The folllowing sample essay on Socially Constructed Gender discusses it in detail, offering basic facts and pros and cons associated with it. To read the essay’s introduction, body and conclusion, scroll down.
Many sociologists believe gender is socially constructed (i. e. it is mostly created by society and is not completely natural, as gender identity varies between societies and within societies). Some sociologists argue that gender is the result of environmental influences, particularly the way we are taken care of by our parents or guardians. On the other hand a number of sociologists argue that gender is the result of nature, due to the effects of ‘hormones, brains or genes of the two sexes. ‘Haralambos and Holborn (1995) In terms of how we understand identity ‘a distinction between sex and gender must be drawn.
Nick Jorgensen, John Bird, Andrea Heyhoe & Bev Russell (1997). “Sex deals with what are often biological differences, while gender is about a socially constructed role. Therefore, labels ‘women’ and ‘man’ are about both biological and social differences. ” Jorgensen, Bird, Andrea & Russell (1997) Pg 23 Gender roles have a big influence on our lives, and there is a lot of evidence that suggests ‘gender roles are culturally rather then biologically produced. ‘ Oakley (1972 cited in Haralambos and Holborn 1995) this means individuals are taught the behaviour that is expected of males and females within their society. These processes create systems of ideas and practises about gender that vary across time and space. They also create gender divisions of labour, allocating women and men to different activities and responsibilities. ” Bilton, Bonnett, Jones, Lawson, Skinner, Stanworth and Webster (2002) Pg 132. Many studies have shown that gender roles can differ considerably due to the culture of that society.
Socially Constructed Gender
This illustrates “whatever the biological differences between males and females, it is the culture of the society which exerts most influence in the creation of masculine and feminine behaviour. Haralambos and Holborn (1995) Further more primary and secondary socialisation influences the behaviour of girls and boys from an early age. ‘The roles themselves are made quite clear from the start; females are weak, more emotional and do not have strong sexual desires. Whereas, males are strong less emotional and have powerful sexual desires. ‘ Stephen Moore (1987) Parents tend to treat girls and boys differently in ways that influence their development. Oakley talks about four main ways in which socialisation takes place in gender roles.
Firstly “the child’s self- concept is affected by manipulation”. Secondly “differences are achieved through canalisation involving the direction of boys and girls towards different objects. ” (Oakley 1972 cited in Haralambos and Holborn 1995 Pg 589/590) For instance girls are expected to be neat and tidy, to appreciate they are wearing pretty dresses and to be aware of their appearances. They are also given different toys to boys such as dolls, to play mother with and cooking and washing up appliances whereas, the boys are given toy guns, building bricks.
All these activities ‘encourage different forms of behaviour. ‘ (Stephen Moore 1987) “The third aspect of socialisation is the use of verbal appellation such as ‘that’s a good girl. ‘ Or ‘you’re a naughty boy. (Oakley 1972 cited in Haralambos and Holborn 1995 Pg 590) this leads boys and girls to identify their gender and imitate adults of the same gender. So the son copy’s his father and is taught the traditional views of a man and the girl copy’s her mother and is taught traditional views of a women.
Finally “male and female children are exposed to different activities. ” (Oakley 1972 cited in Haralambos and Holborn 1995 Pg 590) Girls in particular are encouraged to become involved in domestic everyday jobs which reinforces stereotypes of masculinity and femininity. In addition primary socialisation can also cause differences in attitude to education research by Harris et al (1993) into attitudes of working class 16 year old boys and girls found that girls tented to be better motivated and more hard working than boys.
The boys were easily distracted in class and were less determined to overcome educational difficulties. The researchers concluded that these attitudes were linked to the ‘gender regimes’ they encountered in their homes and communities. Girls who were exposed to women who were organisers of the home and family and wage earners, displayed the same characteristics i. e. they were also organised with schoolwork and homework. However, the stereotype of the male was the ‘macho male’ that did not care about authority and just liked to be in the company of other males.
Researchers felt some of the boys were already fulfilling this stereotype in their approach to school. Moreover “sociologists argue that teachers spend more time with boys and concentrate their efforts more on them. ” (Moore 1987 Pg 53) Like parents who are more likely to label their sons as less interested in school and education at an early age (Eccles study) teachers have different expectations of from boys and girls. “Boys are expected to be more boisterous, girls to be quieter and more obedient.
