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The Social Construction of Gender


The Social Construction of Gender:

Humans are born with biological sex, but we learn to be men and women. Right from birth we start to learn culture, including how to walk, talk, eat, dress, think, practice religion, react to aggression, and express our feelings like a man or a lady (Mauss 1979). We realize what sorts of conduct are seen as masculine or feminine. Subsequently, anthropologists allude to the social development of sexual orientation. Thus, gender is viewed as a product of social construction.

Family, peers, the media, educational institutions, religious groups, sports, and law all enculturate us with a feeling of gender that becomes normative and seems natural. Social constructionism begins at home. Parents inculcate sense of gender in their children. They assign male or female names to their children; dress them in suitably gendered clothing, colours, and jewellery; and give them the “right” hair styles. Parents even address their male and female child in different tones. As we see gender being performed all around us, we learn to perform it in our turn. In these ways gender is taught, learned, and enforced.

Over a lifetime, gender becomes a powerful, and mostly invisible, framework that shapes the way we see ourselves and others (Bern 1981, 1983). Our associations with others turn into an expound gendered roles of playing, dating, mating, parenting, and loving that reinforces our learned ideas of masculinity and femininity and establishes differing roles and expectations and loving that reinforces our learned ideas of masculinity and femininity and establishes differing roles and expectations. Gender is also a potent cultural system through which we organize our collective lives, not necessarily on the basis of merit or skill but on the constructed categories of what it means to be a man or a woman (Rubin 1975; Lorber 1994; Cohen 2001; Bonvillain 2007; Brettell and Sargent 2009).

Gender Stereotypes:

Gender stereotypes are broadly held preconceived assumptions about the proper role of men and women in the society. Men, for example, are usually stereotyped to be more powerful and aggressive, while women are believed to be more caring and nurturing. These generalizations make critical suppositions about what men and women should expect from one another.

Gender in Sports:

Sports are a key cultural arena in which individuals learn gender roles. A study of young boys and girls co-ed playing a game provides insights into how gender is subtly and not-so-subtly taught, learned, and enforced through youth sports (Landers and Fine 1996). Landers and Fine found that coaches developed a policy that favoured boys over girls. Boys not only got more playing time than girls but also better playing positions, that gave more chances to be actively involved in the game. Boys frequently received coaching advice, while girls’ mistakes went uncorrected. Parents and teachers condone this policy along the gender line. For instance, Boys receive more words acclaim and encouragement for their victories. These hierarchies were apparent not only between boys and girls, but within gendered groups as well. Among the boys, praise and opportunity were unequally distributed: those who were already stronger, faster, better coordinated, or more advanced in game were favoured over those who were not much skilled. Thus, the researchers noted that ideal forms of masculinity and manliness are taught, learned, and enforced on the sports field as well, promoting aggressiveness, assertiveness, competitiveness, physical strength and skill, and a drive to succeed and win (Landers and Fine 1996).

Moreover, games are also gendered. Some games are thought to be exclusively for boys while others fall within female domain. Landers and Fine’s research suggests that attributes stereotypically associated with boys such as athleticism, assertiveness, aggression, strength, and competitiveness are actively constructed along gender lines through a wide variety of youth sports.

Kids Commercials and Construction of Gender:

Electronic media is fuelled by commercials. Same is true about cartoon channels which show hosts on commercials targeting children. Thus, kids watch lots of ads. What do they learn about gender from these commercials?

The girl oriented commercials are filmed in soft coloured backgrounds for example light pink and purple shades. Moreover they are often shown doing emotional and caring activities i.e. playing, feeding or cuddling their dolls or pets. Whereas boys’ ads are bold and full of action, thrill and adventures. They have bright and dark background showing outdoor games served to promote toy trucks, balls, guns, missiles, and warrior figures.



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