Gender Identity & Roles

Abstract

From birth, we as humans are grouped into two categories: male and female. Gender is the first and most basic way to define a person, not only in terms of physical attributions, but also through roles structured by culture and society. Gender roles are social constructs developed by cultures that put various expectations on each sex.

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They set a standard of what behavior is appropriate for a person according to whether they are male or female. These roles represent a large part of how humans choose to act and can be recognized in all stages of life. This paper will discuss how gender roles are spread throughout society in youth, and how demanding conformity may cause problems in lives.?

The Effects of Gender Roles Throughout Life

When a baby is on the way, everyone around wants to know the sex. A popular tradition in Western countries today is for soon-to-be parents to have a fully planned gender reveal parties. They will gather their family and friends and have some creative way to reveal if their child will be a girl or a boy. For example, the couple will open a box with balloons inside and if the balloons are pink it means they are having a girl, and if they’re blue a boy. Biological sex is so important to society that these types of celebrations have become the norm. People are taught from a very young age how they are supposed to behave according to their gender, and continue to learn how to meet society’s expectations as they develop and grow.

Childhood

It can be argued that gender roles are introduced by both society and biological instinct. Adults tend to teach their children how they are supposed to act or not act if they are a boy or girl, and may even assign gender roles before they are born. As soon as the child is born, people will start to use gender-specific descriptions such as handsome versus pretty, even though it is difficult to tell whether a young baby is a girl or boy simply from its appearance.

First Years of Life

Parents are undoubtedly the most important factor in how children learn to behave in society, especially in their early years. Children begin to understand the difference between males and females within their very first year of life. This idea is usually embedded from being around their mother and father, or any adult figures in their life. (Love, Myers-Walls, Putnam, 2006). As children become toddlers, their own personalities begin to show through. They are able to associate behavior with gender and start to apply this knowledge to their first forms of socialization (Healthy Gender Development, 2016).

Play Companions and the Gender Segregation

It has been observed that very young children are comfortable playing with other children of the opposite sex, but this changes with age. According to a study at the University of Nebraska, After the age of three, girls and boys tend to play separately rather than together, particularly when they are in large single-age peer groups, (Edwards, Knoche, Kumru, 2001). This study also recorded that girls and boys noticeably take on opposite attitudes when it comes to playing. Boys were more drawn to bigger groups of playmates and regularly took part in aggressive, physical play, while girls typically had fun with domestic activities in more quiet, intimate groups.

Although these specific behaviors have been observed to be a result of natural biological instinct, gender segregation based on begins to take on affect. Children often experience social disapproval for the first time at this stage in their lives. Girls who enjoy more athletic, male-dominant activities are criticized by adults and teased by peers for being tomboys, and are seen as bossy for adopting a leadership roll. The same is done to boys who do activities or behave in ways that are considered to be girly. It has also been observed that boys have less forgiveness than girls do for when their same-sex peers don’t conform to their gender roles (Boseley, 2017). This remains true for many males even as adults.

Pre-Adolescence and Reinforcement of Stereotypes

During grade school, the youth at this age are extremely impressionable and easily accept the stereotypes created about their gender. They willingly believe the universal myth that girls are vulnerable while only boys are strong. This idea is constantly reinforced by adults; parents, teachers, relatives, siblings, etc. (Seifert, Sutton, 2009).

Marketing and Advertisements

Along with this generalization comes gender labels. Television and media advertise toys in ways that are very obviously aimed at each gender. According to a study of children marketing,

Ads for boys’ toys were displayed in intense bold colors and featured character names and other product attributes that connoted strength, power, and action. Ads for girls’ toys were depicted in soft pastel colors and featured character names and product attributes that signified passivity, triviality, and preoccupation with fashion and physical attractiveness, (Owen, Padron, 2015).

Toys are just the introduction to a of world gender labeling, followed by categorizing hobbies, and then professions. This can become an issue when kids start planning their future.

