A baby is born and the doctor looks at the proud parents and
says three simple words: “Its a boy,” or “Its a girl!” Before a
newborn child even takes his or her first breath of life outside
the mother’s womb, he or she is distinguishable and characterized
by gender. The baby is brought home and dressed in clothes that
help friends, family, and even strangers identify the sex of the
child. Baby boys are dressed in blue and baby girls are dressed
in pink. The baby boy may be dressed in a blue jumpsuit with a
football or a baseball glove on it. The baby girl may wear a bow
in her hair and flowered pajamas. As the boy begins to grow, he
is given a miniature basketball and a hoop to play with. The
girl is given dolls and doll clothing to dress them up in. Even
going further, eventually the boy may play with Legos and Lincoln
Logs while the girl gets a Play School oven and a plastic tea set
with which to play house. Sounds pretty normal, right? The
question is: why is this normal?
Sociologists have developed a theory which describes the way
in which individuals represent themselves to society. This
theory is called the social construction of self. By self, we
In this essay I discuss that “doing gender means creating differences between girls and boys and women and men….” (West & Zimmerman 2002:13) I am concentrating on the female perspective, how societyputs forth expectations of what is ‘natural’ or biological even though, in some cases, it can be quite demeaning and degrading. I am using some examples from the local ...
mean the capacity to represent oneself what one wished to
communicate to others. The theory is says that the self is
produced or constructed through interactions with other people
over a lifetime (Kornblum, 128).
When relating this theory to
gender roles, people act in a certain way to give an impression
to society. For example, girls wear pink to let society know
that they are female. This is the gender that they wish to
communicate to society because that is what is deemed to be
There are many agents of socialization that influence the
socialization of gender. These agents include family, schools,
community, peer groups and the mass media (Kornblum 136).
discussed earlier, from the moment a baby is born, their parents
dress them in gender related colors and styles of clothing. This
is where the family has an influence on gender roles. In school,
boys usually play sports during recess while girls play on the
monkey bars or sit and talk. Teachers try to preserve the
societal idea of correct gender roles by emphasizing what is
right for girls and for boys. As far as the community, I think
that this involves the family, schools, peer groups and the
media. Peer groups are also highly influential to gender
socialization. If a six year old girls wants to be on the
baseball team, she is considered a tom boy. This is not
necessarily a negative connotation, but is considered so by the
peer group. Likewise, if a boy wishes to play with dolls, he may
be shunned by his peer group and teased for acting like a girl.
Another aspect of everyday life that is highly influential
in gender socialization is the media. What we see on television
or in the movies, what we read in the papers or in magazines,
Media, in the context required, is a term used to define an interactive transmission that is visualized and then especially designed to reach a large audience, for e. g. a whole nation. These audiences, however, are very different from one another, depending on their culture and gender identities. The variance in culture and sexual identities, have an obvious impact on media which is why there is ...
what we see on billboards or hear on the radio are all very
significant to how we form an opinion on gender identity. Media
publishers have successfully learned to play to an audience and
are extremely successful in communication with the audience they
wish to reach. Advertisers are the biggest example of this
concept. Society is very apt in recognizing images seen in
commercials and printed ads and viewing them as socially accepted
behavior. It is easier for society to accept images presented by
the media and not take the time to analyze their bias and untrue
nature. It is this societal ignorance that clouds the mind and
allows the images to continue to influence what we believe to be
socially acceptable. When society is presented with something or
someone out of the ordinary which does not follow what we deem to
be correct, we rebel and try to modify it to our socially
Imagine a baby born with no visible sex organs. Now imagine
after some tests that there are no internal or external sex
organs whatsoever. Is this possible? Surprisingly, it is
possible. It is very possible, in fact, probably more so than
one thinks. Though rarely publicized, there are people in this
world that are physically indistinguishable as males or females.
