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Many times people have confused and even used the terms gender and sex to mean the same thing yet they are not. To others, gender means women. Sex is biological and it is determined by chromosomes and the body chemistry. Gender means socially or culturally acquired characteristics which are then associated to the biological sex. Sex is all about being female or male while gender is being feminine or masculine. Gender is constructed in a social setting. It is learnt. Gender refers to the different roles and responsibilities associated to women and men in society.
Gender includes men, women, youths and children. Gender means the appropriate qualities associated to the biological sex. Gender at the structural level influences the division of labor in institutions and organizations. At the symbolic level, it gives an individual personality. It also explains the cultural beliefs and stereotypes of male and female. It is a set of cultural roles. Gender is about how people perceive themselves and how they expect others to behave. Gender is the social meaning attached to men and women.
Gender is acquired through interactions with others. That is, caretakers, socialization in childhood and family roles. A child is simply born female or male but through socialization, the child becomes a boy or a girl who later matures to become a man and a woman. The social learning theory with explanations on behaviuor and environment justifies the definition of gender. Gender usually controls the principles of a society. It influences the processes of production, consumption and distribution hence the economic status of a society. ( FAO 1997)
Improper understanding of the meaning of gender results into discrimination against women as people of low status. Half of the world’s total populations are women. Women do two thirds of the world’s task yet get an income of one tenth of the worlds total earnings and only own two thirds of the world’s wealth.
Norms refer to the behavior expectations within a society. They are the rules that govern the proper and improper values, beliefs, attitudes and behavior of people in society. Norms are customary rules controlling the society way of life. In case of violation, an individual faces sanctions from the society. Gender norm therefore is what is considered right for males and females in society. It is what people expect of you by virtue of being female or male. Gender (norm) expectation is a product of socialization.
Agents of socialization such as the family, the school and mass media makes it possible for a child to learn of what is required of him or her through rewards and sanctions. Parents act as role models for their children within the family. For instance, a child that has been brought up in a family where the mother is considered an equal partner in terms of decision making on issues affecting the family and not subordinate, knows that even females have a place in society. A child that grows up in a family where the father helps in caring for the baby grows up with the idea that caring is a virtue of masculinity hence this shapes their gender roles positively.
At birth a doctor looks at the child and tells the parent that it is a boy or a girl hence the newborn is already identified by gender. The baby is then taken home and clothed in dressings that help relatives, friends and strangers tell the sex of the baby. Girls being dressed in bright colored cloths such as pink with hair ribbons while boys dressed in pale colored cloths such as grey with football pictures on it. (/www.studyworld.com)
This explains how much the society influences our gender roles.
As the child grows, the type of playing toys that parents buy them also gives them gender identity. Girls are given baby dolls to dress and take care of which is a symbol of mothering while boys given toy vehicles to drive and blocks to build houses. Parents usually expect their female children to be softer and more caring while the boys to be more active and rough. Boys are appreciated for their achievements and girls for their looks hence this impacts on the children gender socialization differently.
As the children grow within the family, parents allocate them household chores according to their gender identities. Girls left behind to wash dishes, look after their younger siblings and cook while boys told to go to the field to graze animals. Children therefore grow up identifying themselves as either feminine or masculine.
Gender socialization starts as early as a child is born. The following theories explain this. Psychoanalytic theory which emphasizes on children perception on their genitals and cognitive development theory which focuses that children acquire gender and its stereotypes through their brain processing to understand the social world explains gender socialization process in childhood.
Media as an agent of socialization also plays a role in shaping the gender of a child. What the child watches on television, reads on newspaper, sees on billboards and hears on radios influences their gender identity hence their gender roles. Beautiful women used to advertise cosmetics and beauty products and men advertised as heroes in movies. Media always portrays the negative side of women by picturing them as luxurious with nothing to offer except their beauty while picture men as people with ambitions to achieve and this is mostly expressed through advertisements.(www.studyworld.com)
Our educational institutions also influence the gender role in various ways. Girls being made monitors to take care of the classrooms while boys appointed prefects to exercise authority in class. Pupils reading books where Jane is always the nurse and Tom is always the doctor. It is the society in which we live in that shapes our thinking, attitude, behavior and way of life.
Peer pressure that children experience when they meet their friends also help in confirming the cultural gender roles already acquired from home. Boys who behave like girls in school or girls who behave like boys are usually teased by their peers and even ostracized from the circle of friendship hence this interferes with the child’s ego. The child is then forced to conform to what is perceived as culturally right. Socialization works by rewarding what is wanted and punishing the unwanted character.
. Gender norm determines the gender roles. Gender roles are social roles of men and women. They differ from society to society, culture, age, classes and time in history. Gender roles can be manifested through clothing, eating habits, choice of employment and on type of relationships. For instance, women are believed to be a weaker gender and therefore should do lighter tasks such as cooking, laundry and babysitting their children while men are energetic therefore doing heavy tasks out side the home.