Male vs. Female Professions

Children in school likely encounter the big question and decision “ what they want to be when they grow up. The problem occurs, however, that society limits the career options each gender can have, or at least makes some more difficult to achieve. For example, society labels engineering and science a job meant for boys, and teaching and nursing for girls. Another widespread myth is that boys are naturally better at math and science than girls are. Statistics have shown that this belief in society actually causes damage on girls’ performance in math and science. Girls have long been socialized into thinking they’re not good at math. If you’re told something long enough, and you see it reinforced by teachersyou start to believe it, (Anne, 2011). This becomes a job inequality problem for adult women. A study showed that only 30% of STEM careers belong to women, while it also recorded data that boys and girls are equally as good at math when the stereotype isn’t imposed on them (Kaufman, 2011)

Puberty and Teenage Years

By the ages of 11, most children have internalized common gender stereotypes and are aware of who they are supposed to become. Not only have they been educated of the puberty phase that is to come, but they also have a better understanding of how the real world functions. Puberty is a crucial time for individuals in which they must find their own identity, and can be difficult when society is telling them what is deemed appropriate for their gender. While their bodies are rapidly changing into adult form, the differences between boys and girls are increased, and social expectations find themselves at even further ends of each spectrum.

Relationships

Sexuality is a big topic for teenagers. During their high school years, teenagers are known to explore romantic dating for the first time. After being separated throughout elementary and middle school, boys and girls experiment with reforming those lost relationships with the opposite gender. It is practice for how they will interact as men and women once they reach adulthood. A study by Hill and Lynch looked at the changed behavior between boys and girls’ while teenagers, and related this to pressure from society. Gender expectations were seen to have a more negative affect on young women. Their data recorded that,

Girls became more self-conscious, reported lower self-esteem, were more concerned with interpersonal relationships and with their physical appearance, and were more likely to be accommodating and compliant in their interactions with others, (Hyde, Lindberg, Priess, 2009).

This observation is just one example of how young adults are being restricted by social expectations. Socially defined gender roles are setting the tone for male and female interactions.

School Dress Codes and Further Reinforcement

With current feminism movements, a common topic for argument is dress codes in schools. Middle schools and high schools all over America have a set of dress code rules, usually more specific towards girls that are viewed by many as sexist an unfair. Many schools require that girls cannot wear tank tops, and their shorts or skirts cannot be more than a few inches above the knees. There may also be rules about hairstyles and makeup targeted at girls, and especially girls of color. These rules are accused of discriminatory double standards, as the same is not enforced on male students. Counterarguments in support of dress codes claim that they are put in line to prevent from distracting other students from learning. Feminists point this out as wrongful sexualizing of young women, and actually results in harmful affects on girls’ education. The concern is that students who may already be struggling academically fall farther behind in class when they miss too much time serving suspensions, changing clothes, or waiting while administrators measure their skirt lengths, (Jones, 2018).

All of this can be traced back to gender roles in society. Women are expected to conform to what society thinks is appropriate for their gender, often in result of standards set for men. Dress codes can serve as a problem for these developing young adults by promoting the idea that men cannot control themselves when it comes to attraction, so women must accommodate them. Like the study that recorded increased low-self esteem in teenage girls, this is setting the tone of male and female interaction for young adults. It is the first of many ways gender rules are strictly forced onto people.

Gender and Sexual Identity

Today, many LGBTQ teens are faced with assigning themselves a gender and/or sexual identity. It was not until 2015 that gay marriage was legal in the United States, and there is still a big problem with acceptance in the country. Another elaborate issue of today’s social politics is gender fluidity. Questioning Gender Identity, also known as Gender Dysphoria, is a feeling of distress either emotionally or physiologically as a result of the sex or gender an individual was assigned at birth, (Polaris Teen Center, 2018). This struggle is another negative result of strict gender roles, causing young people to feel like it is not okay to be their true selves. The good news is that this is changing. Newer generations of youth are choosing not to comply with social expectations. A 2017 study from UCLA concluded that 0.7% of the teenagers consider themselves to be transgender. One year later, a study from the University of Minnesota recorded that 2.7% identify as transgender (Leguizamon, Griggs, 2018). This is evidence that more people are rejecting stereotypical gender roles.

Conclusion

Gender roles adults take on were ingrained in them from their childhood years. These social constructs attempt to tell people what standards must be met according to their gender.

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