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Social Construction of Gender Identity

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Social Construction of Gender Identity

In Western culture, gender is a binary classification based on two strictly defined gender categories of male and female. From the time of birth, we become acquainted with gender expectations and standards through many social influences. These influences have a powerful effect as they shape our understanding of gender and how we identify ourselves as being a man or woman. In the film Codes of Gender, Sut Jhally analyzes gender display in advertisements and how masculine and feminine powers are portrayed differently through body and hand configurations. Women are shown as smaller or weaker than men, and suggest a ritualization of subordination through their canting, bashful knee positions. Contrastingly, men are represented as powerful and strong by appearing active and commanding to others. Jhally argues that there is nothing natural about gender identity. It is a socially constructed process in which we alter our behavior and adapt to a certain set of rules that are appropriate for a male or female. Gender identity, including the codes associated with males and females, is a social and cultural construction with strong influences from parents, peers, and the media.

The first and foremost influence on gender identity development occurs within the family as parents instill their personal beliefs about gender in their children. Parents create different environments for their daughters and sons even as babies. Bedrooms are decorated according to gender-appropriate colors and themes. Infant boys are dressed in blue, while baby girls are dressed in pink. The gender messages parents send their children become internalized at an early age, with kids as young as two years old being aware of sex role differences in adult tasks, clothing, and possessions (Weinraub et al. 1499). In addition, parents reinforce gender-typical behavior by promoting sex-typed activities and toys. Boys are encouraged to engage in sports activities and play with cars and trucks. Girls are encouraged to play with dolls and tea sets. One study found that a child's toy choice preference is significantly related to the parent's toy choice preference (Peretti and Sydney 215). Additionally, the parent's toy selection was based on "sex-appropriateness" and whether the toy was masculine or feminine enough for their son or daughter, respectively. Parents also assign household tasks by gender, causing children to associate certain activities as being male or female. Boys are given physical chores such as mowing the lawn and taking out the garbage, whereas girls are likely to engage in household chores such as cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry.

Although parents introduce children to gender stereotypes, peer groups are a predominant agent of socialization that affect our identity development and how we view gender roles. Peer groups reinforce gender stereotypes by modeling the masculine and feminine behavior that is encouraged by parents. Boys enjoy being independent, competitive, and physically aggressive. Girls develop nurturing, emotional, and submissive behaviors. As young children, they prefer to socialize with members of the same gender. They are often rewarded and accepted into the same-sex group if they follow the style of play that the group feels is socially appropriate. When children do not conform to gender roles and engage in cross-sex behavior, they may face negative consequences such as being criticized or rejected from peers. For example, girls who prefer active play are labeled a "tomboy." Boys who dislike rough play are called a "sissy." For

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