. I can tell you that. There's some difference if the boys are interested in belong in homes where they think it would be terrible for the girl to call. But I think that this is all really that's part of it's already beginning to happen. The thing that the. That I feel more concerned about there and and less hopeful about is
the whole emphasis on so sexuality and for a narrow kind of concept that christians. We place so much emphasis on sex in a very narrow sense. Sex is you know the greatest. Now however exhilarating and exciting and gratifying this experience can be any is at least for many not I think not all people but for many. The fact remains to put much in terms of expectations and that I think is is due to a lot of things one of which is that there are very few things that people can do and this is particularly true for men as we become more mechanised thing which people can get satisfaction from physical things. This used to be much more true for men in the nursery or day where it was just a matter of a gain or sport but what they did made a difference. You see now they know it's a game that may make a difference if they're you know professional
athletes or something like that so that the more emphasis and a greater expectations are placed and there is therefore more anxiety in terms of what physical and it's not of course only physical but the total. Experience of that one has with one's sexuality. That is the sort of thing that I feel very concerned about. And of course effect of that I think people have thought about and heard about more and more is. The whole question of woman as a sex object raises a sack from the moment of birth that she must please men. And you know she supposedly should be very happy if she's called a girl and she's obviously an adult. That whole phenomenon the very fact that many women are pleased by this and considered more feminine The very fact that women are more valued in our youth whereas men as they get older we take a look at the fact that you know they've got more wisdom and more experience hopefully if not
realistically that differential is just part of you know the whole role definition makes such a different the great investment that girls and women make in in being sexually policing. There are some changes occurring and I think we've got an awful long way to go on that by way of a closing question I'd like to ask you if you know any society has in the world where there is greater sexual flexibility where it's actually working. I think in most societies we have that we know of in the world and I think there's a lot we don't know. I remind you again that we've heard history and not herstory yet. I have. I have by and large have defined. Have divided labor along sex lawns. But there are some few and there are few where quite the reverse is true. And what's been traditionally true in our culture with a man take care of the children and the men take care of the home and the men preening themselves as they do in our culture but they do it more honestly and openly in these
Episode Number
Role Definitions
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WNED (Buffalo, New York)
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Episode Description
This episode features a conversation with Wilma Scott Heide, a behavioral scientist and president of NOW, the National Organization of Women. She discusses current changes in traditional male roles. Heide looks to society to raise children according to individual inclinations rather than gender.
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Woman is a talk show featuring in-depth conversations exploring issues affecting the lives of women.
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Social Issues
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Director: George, Will
Guest: Heide, Wilma Scott
Host: Dean, Samantha
Producer: Elkin, Sandra
Producing Organization: WNED
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: WNED 04261 (WNED-TV)
Format: DVCPRO
Generation: Master
Duration: 00:28:50
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Chicago: “Woman; 014; Role Definitions,” 1973-01-17, WNED, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed March 20, 2023,
MLA: “Woman; 014; Role Definitions.” 1973-01-17. WNED, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. March 20, 2023. <>.
APA: Woman; 014; Role Definitions. Boston, MA: WNED, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from