Social Construction of Gender

How society influences us on what it means to be a “man” or a “woman”


“Sociologists use the term gender to refer specifically to the social and cultural patterns that we associate with women and men in society. Sex refers to the biological identity and is meant to signify the fact that one is either a male or female.” (Margaret Andersen- Thinking about Women: Sociological Perspectives on Sex and Gender.)


What identifies us as male or female? Expectations through school, peers, the media, parents, religious organizations, and other factors of society create what it means to be a “man” or a “woman”. Emily Kane conducted interviews with a sample parents who have at least one preschool-aged child. This included 24 mothers and 18 fathers who were diverse in terms of class, race, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. In the study, Kane found that parents encourage nonconforming gender behavior to their daughters. They react positively when their daughters play with trucks and tools, wear sports clothing, learn to use tools, and participate in sports. If parents react so positively to this, why are boys and girls treated so differently? If you have ever walked through the toy isle of a store and paid attention you would see that the girls section is pink, the boys section is blue, and the multi-gender section is primary colors. The words on the girl toys usually consist of the following: pretty, little mommy, dress up, nurture, ect and promote a positive feeling of being a mom. Where the boys toys usually say things like: create, build, destroy, win, beat, play, ect creating a physical and competitive feeling. You never see commercials for Tonka Trucks where there are little girls playing and crashing the cars around. You never see commercials for dress up sets with little boys putting on dresses and makeup. Why not? What’s so wrong with that?


“’She’s so sweet,’ someone might say while watching a little girl play with her toys… boys are more likely to brag and insult other boys (often in a joking way) than are girls. When playing, girls are more likely than boys to engage in “pretend” play; boys, more likely to engage in physical play.” (Lindsey and Mize 2001)


Children are especially influenced by toys and T.V. “Bratz dolls, introduced in 2003, have created a more sexualized image for young girls’ play. Although more ethnically and racially diverse then Barbies, they project a sexualized, gendered image that can negatively affect a girls’ self-image.” (Margaret Andersen- Thinking about Women: Sociological Perspectives on Sex and Gender.) I don’t know if you can relate to this but when I was younger I wanted to be a Barbie. I wanted to be blonde with a huge chest, a waist as big as my neck, and a perfect boyfriend like Ken. As I go through my teenage years, becoming a Barbie is still something that sounds somewhat appealing. The beautiful dolls I played with as a girl have created an image in my head of what I need to look like. If I’m anything but, its sub standard. This isn’t the same for other girls who still believe the Barbie doll look is achievable but I know now that eating a cheese cube every time I almost pass out from starving myself, duct taping my breasts up so they look bigger, and pounds of makeup to look like that stupid doll, isn’t my idea of fun. But that’s what I grew up with. That is… was… the perfect image. I can only imagine what it was for boys. Maybe the whole G.I. Joe thing? Or maybe just their dad’s favorite football player? Either way, this all has an effect on how we kids grow up.

Even my seven year old sister is influenced by things like this. We can be at any store and pick out a pair of shoes for her to which she’ll say “those are boys shoes.” When you ask her why she thinks that, she’ll do something simple such as point to the shoe box which shows a boy jumping in mid air with the shoes on. That goes the same way with my two little brothers. We can be at a sports store looking for some wrestling gear for them when I’ll pull out this awesome head gear which just happens to have a pink stripe on it. When I ask my brother if he likes it, he will look at me in disgust and say “Sissy, that has pink on it! It’s obviously for girls!” Most people would disagree and say kids aren’t that picky and colors don’t make a difference. If it doesn’t make a difference why is it that when you found out the baby is a girl, everyone rushes off to buy pink; whereas when you find out the baby is a boy, everything is immediately blue? That’s the normal thing to do. Buy dresses for the girls and baseball gloves for the boys. Not many people notice this, but I do.


Have you ever noticed nicknames that boys and girls get? Boys usually get nicknames such as champ, stud, slugger, beast, tough guy, slick, buddy, killer, kid, things that are very masculine/tough. Girls get things like princess, sweetheart, cupcake, baby girl, beautiful, and things that are very “precious”. Have you ever heard anyone say “c’mon little prince” to their son? What about “let’s go tough guy” to their daughter? Never. Why not? Boys and girls aren’t even different from each other until the eight week of development in the womb. So when you say “that’s just the way men are” when referring to them as physical, block heads and things like that, you are really making a fool of yourself. Studies show that it is not biological behavior that makes men and women the way they are, but it is made through society and culture.


“Culture is, in essence, a pattern of expectations about what are appropriate behaviors and beliefs for the members of society.” (Margaret Andersen- Thinking about Women: Sociological Perspectives on Sex and Gender.) For instance, Navajo Indians have this thing where men marry men and are honorable where here in the western culture, that’s considered gay. African and American Indians have biological girls living as men who are known as “manly hearted women” where we see them as lesbians or dykes. Even Hijras in India don’t think of themselves as men or women but as a third gender. They sometimes even marry the same sex and there is nothing wrong with that. So why is it that in the western culture boys and girls need to be raised differently so they don’t become this way?


