Gender socialization is defined as the process by which individuals learn the cultural behavior of femininity or masculinity which is associated with each gender (Lindsey, 2005). The culture, by which an individual inhabits, encourages the individual with social heritage and provides for guidelines of appropriate behavior (Lindsey, 2005). Ones culture is also capable of providing measures of social norms, including those related to gender roles.
The term behavior also provides for a means of social control in relation to gender that ensures at least two people, more or less to a vast array of social norms (Haralambos & Holborn, 1990). Over the decades sociologists have developed theories which aim to serve as an explanation for the existence of gender inequalities two predominant theories being the cognitive development theory and the gender schema theory (Lindsey, 2005). The effects of gender socialization on gender inequalities are shown through the agents of socialization; family, peers, school and television.
Although biology states that gender inequalities are innate stemming from brain structure and cell arrangement (Eagly & Wood, 1999), gender inequalities may be termed inevitable on a biological basis however, gender inequalities become more prominent due to the influences of gender socialization. Cognitive Development Theory The cognitive development theory explains a child’s active role in comprehending and putting together elements of its culture and society (Lindsey, 2005).
Lawrence and Kohlberg (1966) claimed that children acquire gender roles accordingly to their level of cognitive development, the extent of comprehension obtained about the world and their society (Lindsey, 2005). The theory offers a sufficient explanation for the development of gender inequalities throughout primary socialization. As children come to terms with their gender and what it means in their culture and life, they implement that understanding in ways which create and reinforce gender stereotypes (Kimmel, 2004).
Further research implies that children’s choice in interests and activities (toys, games, and friends) are selected accordingly to their understanding of gender compatibility (Eagly & Wood, 1999). The theory there for supporting socialization’s impact upon gendered inequalities. Gender Schema Theory A Schema of any kind is the cognitive structure utilized to comprehend the world, interpretations of perceptions and the processing of new information (Lindsey, 2005).
Contended by Sandra Bern (1981) was that once a child has learnt of their cultural definitions for gender, the schema becomes prominent to the child and becomes the basis to which all incoming information is understood in regards to the schema (Haralambos & Holborn, 1990). A child may gain an understanding that in her culture, femininity is illustrated through being courteous, kind and polite, therefore that behavior is integrated into her gender schema and her behaviors are modified and altered accordingly (Lindsey, 2005).
The gender of a child not only influences the child’s individual gender schema but also impacts on how the parent in turn behaves towards the child, thus influencing the child’s development (Eagly & Wood, 1999). A parent whom displays a traditional schema is more likely to have children with gender stereotype cognitions, even as early as 18 months children are able to associate cultural symbols with discriminate gender (Lindsey, 2005). (Dominance and heavy duty work are male qualities where cooking and sewing are those of females)
As Gender inequalities appear to be the result of gender socialization, research proves that the differences between the genders can also be explained through anatomy (Kimmel, 2004). A researcher proclaimed, ‘differences between the male and female of our species will ultimately be found in cell arrangements and anatomy of the human brain. ’ (Eagly & Wood, 1999) The biological explanation for such differences states that human behavior lies within our cells, therefore articulating the inevitability of the existence of gender inequalities (Kimmel, 2004).
Differences in brain function between the sexes are said to be innate, biologically determined and relatively resistant to change from influences of exterior culture (Eagly & Wood, 1999). Sociologists Norman Gechwind and Peter Behan classified gender inequalities as beginning in the womb (Kimmel, 2004). Once the male fetus begins to secret testosterone it washes over the brain targeting the left hemisphere therefore resulting in the slowing of its development.
The slowing of development leads to the superior development of the right hemisphere and its activities and hence supporting traditional beliefs of superiority of males in activities such as art, music and mathematics (Kimmel, 2004). Gender inequalities were seen prominently through the means of education. It was believed that women should be exempt from higher education because it would result in greater demands upon the female body restricting the demand of reproduction (Lindsey, 2005).
It was also predicted that the women who attended college were unable to bear as many children as those who did not attend college because the stress placed upon them caused a shrinking in their ovaries (Lindsey, 2005). However it was discovered that in fact the reasoning to the reduction in production was due to educated women becoming more career orientated and having less time to marry and bear children (Haralambos & Holborn, 1990). Biology may create an innate gender difference however it struggles to progress without the presence of gender socialization.
Family An individual’s family becomes the most significant party in primary socialization (Newman, 2006). The family’s held responsible for shaping and molding a child’s initial attitudes and values (Lindsey, 2005). A child’s personality, developing identity and level of self esteem are also factors which the family has initial control over however they are further reinforced by external social institutions (Hyde, 2005). The gender of a child predicts the response given by parents and how they will behave towards each child (Kimmel, 2004).
