Gender Socialization


A baby is born and the doctor looks at the proud parents or
parent and says three simple words: "It's a boy," or "It's
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 their 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 an d doll clothes to
dress them up in. Even going further, eventually the boy
may play with Legos and Lincoln Logs and the girl gets a
PlaySchool oven and a plastic tea set with which to play
house. Sounds pretty normal right? Why? 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. Heaven forbid the little
Joey looks like a girl or b aby Michelle is mistaken for a
boy. Mothers and fathers make it easy for everyone to
distinguish their bundle of joy by utilizing the socially
established gender stereotypes. But where and how did these
stereotypes come from? Unfortunately, I don' t think
there is a definite answer to that question. We seem to
accept that blue is for boys and pink is for girls. Boys
generally play with balls, toy trucks and building blocks
whereas girls spend their time with dolls, tea sets and
stuffed animals. But these are the stereotypes that are
influenced by the parents. A baby child isn't concerned
with his or her gender identity. As the child gets older
though, he or she will begin to develop an identity for his
or herself and establish a personality th at reflects their
masculinity or femininity. In Nancy Chodorow's essay
"Family Structure and Feminine Personality" she examines
the development of gender identity and personality. Except
for the stereotypical examples I have given above which
again are e stablished by the parents, Chodorow states that
the development of a child is basically the same for boys
and girls until the age of three. During those first three
years the mother is the dominant figure in the child's
life. The father plays a limited role until the child
reaches the so called "Oedipal" period (beyond age 3). It
is at this stage that children begin to try to separate
themselves from the clutches of their mother and establish
their own identity. Chodorow examines how different this is
for boys and girls. KFRC radio disk jockey Ron Parker
recently reported that out of a survey of one hundred
fourth grade boys and one hundred fourth grade girls, the
boys receive an average weekly allowance that is
approximately 50% higher than the girls receive. On the
average, the boys receive $4.18 as compared to the $2.67
paid to the girls. To look even further, the survey
reported that the boys only perform three household chores
to earn their weekly allowance whereas the girls are
performing twel ve or more. Why are the girls expected to
do four times as much work around the house than the boys
are? Chodorow writes that a young boy is usually unable to
identify with his masculinity through his father. The
father isn't as readily available to th e boy as the
mother. Without the father to follow example, Chodorow
concludes that a boy will identify masculine
characteristics be doing that which is not feminine. This
could be an explanation for the big difference in the
number of chores the girls d o versus the boys. Though you
might disagree with the morality of this statement, you
have to admit that it is socially accepted that household
chores are feminine duties. Young boys are bound to realize
this and following Chodorow's theory, will refuse to
perform a lot of chores in an attempt to become more
masculine.GENDERÊANDÊTHEÊMEDIA Another aspect of everyday
life that is highly influential in gender socialization is
the media. What we see on television or at the movies, what
we read in the newsp aper or in magazines, what we see on
billboards or hear on the radio are all very significant on
how we form a opinion on gender identity. Media publishers
have very successfully learned to "play" to an audience and
are extremely successful in communicat ing 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 acceptable behavior. For example, beer
companies w ill target the twenty to thirty year old male
audience and include scantily clad women enjoying their
favorite beers. Ironically, popular women's magazines also
use beautiful women to promote cosmetics and beauty
products (funny that both my examples sho w the
exploitation of female images in society...more on that
later). How often do you think people question the
activities they see portrayed in advertising and question
them as to there validity? Probably not very often. It is
much easier for society to just accept the images and not
bother to 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. And when soc iety is
presented with something or someone out of the ordinary
which doesn't follow what we deem to be correct, we rebel
and try to modify it to our socially acceptable
standards.THEÊANDROGYNOUSÊSCENARIO Imagine a baby born with
no visible sex organs. N ow imagine after some tests that
there are no internal or external sex organs whatsoever. No
ovaries, no testes, no uterus, no vagina, no penis, no
glands that produce estrogen or testosterone, no semen, no
eggs, no anything. Is this possible? Surprisi ngly yes. It
is very possible and in fact probably more so that one
thinks. Though rarely publicized, there are people in this
world that are physically indistinguishable as males or
females. Sally Jesse Raphael recently had one of these
androgynous hu man beings on her popular morning talk show.
This person, known as Toby, is neither male nor female and
prefers to live life in the androgynous state. Toby is the
only known human being in the world like this. Medically
feasible, yes; but is the androgy nous person socially
acceptable in our everyday lifestyle? Since Toby was born,
Toby hasn't been able to live a normal life. Throughout
childhood, Toby was constantly pressured to make a decision
to either become a full fledged male or female. Doctors,
teachers, friends and family all thought that Toby would be
much happier if Toby could be classified as either a man or
a woman. But Toby didn't think so. Toby made a decision to
stay androgynous and it has caused some very interesting
results. Everyw here Toby goes identity comes into
question. Is Toby male or female? Toby is neither. But
that's not possible. Yet it is. Think about what you do
everyday and how much of it relies on gender and then think
about Toby. What public restroom do you go in? What kind of
clothes do you wear? What store do you buy them in? What
colors do you buy? What letter is after the word sex on
your drivers license? How does Toby answer these questions?
That's not the point. The point is why does Toby have to a
nswer these questions? Because this is what we have
determined to be socially correct. There are two sexes,
male and female and you must be one or the other. How can
there be an in between? Such a person should have no place
in our culturally biased s ociety.FEMALEÊEXPLOITATION As I
briefly mentioned earlier, advertisers utilize female
images to sell products. Society associates beauty with the
female and we are more inclined to pay attention to a
beautiful woman presented to us on a screen or a page in a
magazine. But can this be more harmful to a society than
good. Recently in my woman's studies class we were involved
in a student panel discussion regarding this topic. The
presenters literally filled a wall with images taken from
magazines and ne wspapers and each of the photographs were
of beautiful women endorsing some product. Everything from
lingerie to Coca-Cola utilized a female image to attract
attention to their ad. This doesn't just stop in
advertising either. A documentary viewed in t he same class
entitled "DreamWorld", exposed the demeaning portrayal of
women as sex objects in music videos. Specifically those
shown on the popular music video network MTV. The women in
the videos were all sex objects; beautiful, buxom, sexy,
promiscu ous and lacked any moral values whatsoever. Also,
the woman in the music videos all served one main purpose:
to satisfy the sexual needs of men. The documentary helped
us to see how we are easily influenced by images when we do
not stop and think what t hey are showing us. Removed from
the context of how they were originally intended to be
shown, the images in the videos were very disturbing to
both men and women. But, for those who only see them as
they were produced, which is most of the viewing popu
lation, the videos do indeed portray these woman in a
fantasized nature. This too can lead to what society views
as being socially acceptable. In a perfect world, there
would be no gender differentiation, no racial tension and
no "political incorrectness ". But we live in an imperfect
world that is currently making a turn towards becoming more
"PC" (politically correct). Fading away are such terms as
fireman, stewardess, boyfriend and girlfriend, policeman
and secretary. Now we are starting to use a mo re socially
acceptable language and replacing such terms with fire
fighter, flight attendant, domestic partner or significant
other, police officer and administrative assistant. We are
slowly, and I do mean slowly, moving towards a non gender
separated s ociety. 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 DreamWorld. 


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