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The Social Construction of Gender, Assessment Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1480

Assessment

While men and women are different biologically, they also have completely different social experiences based on gender differences. Both males and females are represented by  different roles based on their backgrounds and cultural origins. Up until relatively recently, females were defined by male images and expectations that played a tremendous role in their behavior. There was very little questioning of males’ perceptions of female identity. From a very early age, children learn to distinguish themselves by gender. This paper will discuss concepts from the book Gendered Lives: Communication, Gender, and Culture and their application to the development of a nine-year-old girl.

Amber, at a very early age, began to challenge the stereotypical role of the female, as she has observed her parents modeling behaviors that defy the traditional male-female breakdown of both career and domestic responsibilities. For example, both parents work, and both parents participate in activities that require them to be away from home some evenings at union meetings, parent conferences, and social events with their friends. As a result, the children are often in the care of their father at night while their mother attends meetings as well as social activities. Although a majority of young adults profess a belief in the value and organs of both parents raising children, most people assume that it will be primarily the mother who takes care of the children (Wood.) In Amber’s household, her father has modeled parental involvement equally, and at times moreso, than her mother. As a result, she views males as caretakers equally with her view of females occupying that role.

Amber has expressed herself in many ways that contradict gender stereotypes. Her identity contains aspects of both traditionally male and traditionally female behaviors, attitudes, and needs. Since gender in demonstrated in the way that we speak, dress, and style our hair, (Wood) it is clear that in these aspects, Amber adopts a distinctly feminine role. This can be observed by witnessing her obvious pride in her long, silky hair, stylish clothing, pierced ears, and construction of dance routines. Some of her free time outside of school consists of taking dance class, acrobatics, and other activities that, while involving boys as well, are dominated by females.

In another aspect, Amber has internalized the Western value that being thin is desirable; body image is another socially constructed characteristic of gender (Wood.) In truth, Amber is of average height and weight; she is not emaciated, and she is not fat. She has a slightly rounded belly, which is the source of a great deal of self-consciousness and embarrassment for her. Going shopping for clothing nearly always causes turmoil, because she is often in-between sizes in the girls’ department, and frequently ends up having to get the larger size. Despite the fact that in certain cultures, and even in past American cultures, fuller figured women such as Marilyn Monroe typified femininity and sex appeal, Amber has certainly positioned herself as a typical representative of Western culture: she feels that she needs to lose weight and be thinner. Because her two sisters are extremely thin, she feels particularly singled out when it comes to body image. In fact, although she has never actually formally been on a diet, she tries hard to resist eating snacks and other foods, in which her peers and siblings are freely indulging.

Nevertheless, Amber’s interest in food is more than just a childish preference; among the many occupations that she thinks she may be interested in pursuing, becoming a chef is one of them. She watches many television shows that feature cooking or baking, and her interest in those programs goes beyond being a consumer: she is fascinated by the process. This interest in cooking and haute cuisine has nothing to do with aspiring to be a mother who was cooking for children or a wife who is cooking for her husband; she is interested in cooking professionally, as in owning or working in a restaurant, and the imaginative play that she engages in usually involves creating situations and dialogue where she is a maître d’ in a restaurant, supervising the wait staff and addressing problems that the restaurants’ customers have, either with the food or with the staff. She views herself in a management position, rather than the traditional role of a mother cooking for her children, a wife cooking for her husband, or a waitress working for a male boss.

Although infant males and females typically develop in distinct paths that reflect their relationships with their mothers (Wood), in Amber’s situation her relationship with her father is the more prominent one in her life. Likely because he has modeled responsibilities such as cooking and caretaking alternately with his wife, Amber’s view of codified sex roles differs from that of a child raised in a traditional, two-parent household where the father is the major breadwinner. She demonstrates a closer relationship with her father than her mother, attends professional baseball and hockey games with him, and proudly confides that, “Dad says I’m his favorite.” Social learning theory describes the ways in which individuals learn to act feminine or masculine by imitating others, and experiencing responses to their behaviors, (Wood), so that their behaviors are either reinforced or rejected. In her home, obviously Amber has experienced either neutrality or positive reaction from her parents regarding her varied interests and activities: while her two sisters follow a more “girly” path, i.e. cheerleading, ballet, and other such activities.

Instead, Amber is involved in Brownies and Little League softball, gymnastics and basketball, play dates with both boys and girls, as well as soccer. While social learning theory regards children as being relatively passive in the learning process, cognitive development theory seems to more accurately describe the ways in which Amber is developing. According to this theory, children select models to teach themselves competency in feminine or masculine roles; in Amber’s situation, she is clearly emulating her father as a role model, since he plays softball and other sports, cooks, and takes care of the children when his wife is not home, coaches her teams whenever possible, and chooses her to accompany him to sports events.

Amber has developed gender constancy, the understanding that she is a female and that this will not change, but clearly in her perception of what a female is or does, there is a tremendous range of activity and behaviors that she equates with being herself, and which are not gender specific. Because she has been fortunate enough to grow up in an environment that is solidly middle-class and allows her to be driven to activities as well as play dates with both boys and girls, and to become involved in afterschool activities that range from sports to jewelry-making, she has been able to construct her gender identity in a way that allows her to consider most activities to be gender-neutral.

One of the few areas in which cultural pressures influence Amber’s development in a negative way has been body image: as described, she is extremely self-conscious about her physique, compounded by the fact that her two sisters are extremely thin. While she is certainly not counting calories and starving herself, she seems to be exaggeratedly aware of her weight and how much of a struggle it can be sometimes to go shopping for clothing. Because of her internalized Western cultural values defining what is beautiful or desirable, she is self-conscious in this area, despite the fact that she gets an enormous amount of feedback on every level about what a wonderful student, friend, and sister she is. Both of her parents are overweight, and most likely this has made her worry even more about her physical appearance because she may not want to resemble them. The wonderful part about the social construction of Amber’s gender identity is that she clearly feels very comfortable engaging in behaviors and activities that are both suggestive of masculine and feminine roles.

In addition, Amber is extremely confident about herself and her place in the world in relation to other people. In fact, at times she can be somewhat grandiose, age-appropriately so, about her accomplishments on the soccer and soft ball fields, as well as the basketball court. She is equally proud of her achievements in the areas of performing arts, arts and crafts, and imaginative play. When all the students in her grade had to choose an instrument to learn, she chose the saxophone, although in the past, playing the saxophone was a mostly male pursuit. Although her household has a piano in it, true to form, she has opted to learn an instrument that is huge, difficult to hold, requires a great deal of stamina to play, and is one of the only girls in the brass section of her school band. Happily, the social construction of her gender role has promoted healthy, positive self-worth.

Reference:

Wood, Julia. Gendered Lives: Communication, Gender, and Culture. 10th. Belmont: Wadsworth    Publishing, 2013. Print.

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