People act in certain ways according to the norms dictated by society. The norms, in turn, are dictated by various factors. These factors range from biological to cultural. Biological factors are dictated by physique and biology, whereas cultural factors are dictated upon by other considerations, such as tradition, educational system, institutions, and other environmental factors.
Gender is one social category that is both dictated by biological and cultural factors. One is either born a male or a female, depending on sex, but as one grows older and takes other social roles, one also ultimately decides on the gender role one wants to take or to have. Choosing gender depends both on personal choice as much as the societal and cultural norms of an environment.
Aside from personal choice, society plays a role in allowing and giving an individual the leeway to choose a particular gender. Social institutions are responsible for gender socialization which allows the individual to take gender roles that of their choosing and which they think are appropriate for them. But what is gender socialization?
What is gender socialization?
Gender socialization is the process by which gender or sexes are differentiated by society through norms, values, and other means. It is the way which all people from all walks of life know and realize that they differ sexually, from others. Based on this differentiation, people act and move in society by following the expected norms, as to what their gender dictates.
It is the process by which people know that biologically or sexually, they are different from other people. Social institutions then orient all of us to act accordingly and based on whatever gender one has. From the manner of dress and speaking to the manner of conducting ourselves in public and private, we are expected to act according to the dictates of gender.
Gender socialization is also the process by which people are being trained, or to acclimatize someone about gender. Gender socialization prepares one for larger, eventual roles that one must play in society and other social institutions. Most social roles and functions are divided according to gender, so one must know the gender in preparation for future roles in society.
In the past, and even today in most societies, gender is usually differentiated between male and female. Social roles are divided and appropriated according to both genders. In some societies, however, gender is differentiated and divided into other groups such as lesbians, gays, and others. Be as it may, the logic for gender socialization remains the same.
The ultimate rationale remains the same, whether talking of advanced industrial societies or primitive ones. Gender socialization exists to orient all individuals of their gender in preparation for their larger roles in society. Social roles may change over time, but the logic for the process itself remains the same, from ancient times to the twenty-first century.
When does gender role socialization begin?
Gender socialization, strictly speaking, begins at birth. Individuals are classified as male or female once they are entered into the birth registry, and are given names appropriate for their gender. The individual is then subjected to all times of gender-socializing activities, from dress to language. As a child, every one of us is oriented towards a particular set of values depending on our gender.
The family is the smallest, basic social institution in any society. Gender socialization begins usually in a family. The individual usually spends his/her formative years under a care of a family. The names are provided by the family, and so does the norms and the values. More than any other institution, it is the family that gives the context of which the individual may move.
It is in the family that an individual learns about gender. The very terms “mother”, “father”, “brother”, “sister” and others, are terms that are gender related. Language itself provides a key. The gender differentiation in language as far as family is concerned is almost universal.
Even the religion, the schools, and any other institution which, one way or another, may factor in gender socialization, are determined at first by the family. It is the family who decides where to send their children. Religious and spiritual beliefs also first come to the child through their families,
Those beliefs however, and the way a family oriented their children towards gender socialization, is enforced through societal norms and other social institutions. Thus, although the gender socialization begins with family, the social institutions and society itself are already complicit in the gender socialization process.
Gender socialization vs Gender stereotypes
The need for gender socialization results in some cultural norms, values, attitudes, and expectations about gender. When the attitudes and norms hardened into expectations and eventually becomes embedded in the social system itself, you eventually develop gender stereotypes.
Stereotypes are sets of beliefs and attitudes about a particular class, gender, race, or any social group and category. It is the idea that a certain social category has these sets of characteristics, and is expected to act according to those sets of characteristics. Gender stereotypes, thus, are simply a set of attitudes regarding a particular gender.
Gender stereotypes gradually emerged out of the gender socialization practiced by societies over long periods. Attitudes and beliefs eventually harden to become social norms, which are then again reinforced through various social institutions such as family and schools. In a way, gender socialization engenders and reinforces certain types of gender stereotypes.
The attitudes ranged from harmless to harmful. Not a few times we see in most children’s books how gender stereotypes could emerge out of the innocent practice of gender socialization (“Father is working”, “my mom loves to cook”, ‘older brother plays guns”, “sister plays with her doll”) These kinds of attitudes accumulate over time, resulting in various forms of gender stereotypes.
The problem with gender stereotypes is that some attitudes, innocent as it seems, may result in different forms of discriminatory practices. Stereotypes about women being weak and irrational, for instance, may have tremendous, harmful effects on women’s participation in business or politics. It may affect the career and advancement of people, only because of gender stereotypes.
In the long run, gender stereotypes are detrimental to society. It prevents people from being successful due to gender. It ultimately puts unreasonable demands on certain people, to perform tasks solely because it is expected of them. It also prevents society from maximizing the talent of certain people only because of the attitudes they have regarding gender.
Gender socialization is in a way responsible for the emergence of certain gender stereotypes. Social institutions must be aware of how certain attitudes and values affect gender socialization. They must take the initiative and be proactive in eliminating gender stereotypes, especially those which are harmful to the individual as well as detrimental to society as a whole.
Gender socialization is a process by which societies socialized their members according to gender. It is a practice that is very important in allowing its members to participate eventually in society. As members of a community, it allows them to take roles, both for the improvement of themselves as well as of the society as a whole.
In the process of gender socialization, however, society must discourage the creation of gender stereotypes. Though an individual must ultimately be aware of his/her gender, gender stereotypes must never be reinforced by social institutions. Especially so if it forces one to act according to some expectations which might be unreasonable.
Gender socialization must not ultimately result in discriminatory practices against a particular gender or members of a gender community. Gender socialization, as a whole, must benefit the whole of society and everyone who belongs to it. Having gender stereotypes and reinforcing them defeats society’s very purpose in practicing gender socialization.