Gender socialization

A baby is born and the doctor looks at the proud parents or parent 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 mothers 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.

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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 isnt 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 Chodorows theory, will refuse to perform a lot of chores in an
attempt to become more masculine.GENDERANDTHEMEDIA
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
womens 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 doesnt follow what we deem to be
correct, we rebel and try to modify it to our socially acceptable
standards.THEANDROGYNOUSSCENARIO 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 hasnt
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 didnt 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 thats 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? Thats 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.FEMALEEXPLOITATION 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 womans 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 doesnt 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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