Culture also shapes the roles played by both men and women. Societies specify women occupations and men occupations. For example, a barber is believed to be a man and any woman who chooses to become a barber is nicknamed as a lady barber. Professions like law and medicine are also believed to be male profession hence women who join such professions are nicknamed as women lawyers and women doctors. On the other hand, occupations such as nursing and health care are believed to be female professions and men who join them are nicknamed as male nurses.
However gender roles differ from society to society. In countries like United States, medicine is a profession of men while in Soviet Union, it is a profession of women. In Germany and Taiwan, all barbers in a shop are women.(2) Societies expects a person with masculine features to behave like a man even if that individual is a woman. For example, a woman with a deep voice and beards putting on a woman’s dress and high heeled shoes is ridiculed and unfriendly attention given to her. Many times we assume our gender roles based on our gender identity.
That is, any person with external male organs is assumed to be male while an individual with external female organs is assumed to be a woman yet this scenario is not always true. These kinds of people are faced with inconsistent gender role and gender identity .An example of traditionally gender role is males being attracted to females hence lesbians and gays are deviants from this expectation. Gender norms usually lead to gender role stereotypes in which a society expects women and men to behave in a particular manner.
Society sees individuals through different types of gender lenses. One is the lens of gender polarization which explains that men and women are not the same and this variance is the pivot factor controlling the social life. Two is the androcentrism lens. It explains that men are superior to women and therefore their decisions are final. Third is the biological essentialism which explains that the above lenses are due to biological difference in sex. Social constructionist views gender as away of fulfilling ones desires.
Society thinks that men and women are different; they should therefore be handled differently in terms of development. This difference in handling executes characters and behaviors that lead to gender stereotypes. This practice repeats itself several times through different generations until it becomes a people’s way of life hence impossible to reverse. Children acquire their gender because it is important to society setting thereby making them slaves of their own culture without noticing that other ways of life are also possible.
. This change includes both men and women. The greatest change has occurred in terms of attitude and perception. Societies no longer discriminate against women as it was in the past. Women have also acquired a positive attitude within themselves that they have the potential hence can do all gender roles that a man can do. Women today take up tasks that were initially meant for men. Women have joined the workforce. They are now working as either part-time or full time employees in formal sectors and are therefore able to bring food unto the table unlike before where only men were involved in economic task.
Change has also occurred in the area of gender violence. It was culturally believed that men should beat their wives to prove their dominance over them. Women were not allowed to take part in issues of decision making within the family. They were seen as inferior gender but this has reversed and they are now able to make contributions to issues affecting the family. The government has also become conscious about gender violence and action is now taken against those who abuse their wives. (Beth and Marx, 1998)
Change has also been experienced in educational institutions. In the past societies focused more on the boy child. Boys were taken to school up to higher levels because it was believed that they are the backbone of any society. Girls were discriminated and were only given elementary education and then forced to marry so that the parents get dowry. Today, this trend has changed and we now have more female students in schools and even joining higher levels of education such as the universities. In addition to this, female students are now registering for courses that were initially believed to be technical and meant for men such as engineering. On the other hand, male students are also taking up courses that are believed to be softer such as humanities.
Men gender roles have also changed quite significantly. For example, today men are given paternity leaves to help their wives take care of the baby and strengthen the family bond. Governments have also focused more on men to the level of establishing resource centers for them so that they are able to pull their resources together for development. Again, gender mainstreaming programs have been introduced to help ensure that there is equal representation of gender in all sectors,
In the sports arena, certain activities that were initially male domain are now participated in by females also. For example, sports like body building, football and boxing were culturally meant for men but today we have female participants in the same. Females are also participating in athletics without any discrimination unlike before where female athletes were accused of being gay. On the other side, sports like handball and indoor games that were traditionally known to be female sports are now encroached by males and they are excelling in them.
In the public arena, women are now holding high offices just as men. In the past, a woman’s place was the kitchen and could not contribute to issues of development. Today we see women participating in politics and competing for public offices together with men and they even defeat them. Gender roles have also changed in terms of dressing. Today we see women putting on trousers which were initially men’s clothing. Keeping long hair has been associated with women but today we have males who are also doing their hair and putting own bangles and earrings
In occupations such as the military and other forces, we now have female representation. In the past, men were believed to be warriors and strong enough to defend their territories and women were not allowed to participate in wars. Today, we have women soldiers who go to war to defend their states. Household duties that were formally seen as feminine are now encroached by males. For example, we have male cooks working in hotel industries to earn a living, houseboys in various homes to take care of the house. Men beauty parlors doing female hairs and this shows that even gender relations have changed. People today interact freely between different sexes.
Even though gender roles have changed, there are still certain impediments to full change. For example, women are still seen as the bosses of the kitchen in the homes. They have two shifts of work. That is, after coming from work they still have to join in cooking and caring for their babies. Again if a child is sick, it is the woman who takes off from work to take the baby to the hospital and remains in the home to nurse the kid until he or she gets well while the father continues to work.
In conclusion, I wish to note that, the effects of childhood socialization are so strong that it shapes our adult our adult life.