Is Gender A Social Construct Essay Examples

The Social Construction Of Gender And Sexuality

The Social Construction of Gender and Sexuality

According to Johnny Weir, "Masculinity is what you believe it to be... [it is] all by perception, [I believe] masculinity and femininity is something that is very old-fashioned... [there is a] whole new generation of people who aren't defined by their race or their sex or who they like to sleep with." This statement exemplifies the definition of gender as a concept; gender is the expectations of a sex according to the culture of society. Sexuality, within this definition of gender, reflects society's expectations, which are created in relation to the opposite sex. The variances between cultures means that gender expectations change within different cultures. These expectations put pressure on each member of society to conform and abide by the folkways of their own culture. The creation of gender expectations by society creates a restricting definition of gender roles and sexuality that vary from culture to culture.

Society created the role of gender and created an emphasis on the differences between the two genders. Alma Gottlieb states: "biological inevitability of the sex organs comes to stand for a perceived inevitability of social roles, expectations, and meanings" (Gottlieb, 167). Sex is the scientific acknowledgment that men and women are biologically different; gender stems from society's formation of roles assigned to each sex and the emphasis of the differences between the two sexes. The creation of meanings centers on the expectations of the roles each sex should fill; society creates cultural norms that perpetuate these creations. Gender blurs the lines between the differences created by nature and those created by society (Gottlieb, 168); gender is the cultural expectations of sexes, with meaning assigned to the differences between them. Due to the cultural creation of gender, it is an element of socialization and is learned by members at an early age.

A member of society assumes gender roles as soon as he or she is born. The socialization of individuals forces he or she to identify with a specific gender and does not allow for the reality that gender is an emotional issue that exists on a continuum, and many feel they fit somewhere between the two rigid cultural definitions of gender. Often times a child is introduced to many forms of masculinity or femininity (Gottleib, 175). Gender roles are introduced and enforced as soon as the sex of a child is determined (Gottleib, 168); boys begin a life of masculinity, with emphasis put on toughness and girls begin a life of femininity, with emphasis put on emotion and tenderness. Each sex is introduced to the gender roles expected for a certain identity to be maintained. The enforcement of gender roles in socialization is present cross culturally, as seen in "Life is Hard" by Roger Lancaster, children are taught the roles they are expected to...

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Gender is socially constructed and a result of sociocultural influences throughout an individual's development (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2005). Gender identity can be affected by, and is different from one society to another depending on the way the members of society evaluate the role of females and males. Our gender identity can be influenced from the ethnicity of the group, their historical and cultural background, family values and religion. Often people confuse or misuse the terms gender and sex. The term sex refers to the biological distinction of being male and female (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2005). To make the distinction clearer one could consider that we inherit the sex but we learn our gender (Boss, 2008). Gender is a structural feature of society and the sociological significance of gender is that it is a devise by which society controls its members (Henslin, 2006). Gender like social class and race can be used to socially categorize people and even lead to prejudice and discrimination. Prejudice is a set of attitudes, more likely unfavorable, towards members of a group (, 2011). Discrimination is overt negative behaviors towards a person based on his or her membership in a group (, 2011). When there is differential treatment of people based on their sex the term sexism defines this behavior. Sexism refers to any bias against an individual or group based on the individual's or group's sex (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2005, p.340). Gender discrimination is another way one could define sexism and in particular this is associated with discrimination and stereotyped beliefs against women. Stereotypes are beliefs about the characteristics, attributes, and behaviors of members of certain groups and most of them are socioculturally based (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2005). Stereotype ideas and beliefs regarding women, although they have been changed and improved, are still evident in our country and in other modern cultures. Unfortunately in several countries around the world such as Arabian courtiers, Africa and India things have not changed much and women are still considered a minority and do not have equal access and rights in their societies as do males (Henslin, 2006). This variation regarding gender around the world makes prominent that gender identity is influenced by social variables and has little to do with biological variables. 

The idea of social construction of gender sees society, not biological sex differences, as the basis for gender identity (Anderson, Logio & Taylor, 2005). There are many different processes by which the expectations associated with being a boy or a girl is passed on through society. For instance one could see this from the moment a child comes into the world and from the fact that he/she has to face a "blue" or "pink" reality. I recently attended a baby shower party and I was shocked first by the amount of items a baby needs and even more about the color choice of each item. Everything was pink, as a baby girl was expected, and honestly I never imaged how many different shades of pink actually exist for products such as baby clothes. The house decoration was pink, people were wearing pink or pastel colors, all the gift wrappers pink as well as the gifts themselves. My gift was one of the few items of a different color, as I chose yellow and light purple items, which was actually a challenging task to find as most of the items in the store I shopped were blue or pink. The social construction of gender could be further been seen by the way parents behave to their children, by their expectations about how their children should behave and act, and by the toys they buy for them. For example girls are supposed to play with dolls and be sweet and emotional and boys are supposed to play with action figures and be aggressive and rational. Therefore clothes, toys, and even the language used with young children follow the trend of stereotyping gender. Children learn by modeling and the messages they receive and act accordingly. An example similar to the dress code we having for children can also be seen with adults, particularly in the colors, fabrics and designs specific to each gender. Another example is the situation of a female working in the business field that is expected to dress in masculine way in order to be considered successful and to be taken more seriously. This could demonstrate again how social influences affect gender expectations and shape behaviors and norm regarding gender.