Boys are often described as being strong and tough where as girls are depicted and gentle and delicate. Gender socialization present in early childhood encourages the growth of boys, enabling them to adventure outdoors and in environments away from home independently where as girls develop roots which keep them close to home, protected and sheltered (Eagly & Wood, 1999). In doing so boys are granted increased risk taking and ease of separation while girls become interdependent and their behavior, more cautious (Eagly & Wood, 1999).
Gender socialization occurs within the subconscious ad begins immediately as a new born is welcomed home (Kimmel, 2004). A new born child is automatically discriminated accordingly to its genders, baby boys are dressed in shades of blue whilst baby girls are wrapped in colours of pink, If the child were to be dressed in a neutral yellow then mothers may attack to the child a ribbon bow to avoid the child being mistaken for a boy (Kimmel, 2004). Families also create the foundations of gender inequalities through gender socialization by modeling (Lindsey, 2005).
Children look up to the same gender parent and become aware of the inequity between the actions of the two. Boys strive to be like their fathers, the protector and the provider as girls look up to their mothers, assisting in house work and in the kitchen (Eagly & Wood, 1999). The inequity in the actions of the parents allow for children to accept these as social norms (Kimmel, 2004). Fathers do yard work and engage in active activities with sons where mothers are seen as the caretaker of the children showing more affection regardless of gender (Pease, 2002).
The modeling of parents works in an endless cycle of socialization subconsciously influencing impending gender inequalities. Peers All children reach a certain age at which they begin to leave the house whether it is to attend a play group or to commence pre-school. At these institutions, children are surrounded by other some like and some unlike themselves. Over the years spent together peer influences increase at an exponential rate (Haralambos & Holborn, 1990). Their peers influence on gender socialization through elaboration of the foundations constructed by the family (Kimmel, 2004).
The gender inequality which exists among peer groups are that, children prefer to associate with others similar to themselves (Eagly & Wood, 1999). Boys rather play complicated games which involve a higher level of competition between each other and are governed by rules, whereas girls participate in games in smaller groups which require a smaller area of space and minimize levels of competition and enhance co-operation such as hopscotch and jump rope (Lindsey, 2005).
A child’s preference in interacting with same gender peers is widely due to the higher frequency of positive reinforcement obtained (Pease, 2002). Boys prefer to interact in larger groups with extensive and less communal relationships whilst girls prefer to socialize within smaller groups with peer relationships which are more communal (Eagly & Wood, 1999). School
An environment to which children are evaluated based on academics, an institute which provides an experience and offers technical competence as well as the education of values and appropriate social norms of the specific culture to which they belong (Newman, 2006). Many schools socialize children as to acquiring them with a single set of values, that boys are taught values of strength and competition as girls are taught nurturance (Lindsey, 2005).
The film ‘7up’ directed by Apted, M, portrays the values of private schools, when interviewed, the girls whom attended private girl schools exerted their views on participation in wood works class with a sense of disbelief that any female would want to undertake such a subject. The school institute provides for gender inequality, through its discrimination of subjects they believe to be ‘suitable’ for each gender as school leads to education and learning the students conform to the image provided (Apted, 1964).
Television Television is a prominent source of influencing gender socialization, the most influential form of all media (Haralambos & Holborn, 1990). Children in particular are vulnerable and somewhat gullible when it comes to the truth and reality presented in the images of television programs (Lindsey, 2005). Television establishes the standards of behavior and provides for its observers, role models and projects the expectations of social life and social norms (Lindsey, 2005).
Children at young ages, through observational learning, imitate the things they see broadcasted through television. Acting as a model for the younger viewers, children have a tendency to relate themselves to the same gender characters (Kimmel, 2004). In many popular children shows, cartoons and animations, males are illustrated as possessing physical strength and power, they also appear dominant, in contrast females, when present are often portrayed as physically attractive and helpless (the damsel in distress) (Giddens, 2006).
In closing, socialization is the process by which culture is defined, gender socialization is the expected cultural behavior in regards to femininity and masculinity. A child may be brought into the world with inevitable gender inequalities formed within their brain structure however be it not for the presence of the subsets of gender socialization, gender inequality may not be so easily defined.
Socialization is made possible through its agents who act as providers of information. Families are critical in initiating morals and values, peers monitor and enforce gender differences and the media enforce gender stereotypes to vulnerable young viewers. As quoted from Bandura (1963) gender roles are learned directly through reprimand and rewards and indirectly through observations and imitations (Lindsey, 2005).