These people are constantly pressured to make a decision to
either become a full fledged male or female. Simple everyday
things may become a huge problem: what public restroom do you go
in; what kind of clothes do you wear; what letter is after the
word sex on your drivers license? These questions are only an
issue because of what society has deemed to be socially correct.
The labeling theory explains deviance as a societal reaction
that brands or labels as deviant people who engage in certain
behaviors (Kornblum, 196).
Many times, people who stray from
what is politically correct gender behavior are seen as deviant
or abnormal. For example, gays and lesbians are, sadly, viewed
by much of society as wrong, simply because they are straying
from what society considers to be normal gender roles. The
labeling theory explains this, but it does not necessarily mean
Gender roles refer to the set of social, attitudinal and behavioral roles, norms and expectations that, within a definite culture, are also formally or informally required or widely measured to be socially appropriate for persons of a precise gender identity. They are constructed for a variety of genders in order to channelize their energies towards some socially intended goals, which are either ...
that it is right.
As illustrated in the not so fictional scenario above,
gender socialization begins very early in life. Society has
accepted such stereotypical things as baby boy blue and baby girl
pink to help identify the sex of a child (Adler, 455).
forbid that little Joey looks like a girl or baby Michelle is
mistaken for a boy. Mothers and fathers make it easy for
everyone to distinguish their bundles of joy by utilizing the
socially established gender stereotypes. But where and how did
these stereotypes come from?
In terms of gender roles, a functionalist would argue that
in preindustrial societies, such as those which depended on
hinting and gathering, men and women fulfilled different roles
and took on different tasks because it was most useful or
functional for society to do so. As hunters, men were frequently
away from home and, hence, centered their lives around the
responsibility of bringing food to the family. Since a woman’s
mobility is more limited by pregnancy, childbirth and nursing, it
was functional for her to spend more time near the home and
taking care of household and shield rearing tasks. Once
established, this division of labor carried through to developing
and already developed societies. Even though women may also
haven been involved in agricultural production or were gathers in
their own right, they were still largely dependent on men for
food and protection. The dominant role assumed by men, in turn ,
creates a pattern where male activities come to be more highly
valued than female ones. Thus, the pattern becomes
institutionalized and difficult to change; to rests on a belief
that gender stratification is inevitable due to biological sex
Parson and Bales (1955) relate two concepts to the
functional perspective of gender socialization. These concepts
are roles that the man and the woman take in society. When the
man takes on the instrumental role, he helps to maintain the
basic social and physical integrity of the family, by providing
food and shelter and linking the family to the world outside the
... women might perceive some men to be. Serving as the foundation of the family, Linda is also a great example of the common gender role. ... guided. This could be the situation for most women of this time. The society of this time played a huge factor on ... the influence of how women should be treated.Women assumed a ...
home. The woman, however, takes on the expressive role. She
helps cement relationships, provides the emotional support and
nurturing qualities which sustain the family unit, and ensures
that the household runs smoothly. When deviation from these
roles occurs, it is seen as breaking the norms of society. It
should be apparent from this that functionalism tends to be
inherently conservative in its orientation and does not account
for a variety of existing family systems which can be said to be
functional for themselves as well as society.
In a perfect world, there would be no gender
differentiation, no racial tension and no “political
correctness”. Yet, we live in an imperfect world that is
currently making a turn towards becoming more “PC”. Fading away
are such terms as fireman, stewardess, boyfriend, girlfriend,
policeman, and secretary. Now society is starting to use more
socially acceptable language and replacing such terms with fire
fighter, flight attendant, significant other, police officer and
administrative assistant. We are slowly, and I do mean slowly,
moving towards a non gender separated society. Eventually, we
may be able to control what we see and how we see it, but until
then we must rely on ourselves to determine what is reality and
what is part of a dream world.
Adler, Leonore Loeb. 1993. International handbook on Gender
Roles. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Kornblum, William. 1997. Sociology in a Changing World. (2nd
ed.) Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.
Parsons, Talcott, and Robert F. Bales (eds.).
Socialization and Interaction Process. Glencoe, IL: Free