In our society gender is considered one of the most important things by which a person can identify themselves. When a baby is born the first question one asks is not if the baby is healthy or how the woman who has just given birth is but ‘if its boy or a girl?’. The gender we are assigned when we are born sticks with us throughout our life, regardless of if we agree with it or not, seemingly influencing the way we act, dress and live our lives. In the following essay, I will discuss the way in which we can define gender both scientifically and sociologically. I will examine how the socialisation process influences our learning of gender norms and how these norms perpetuate gender differences in our society and the inequality that can occur as a result.
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There are many ways in which one can define gender. Macionis and Plummer define gender as the ‘social aspects of differences and hierarchies between male and female’ (Macionis & Plummer, 2012). While sex is often defined as ‘the state of being either male or female as determined by biological characteristics.’ (Marchbank & Letherby, 2007). We often see sex as being something natural while gender is a social construct built to more clearly define the differences between the sexes. Gender is evident throughout the social world. We see it in our workplaces, schools and in everyday society. Sociologists believe gender cannot exist on its own, it interacts with social norms, values, and in particular, social differences. For example, while society tells us, men are to have traditional masculine traits, to be strong and forceful, one would not expect the strength of a thirty-year-old man to be the same as an eighty year old. (Punch, et al., 2013).
We do not have a say in the gender that is assigned to us, it is given to us based on our biological sex. However , there are arguments that show that sex does not always equal biology. Humans do not always fit into the mould of male and female. A study carried out by the University of Sussex, stated that in countries such as India and the USA; the idea of being transgender and gender fluid is becoming progressively more common and accepted. (Jolly, 2002) This study leaves many questions as to whether we are bound by our biological sex at all. If it is possible to change the sex we were born, then why should our gender identity be so important? Nonetheless the gender that is given can and does have implications on the life we will evidently lead and the way is which we experience socialisation throughout our life.
Gender socialisation is the way in which boys and girls learn their gender scripts, the ‘appropriate’ roles they are expected to follow. Boys and girls experience gender socialisation and are taught there gender identity in different ways. However, this gender identity most often highly tainted by the social world around said person. Marchbank and Letherby researched and wrote about many studies which examine the way in which we encourage masculine and feminine ideals, noting that this encouragement is unescapable in schools, the media, clothing, and toys. This does not allow people to explore their own gender, instead pushing people to conform to one definition either male or female. Something many people feel they do not fit. Many leading sociologists have augured that this does, in fact, lend its hand to the problems many people face in terms of gender discrimination and inequality. (Marchbank & Letherby, 2007) While we are moving towards a day of gender fluidity in terms of people’s preferences of their own gender and in our gendered roles, inequality does still exist and is evident in everyday life. These differences and inequality vary greatly from country to country. What is considered acceptable in one country may not be in another. This is all a part of a particular countries gender order, defined by Macionis and Plummer as ‘the way in which societies shape notions of masculinity and femininity into power relationships’ (Macionis & Plummer, 2012)
Jill Matthews first developed the idea of the gender order in 1984. Matthews argued that the gender order does not mean inequality but allows a distinction to be made between males and females that relates to the general form of gender relations. (Pilcher & Whelehan, 2004, p. 61). This idea however, is outdated. Many critics of this theory agree that the gender order does account for the differences in gender expectations between countries it does not account for inequalities between both male and female and those who may not identify as such. Maharaj (1995) and Pilcher (1999) recognize that Matthews and consequently Connell, who based his studies off of Matthews, have theories that are historical in context and do not allow for differences such as time, place and diversity. Similarly, the theory of gender order does not account for gender norms varying from country to country, while gender inequity does not. (Pilcher & Whelehan, 2004) Seen all over the world, perhaps the most universal form of gender inequality is found in the work place. Woman are much less likely to be promoted to managerially and senior positions in work and are highly unlikely to be doing the same job as her male counter parts. For example, in the United States, less than ten percent of workers said they have a co-worker of a different gender who does the same job. (Ryle, 2015) A huge reason for this form of inequality and many more; is the negative qualities seen as being feminine or possessed by only women. Women are seen as the weaker sex, they are too emotional to take on high power roles and are better suited for care giving ones. These connections are directly related to the way in which gender is seen and taught by society. In the USA, women are more likely than men to have a college degree yet are more likely to live in poverty and have lower earnings than men. (Smilowitz, 2015)
After examining the meaning of gender, how we learn gender through the socialisation process and society’s gender order it is clear to see that all these factors lend their hand to gender inequality. Gender inequality is seen throughout the world, in ways that are often universal. And, contrary to popular belief does not only affect one gender but both and all genders. The social contrast of gender puts us a box. A box that aims to dictate how we will lead our lives based on our biological sex. Inequality runs rapid through our daily lives
Jolly, S., (2002). Issue 10: Culture, Sussex: In Brief .
Macionis, J. & Plummer, K., (2012). Gender and Sexualities. Third Edition ed. Harlow: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Marchbank, J. & Letherby, G., (2007). Introduction to Gender Social Science Perspective. First ed. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.
Pilcher, J. & Whelehan, I.,( 2004). 50 Key Concepts in Gender Studies. 1st ed. London: Sage Publications.
Punch, S., Marsh, I., Keating, M. & Harden, J., (2013). Sociology: Making Sense of Society. Fifth Edition ed. Harlow: Person Education Limited.
Ryle, R.,( 2015). Questioning Gender: A Sociological Exploration. 2nd ed. California: Sage Publications.
Smilowitz, A., (2015). ‘For U.S. Women, Inequality Takes Many Forms’ The Huffington Post, 14 April, avaliable: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ariel-smilowitz/for-us-women-inequality-takes-many-forms_b_7064348.html [accessed 18 Mar 2017]
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