A baby is born and the doctor looks at the proud parents or parent and saysthree simple words: Its a boy, or Its a girl! Before a newborn child even takeshis or her first breath of life outside the mothers womb, he or she isdistinguishable and characterized by gender. The baby is brought home anddressed in clothes that help friends, family and even strangers identify the sexof 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 baseballglove on it.
The baby girl may wear a bow in their hair and flowered pajamas. Asthe boy begins to grow, he is given a miniature basketball and a hoop to playwith. The girl is given dolls an d doll clothes to dress them up in. Even goingfurther, eventually the boy may play with Legos and Lincoln Logs and the girlgets a PlaySchool oven and a plastic tea set with which to play house. Soundspretty normal right? Why? As illustrated in the not-so-fictional scenario above,gender socialization begins very early in life.
Society has accepted suchstereotypical things as baby boy blue and baby girl pink to help identify thesex of a child. Heaven forbid the little Joey looks like a girl or b abyMichelle is mistaken for a boy. Mothers and fathers make it easy for everyone todistinguish their bundle of joy by utilizing the socially established genderstereotypes. But where and how did these stereotypes come from? Unfortunately, Idon’t think there is a definite answer to that question. We seem to accept thatblue is for boys and pink is for girls. Boys generally play with balls, toytrucks and building blocks whereas girls spend their time with dolls, tea setsand stuffed animals.Order now
But these are the stereotypes that are influenced by theparents. A baby child isn’t concerned with his or her gender identity. As thechild gets older though, he or she will begin to develop an identity for his orherself and establish a personality th at reflects their masculinity orfemininity. In Nancy Chodorow’s essay “Family Structure and FemininePersonality” she examines the development of gender identity andpersonality. Except for the stereotypical examples I have given above whichagain are e stablished by the parents, Chodorow states that the development of achild is basically the same for boys and girls until the age of three. Duringthose first three years the mother is the dominant figure in the child’s life.
The father plays a limited role until the child reaches the so called Oedipalperiod (beyond age 3). It is at this stage that children begin to try toseparate themselves from the clutches of their mother and establish their ownidentity. Chodorow examines how different this is for boys and girls. KFRC radiodisk jockey Ron Parker recently reported that out of a survey of one hundredfourth grade boys and one hundred fourth grade girls, the boys receive anaverage weekly allowance that is approximately 50% higher than the girlsreceive.
On the average, the boys receive $4. 18 as compared to the $2. 67 paid tothe girls. To look even further, the survey reported that the boys only performthree household chores to earn their weekly allowance whereas the girls areperforming twel ve or more.
Why are the girls expected to do four times as muchwork around the house than the boys are? Chodorow writes that a young boy isusually unable to identify with his masculinity through his father. The fatherisn?t as readily available to th e boy as the mother. Without the father tofollow example, Chodorow concludes that a boy will identify masculinecharacteristics be doing that which is not feminine. This could be anexplanation for the big difference in the number of chores the girls d o versusthe boys. Though you might disagree with the morality of this statement, youhave to admit that it is socially accepted that household chores are feminineduties.
Young boys are bound to realize this and following Chodorow?s theory,will refuse to perform a lot of chores in an attempt to become moremasculine. GENDER?AND?THE?MEDIA Another aspect of everyday life that is highlyinfluential in gender socialization is the media. What we see on television orat the movies, what we read in the newsp aper or in magazines, what we see onbillboards or hear on the radio are all very significant on how we form aopinion on gender identity. Media publishers have very successfully learned to?play? to an audience and are extremely successful in communicat ing with theaudience they wish to reach. Advertisers are the biggest example of thisconcept.
Society is very apt in recognizing images seen in commercials andprinted ads and viewing them as socially acceptable behavior. For example, beercompanies w ill target the twenty to thirty year old male audience and includescantily clad women enjoying their favorite beers. Ironically, popular women?smagazines also use beautiful women to promote cosmetics and beauty products(funny that both my examples sho w the exploitation of female images insociety. . .
more on that later). How often do you think people question theactivities they see portrayed in advertising and question them as to therevalidity? Probably not very often. It is much easier for society to just acceptthe images and not bother to take the time to analyze their bias and untruenature. It is this societal ignorance that clouds the mind and allows the imagesto continue to influence what we believe to be socially acceptable. And when society is presented with something or someone out of the ordinary which doesn?tfollow what we deem to be correct, we rebel and try to modify it to our sociallyacceptable standards.