Even if you raise your child, say it’s a girl, to be into sports and play with trucks not Barbies, and things like that, you can’t hold them back from how society sees girls. You walk through almost any store and BAM! There’s a magazine with a “super sexy” girl on it with words like “become the best you” “be just like me” “20 sex tips” “how to please him” and things like that. Some magazines’ and products like that are trying to define new forms of feminism for young girls. So after passing the magazines’, you walk through a makeup isle and again, BAM! There’s a super sleek lip gloss with the words “Floozy S*** Fruit lip balm.” Right next to it is “Total B**** lip balm” The sexualization of women, including young girls, is increasingly tied to the marketing of products. Why this is, we may never know. But we can’t escape it. Why can’t girls just be girls and boys just be boys? So what if she likes cars and he likes nail polish? What’s it going to hurt? Though people have different opinions on that.


Watching T.V. you can click on almost any show and find a family. But not just any family, the perfect family. There is always a mom, dad, and children. They show the very stereotypical idea of what it means to be a family. Mom does all the house work and takes care of the kids where the dad goes to work and provides for the family. What if your family isn’t that way? Is that wrong? Speaking of T.V., as a teenager of the 2011 society, I think music videos are pretty much one of the best things on T.V. today. But then I started to pay attention. “Love The Way You Lie” is a very popular song by Eminem and Rihanna. But if you listen carefully to the third verse, he says “If she ever tries to f****** leave again I'mma tie her to the bed And set the house on fire”. What does this say about us? That it’s ok for men to own, mistreat, and abuse women? If this wasn’t proof enough, watch a couple music videos. Men slapping women, spraying them with alcohol, taking off their clothes… it’s sick. You could say that it’s not that bad because the women in those videos wanted it but have you considered if a women in the real world who is not getting paid to do this would like it? Not at all. In New York City during a Puerto Rican fair, men sexually abused women in ways that are indescribable. Researchers say it’s due to the things men see on T.V. such as music videos. The music videos show the women liking the treatment they’re getting but in all reality, it’s not like that. It is revolting and incredible disrespectful. No one is flattered by this behavior. Some T.V. shows and movies like this include: The Panic Room where the robbers only concern is if Jodi Foster’s husband comes home. He has no problem robbing her when she is alone because she is a woman. The Boys Are Back where Clive Owen never did any housework when his wife was alive. When she dies, he has no idea how to do the laundry or take care of his children. In Notting Hill Julia Roberts criticizes Hugh Grant for saying “woopsy daises” because she says only a ten year old girl would say that. In Million Dollar Baby Clint Eastwood need to forget Hilary Swank is a woman in order to train her to become a boxer. In New Moon Bella is never able to save herself when she is in danger. Edward or Jacob has to save her every time. While teaching DJ about football in Full House, Jessie and Joey tell him that it comes naturally to men. In Vampire Diary’s the sheriff is a women but they portray her as a tomboy and show that she is unable to help her daughter with boys. During Accidently On Purpose, when Jenna Elfman is talking to man, he only stares at her breasts. When she asks why he says that it is because he is a man. (Youtube Video: Gender Stereotypes in the media-genderinmedia09) Is this awful or what? We need to become more aware of how high society sets standard and how sometimes, those perceptions are corrupting our youth.


And with a final note, I leave you with this poem:
For Every Woman
By Nancy R. Smith, copyright 1973
For every woman who is tired of acting weak when she knows she is strong, there is a man who is tired of appearing strong when he feels vulnerable.
For every woman who is tired of acting dumb, there is a man who is burdened with the constant expectation of "knowing everything."
For every woman who is tired of being called "an emotional female," there is a man who is denied the right to weep and to be gentle.
For every woman who is called unfeminine when she competes, there is a man for whom competition is the only way to prove his masculinity.
For every woman who is tired of being a sex object, there is a man who must worry about his potency.
For every woman who feels "tied down" by her children, there is a man who is denied the full pleasures of shared parenthood.
For every woman who is denied meaningful employment or equal pay, there is a man who must bear full financial responsibility for another human being.
For every woman who was not taught the intricacies of an automobile, there is a man who was not taught the satisfactions of cooking.
For every woman who takes a step toward her own liberation, there is a man who finds the way to freedom has been made a little easier.





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earlybird_8 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Mar. 27, 2011 at 3:20 pm
Wow, this was really well-researched! I loved the way you backed up your points with examples and evidence, along with some personal anecdotes. If there was anything I had to nitpick, it would be that this paper didn't show the evolutionary psychological approach to gender differences, but it was a great commentary on societies influence on children and young adults.
 
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