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Gender Differences Essay, Research Paper

A baby is born and the doctor looks at the proud parents 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 mother?s 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 her 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 and doll clothing to dress them up in. Even

going further, eventually the boy may play with Legos and Lincoln

Logs while the girl gets a Play School oven and a plastic tea set

with which to play house. Sounds pretty normal, right? The

question is: why is this normal?

Sociologists have developed a theory which describes the way

in which individuals represent themselves to society. This

theory is called the social construction of self. By self, we

mean the capacity to represent oneself what one wished to

communicate to others. The theory is says that the self is

produced or constructed through interactions with other people

over a lifetime (Kornblum, 128). When relating this theory to

gender roles, people act in a certain way to give an impression

to society. For example, girls wear pink to let society know

that they are female. This is the gender that they wish to

communicate to society because that is what is deemed to be


There are many agents of socialization that influence the

socialization of gender. These agents include family, schools,

community, peer groups and the mass media (Kornblum 136). As

discussed earlier, from the moment a baby is born, their parents

dress them in gender related colors and styles of clothing. This

is where the family has an influence on gender roles. In school,

boys usually play sports during recess while girls play on the

monkey bars or sit and talk. Teachers try to preserve the

societal idea of correct gender roles by emphasizing what is

right for girls and for boys. As far as the community, I think

that this involves the family, schools, peer groups and the

media. Peer groups are also highly influential to gender

socialization. If a six year old girls wants to be on the

baseball team, she is considered a tom boy. This is not

necessarily a negative connotation, but is considered so by the

peer group. Likewise, if a boy wishes to play with dolls, he may

be shunned by his peer group and teased for acting like a girl.

Another aspect of everyday life that is highly influential

in gender socialization is the media. What we see on television

or in the movies, what we read in the papers or in magazines,

what we see on billboards or hear on the radio are all very

significant to how we form an opinion on gender identity. Media

publishers have successfully learned to play to an audience and

are extremely successful in communication 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 accepted

behavior. It is easier for society to accept images presented by

the media and not 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. When society is presented with something or

someone out of the ordinary which does not follow what we deem to

be correct, we rebel and try to modify it to our socially

acceptable standards.

Imagine a baby born with no visible sex organs. Now imagine

after some tests that there are no internal or external sex

organs whatsoever. Is this possible? Surprisingly, it is

possible. It is very possible, in fact, probably more so than

one thinks. Though rarely publicized, there are people in this

world that are physically indistinguishable as males or females.

These people are constantly pressured to make a decision to

either become a full fledged male or female. Simple everyday

things may become a huge problem: what public restroom do you go

in; what kind of clothes do you wear; what letter is after the

word sex on your drivers license? These questions are only an

issue because of what society has deemed to be socially correct.

The labeling theory explains deviance as a societal reaction

that brands or labels as deviant people who engage in certain

behaviors (Kornblum, 196). Many times, people who stray from

what is politically correct gender behavior are seen as deviant

or abnormal. For example, gays and lesbians are, sadly, viewed

by much of society as wrong, simply because they are straying

from what society considers to be normal gender roles. The

labeling theory explains this, but it does not necessarily mean

that it is right.

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 (Adler, 455). Heaven

forbid that little Joey looks like a girl or baby Michelle is

mistaken for a boy. Mothers and fathers make it easy for

everyone to distinguish their bundles of joy by utilizing the

socially established gender stereotypes. But where and how did

these stereotypes come from?

In terms of gender roles, a functionalist would argue that

in preindustrial societies, such as those which depended on

hinting and gathering, men and women fulfilled different roles

and took on different tasks because it was most useful or

functional for society to do so. As hunters, men were frequently

away from home and, hence, centered their lives around the

responsibility of bringing food to the family. Since a woman?s

mobility is more limited by pregnancy, childbirth and nursing, it

was functional for her to spend more time near the home and

taking care of household and shield rearing tasks. Once

established, this division of labor carried through to developing

and already developed societies. Even though women may also

haven been involved in agricultural production or were gathers in

their own right, they were still largely dependent on men for

food and protection. The dominant role assumed by men, in turn ,

creates a pattern where male activities come to be more highly

valued than female ones. Thus, the pattern becomes

institutionalized and difficult to change; to rests on a belief

that gender stratification is inevitable due to biological sex


Parson and Bales (1955) relate two concepts to the

functional perspective of gender socialization. These concepts

are roles that the man and the woman take in society. When the

man takes on the instrumental role, he helps to maintain the

basic social and physical integrity of the family, by providing

food and shelter and linking the family to the world outside the

home. The woman, however, takes on the expressive role. She

helps cement relationships, provides the emotional support and

nurturing qualities which sustain the family unit, and ensures

that the household runs smoothly. When deviation from these

roles occurs, it is seen as breaking the norms of society. It

should be apparent from this that functionalism tends to be

inherently conservative in its orientation and does not account

for a variety of existing family systems which can be said to be

functional for themselves as well as society.

In a perfect world, there would be no gender

differentiation, no racial tension and no ?political

correctness?. Yet, we live in an imperfect world that is

currently making a turn towards becoming more ?PC?. Fading away

are such terms as fireman, stewardess, boyfriend, girlfriend,

policeman, and secretary. Now society is starting to use more

socially acceptable language and replacing such terms with fire

fighter, flight attendant, significant other, police officer and

administrative assistant. We are slowly, and I do mean slowly,

moving towards a non gender separated society. 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 dream world.


Adler, Leonore Loeb. 1993. International handbook on Gender

Roles. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Kornblum, William. 1997. Sociology in a Changing World. (2nd

ed.) Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

Parsons, Talcott, and Robert F. Bales (eds.). 1955 Family

Socialization and Interaction Process. Glencoe, IL: Free


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