THE?ANDROGYNOUS?SCENARIO Imagine a baby born with novisible sex organs. N ow imagine after some tests that there are no internal orexternal sex organs whatsoever. No ovaries, no testes, no uterus, no vagina, nopenis, no glands that produce estrogen or testosterone, no semen, no eggs, noanything. Is this possible? Surprisi ngly yes. It is very possible and in factprobably more so that one thinks. Though rarely publicized, there are people inthis world that are physically indistinguishable as males or females.
SallyJesse Raphael recently had one of these androgynous hu man beings on her popularmorning talk show. This person, known as Toby, is neither male nor female andprefers to live life in the androgynous state. Toby is the only known humanbeing in the world like this. Medically feasible, yes; but is the androgy nousperson socially acceptable in our everyday lifestyle? Since Toby was born, Tobyhasn?t been able to live a normal life. Throughout childhood, Toby wasconstantly pressured to make a decision to either become a full fledged male orfemale.
Doctors, teachers, friends and family all thought that Toby would bemuch happier if Toby could be classified as either a man or a woman. But Tobydidn?t think so. Toby made a decision to stay androgynous and it has causedsome very interesting results. Everyw here Toby goes identity comes intoquestion.
Is Toby male or female? Toby is neither. But that?s not possible. Yetit is. Think about what you do everyday and how much of it relies on gender andthen think about Toby.
What public restroom do you go in? What kind of clothesdo you wear? What store do you buy them in? What colors do you buy? What letteris after the word sex on your drivers license? How does Toby answer thesequestions? That?s not the point. The point is why does Toby have to a nswerthese questions? Because this is what we have determined to be socially correct. There are two sexes, male and female and you must be one or the other. How canthere be an in between? Such a person should have no place in our culturallybiased s ociety. FEMALE?EXPLOITATION As I briefly mentioned earlier, advertisersutilize female images to sell products.
Society associates beauty with thefemale and we are more inclined to pay attention to a beautiful woman presentedto us on a screen or a page in a magazine. But can this be more harmful to asociety than good. Recently in my woman?s studies class we were involved in astudent panel discussion regarding this topic. The presenters literally filled awall with images taken from magazines and ne wspapers and each of thephotographs were of beautiful women endorsing some product.
Everything fromlingerie to Coca-Cola utilized a female image to attract attention to their ad. This doesn?t just stop in advertising either. A documentary viewed in t he sameclass entitled ?DreamWorld?, exposed the demeaning portrayal of women as sexobjects in music videos. Specifically those shown on the popular music videonetwork MTV. The women in the videos were all sex objects; beautiful, buxom,sexy, promiscu ous and lacked any moral values whatsoever. Also, the woman inthe music videos all served one main purpose: to satisfy the sexual needs ofmen.
The documentary helped us to see how we are easily influenced by imageswhen we do not stop and think what t hey are showing us. Removed from thecontext of how they were originally intended to be shown, the images in thevideos were very disturbing to both men and women. But, for those who only seethem as they were produced, which is most of the viewing popu lation, the videosdo indeed portray these woman in a fantasized nature. This too can lead to whatsociety views as being socially acceptable. In a perfect world, there would beno gender differentiation, no racial tension and no ?political incorrectness ?.
But we live in an imperfect world that is currently making a turn towardsbecoming more ?PC? (politically correct). Fading away are such terms asfireman, stewardess, boyfriend and girlfriend, policeman and secretary. Now weare starting to use a mo re socially acceptable language and replacing suchterms with fire fighter, flight attendant, domestic partner or significantother, police officer and administrative assistant. We are slowly, and I do meanslowly, moving towards a non gender separated s ociety. Eventually we may beable to control what we see and how we see it, but until then we must rely onourselves to determine what is reality and what is part of a DreamWorld.