As a result, teachers are likely to treat the children differently according to their sex. ” (Moore 1987 Pg 53) There are also many other ways in which socialisation into gender roles takes place. Identification also takes place; children see themselves as their parents or television heroes. So as well as imitating their parents they also play at being parents/hero figures. Peer group pressure is also applied by friends, as friendships develop along sex lines with boys playing with boys and girls playing with girls, both playing different types of games. Stephen Moore (1987).
From the viewpoints described above it would seem gender is socially constructed in the sense that differences in the behaviour of males and females are learned rather than being the inevitable result of biology. Haralambos and Holborn (1995) In contrast to this argument some sociologists would argue biologically differences are believed to be responsible for the behaviour of boys and girls and their roles in society. Stoller (cited in Haralambos and Holborn 1995) ‘claims there are no vital links between femininity and being a woman, and being a man and behaving in a masculine way’.
Not all girls are caring and sympathetic and not all boys have to be aggressive and competitive. Some sociologists believe that hormones and brain differences can explain the difference in behaviour and roles of males and females. Both males and females produce sex hormones. Usually women produce larger amounts of progesterone and oestrogen, whilst males usually produce more testosterone and other androgens. “The activity of a wide range of hormones is closely integrated with the activity of the nervous system, and so hormones can influence behaviour, personality and emotional disposition. (Haralambos and Holborn 1995 Pg 582) There has been much research done on animals to show evidence that there is link between the hormone androgens and aggressive behaviour such as castrated male rats fighting less, whereas female rats given more androgens after birth being more aggressive in adult life than other female rats (Haralambos and Holborn 1995).
However, there have been criticisms made of the hormonal explanations of the study mentioned above by Ruth Bleier. In general, it is dangerous to assume that the same hormonal changes in animals would result in the same behaviour as humans. Such experiments are not conclusive. ” (Haralambos and Holborn 1995 Pg 582) In addition there are claims that hormones have indirect effects on male and female brain development as well as direct effects. Research has also concentrated on the issue of brain lateralisation. ‘It is believed that the left and right hemispheres of the brain specialise in different tasks. The left hemisphere specialises in language and logical skills whereas the right is mostly responsible for visuospatial abilities. (Haralambos and Holborn 1995) It is alleged that the left hemisphere is more dominant in girls, and that in boys the right hemisphere is more dominant. This difference might be due to the hormonal influences on the brain. On the other hand Ruth Bleier “has noted the contradictory findings of the studies in this area. For example, some studies claim that girls’ are less lateralised than boys; some claim the reverse to be true; and some find no difference between boys and girls. ” (Haralambos and Holborn 1995 Pg 583)
Moreover another biological explanation for the difference in behaviour of males and females is genetic and evolutionary factors. Some sociologists believe these reasons account for the difference in male and female behaviour. Some sociologists argue that “social scientists who assume that human beings behave simply in terms of their culture and society are ignoring what they call human biogrammer. ” (Haralambos and Holborn 1995 Pg 583) This is a genetically based programme which inclines people to behave in certain ways.
Although it is similar in men and women, “Tiger and fox argue that compared to women, men are more aggressive and dominant and that these characteristics are genetically based. ” (Haralambos and Holborn 1995 Pg 584) This is partially because genetic inheritance and because a genetic ‘adaptation to a hunting way of life. ‘ Male’s hunt which can be found to be an aggressive activity. To conclude, to support a biological case we would need to establish that a universal difference exists, that men and women across societies are characterised by more or less identical behaviours.
We would also need to show that this difference is actually caused by biology and not in the similarities in upbringing. “The more segregated the worlds that women and men inhabit, the harder it is to demonstrate that nature, rather than nurture, accounts for gender difference. (Bilton, Bonnet, Jones, Lawson, Skinner, Stanworth & Webster 2002 Pg 132) Sociologists have tried to move away from the debate as to whether sex and gender shapes male and females behaviour “Both David Morgan and Linda Birke argue sex and gender interact. Sex differences and vice versa. ” (Haralambos and Holborn 1995 591)