Apart from the family, which is the first agent of socialization and learning gender identity, children learn from other sources such as school. Starting from the first years of school, including day care center years, children learn their gender identity from playing and interacting with other children and care providers. By visiting a child care program one may notice that the environment is arranged in ways to promote gender identity. Most likely there will be an area staged as the housekeeping corner where girls the play and there will be another area with building blocks and tool kit items where the boys play. However it is believed by several that the kind of toys and roles children play affect their future and the skills they learn. Playing with blocks is considered giving experience in spatial relations and in mathematical concepts, where playing with dolls and dramatic role playing is associated with learning to be a nurturer (Conzalez-Mena, 2006). As children grow more stereotype ideas are involve regarding which subjects are favorable and suitable for each gender. For instance the most obvious example is math and probably all of us have heard the notion that boys are better in math than girls. Therefore one could see that again social influence affects perception about gender identity and roles. However perceptions such as this can lead to stereotype threads which are the fear or nervousness that one's behavior will exemplify a negative stereotype about his in-group and thereby in essence confirming the accuracy of the stereotype.

Furthermore the media also affects and influences gender identity. For instance children are constantly bombarded with shows depicting gender stereotype models from toys marketed as for boys or girls, to children's TV programs and shows. It is common for the children's programs to emphasize the role of the male "hero" who saves the weak female. Children interpret these messages as "real life" which shapes their reality, behavior, and expectations of their gender role. However, the social construction of gender does not happen only once and does not stop with children. It continues throughout the rest of our lives and influences our perspective and the way we view things and situations. Regarding the media one is able to see an example of gender stereotyping by observing the messages of advertisements. Recently I had conversation with my husband relating to the issue of sexism regarding a car show he was watching on TV where standing next to the new cars were beautiful female models. My comment was that is an example of benevolent sexism. Benevolent sexism involves the attribution of typically positive traits or qualities towards women but these traits are derive from stereotypes that see  women in limited ways and often stem from male-centered perspectives (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2005). My husband did not want to accept this and he argued that male models are sometimes used as well. We end up watching the car show for over an hour in order to find a male model next to a car but we did not see any.

Additionally cultural and religious beliefs and attitudes have a serious impact on gender identity and in many cases promote stereotype beliefs against women and lead to gender discrimination. When it comes to culture and religious influences in a society regarding the view of gender I believe the concept of institutionalized sexism is appropriate to describe this situation. Institutionalized sexism is the sexist attitudes that are held by the vast majority of people living in a society where stereotypes and discrimination are the norm (Aronson, Wilson, & Akert, 2011). When a society has specific norms people living within the society will adapt to them and they will do the same even for discriminatory norms. For instance when a society, due to religious and cultural reasons, view women as weak or inferior people living within the society will develop the same views and will act accordingly. One can see this for example in many Muslim countries and also with different religious groups, even in our own country.  People tend to conform to their group and will do the same even when they engage in discriminatory behaviors as they want to fit in and be accepted by their group which is known as normative conformity (Aronson, Wilson, & Akert, 2011).

Society constructs our gender and categorizes its members similar as it does with age, ethnicity, race, social class and status. However the categorization according to gender is another way of manipulating members of a society and to promote inequalities. There are obvious biological and anthropological differences between the two sexes but we cannot use these differences to infer conclusions and provide stereotyped models about gender. As mentioned in the beginning sexism is the term that accounts for gender discrimination and has different forms. One of them already mentioned is benevolent sexism characterized by positive but stereotyped views of women. Contrarily another form is hostile sexism which is characterized by negative stereotypical views towards women. For instance hostile sexism views of women are centered on beliefs that women are inferior to men due to superficial views that one can hold again women. Lastly another form of sexism is ambivalent sexism which holds views of both hostile and benevolent sexist attitudes simultaneously (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2005). However no matter the form, sexism has overall negative consequences and results in stereotyping women, and even prejudice and discrimination. The and other developed countries have come a long way in trying to eliminate discrimination against women but there is still a room for improvement. Gender as mentioned above results from sociocultural influences. Research and theory derived from social psychology could be able to develop appropriate interventions that could target a vast range of individuals and institutions in order to promote equality of genders and eliminate gender discriminations.

References:

Andersen, M.L., Logio, K.A. & Taylor H.F. (2005). Understanding society: an introductory reader(2nd e.d.). , : Thomson . 

Aronson, E., Wilson, T.D. & Akert, R.M. (2011). Social Psychology (7th ed.). : Prentice Hall/Pearson.

 

Conzalez-Mena, J. (2006). The young child in the family and the community (4th e.d.). : Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall

Henslin, J. M. (2006).Essentials of Sociology: A down-to-earth approach (6th e.d.). : Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.

World Campus. (2011). Applied Social Psychology: Theory and research methods. Retrieved online at: https://cms.psu.edu

Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (Eds.). (2005). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems.:Sage Publications

 

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