Gender roles are learned mainly through social interaction rather than biologically. When people are born, they are endowed with very little concept of gender. “Proper” behavior is learned through social interaction, and through relationships with others. Gender identity is constructed through communication experienced through the media, parents, and peers at school, at work and at home. How children are raised in society reflects on how they act as they grow. Society changes the attitudes and views on life of people, much more than their biological make-up.
According to Ana Veciana-Suarez (2003), author of “Thank Heaven for Little Boys,” many traits of boys and girls are instinctive: they are born with them. The genetics all people are born with might affect physical abilities, but children learn to act in certain ways by watching people around them. For example, when young boys watch cartoons or certain male-orientated TV programs, they are influenced to act like the characters they see on TV. The characters in these shows are shown to portray a more aggressive or violent manner; so some children act that way. The main characters in shows such as Batman or Superman are portrayed as strong athletic heroes, who can influence a young boy’s everyday actions.
In shows such as these, boys are often depicted as aggressive and destructive; which suggests to male children that they should act competitively. Even as adolescents, people are influenced by TV, movies, books, and music. For example, the artist Eminem incites males to be violent, to engage in homosexual references, and condemn women. At younger stages, people are not mature enough to make their own decisions and are easily influenced by what they see. People emulate what Eminem says in his lyrics about violence. The Columbine incident showed that the boys who killed innocent students derived their ideas through certain movies and TV shows. This shows that teenagers are at a very vulnerable age and can be influenced by society to act in almost predictable ways.
Adolescents are more likely than adults are to be influenced by society to act a certain way, because they are easily influenced to mold to the person society projects as ‘an ideal person’. In the argument of Veciana-Suarez (2003) it is claimed that she attempted to raise her children equally, but subconsciously she admits she must have treated her children differently because of the way society influences parents to cue their children. When girls are young, they are often given Barbies and baby dolls to play with. The girls are subjected to beautiful but fake-looking toys and become confused about what they should look like. “Since they are only given attractive, clean, and overly-perfect toys, they assume that they should look like their own dolls. Research shows that by 3 years old, children have already begun to learn the figurative or metaphorical meanings of gender. . . Children learn an underlying framework for understanding the nature of masculine and feminine that does not depend on the specific models having appeared in their environment”(Sapiro, 83)
Typically, girls are less athletically inclined than boys, because of their genetic make-up. Because of this, parents often do not treat girls and boys in the same way when it comes to sports. Boys are taught to be more aggressive because it is expected that boys should be more athletic than girls. Girls also are encouraged to express their feelings and to cry openly. Boys often have feelings such as excitement and anger that are socialized to replace “inferior, feminine” feelings such as distress and fear. (Murnen, 361) Boys are influenced to never cry or complain, but to “tough it out,” or “be a man.”
At a young age, children are also influenced to act in specific ways by their peers. A child can be made fun of when doing things considered not typical of their gender. For example, a boy can be teased by his peers if he likes to play in the kitchen or play with dolls. Society influences children only to play with certain toys that are meant for their gender. Advertisements on TV show specific toys for each gender and show only girls or boys playing with them.
Because of this societal influence, girls and boys act the way they do into adulthood, especially in the work force, where adults are expected to act in prescribed ways. Men are still very dominant in high position jobs, because the social prescription indicates that men can handle tough jobs better than women can. Since society values competition and individuals becoming successful on their own, women’s orientation towards caring for others or acting cooperatively to build the community can be considered (in a male- dominated society) to be of lesser importance. These value differences are reflected in gender roles established by different cultures. (Crespi, 2)
Continual stereotypes are projected onto women, of which they might no longer be capable, no longer desire to carry out, or pursue. Society too might miscarry the impression of what men are capable of, simply because of the way the majority of people were raised to think. These are the reasons men often get “better” jobs than women do, and have more opportunities in the work force: gender stereotypes are commonly put into action in today’s society. For example, it is not considered socially acceptable for a female to coach a men’s sports team at any level. This is a huge disadvantage, because some women might be great coaches, so the players miss out on gaining experience, and female coaches miss out on the opportunity to coach. It is unfair for society to judge one’s capabilities on gender. The “better” jobs often offer more pay, and females are at a greater disadvantage, based solely on the unavoidable chance of gender.
When people begin to date, specific behaviors are expected by each gender because of social influence, custom and usage. Men often used to be expected to pay for the date, drive on the date, ask the girl out, and a number of other outdated manners. Women too are expected to play a specific role in the dating game. When people marry, they assume specific roles according to their gender. Men used to be expected go to work during the day, with women staying at home to take care of the children. These stereotypical roles are gradually becoming eroded.
No biological or physical endowments exist that hold men and woman to these assumed roles in society. A community would influence a couple to act in this way in the past, and they would think it was what was expected of them. Industrialization, wars, globalization, and other pressures have seen to the attrition of these influences.
People are born knowing which gender they are, but through further interaction learn how society expects them to act. There is no way that anyone could learn attitudes and behaviors through biological influences; society has a much stronger stimulus on the way people act according to gender. Everyone is born with some instinct on how to act relative to gender, but the way they are raised, how they interact with their peers, and the influences that the media has, is what influences gender identity.
Emily Watson – 1/27/2012