The Construction of Gender and its Development

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Updated: Feb 19, 2021
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The Construction of Gender and its Development essay

Gender has been a topic of discussion that has many different meanings associated to men and women. Gender has been socially constructed to categorize men and women to partake in accepted social norms. Throughout the years, the categorical differences between men and women have changed drastically. Critics argue if sex, male or female, can still be associated with society’s social norms of modern day. If a person was born as a male, their gender was assigned as a man. If a person was born as a female, their gender was assigned as a woman. In modern day society, the subject of gender has become more fluid. Nowadays, one’s sex does not relate to one’s ability to identify with the gender assigned to them at birth. The categorical components of gender now have sub-categories ranging from gays to lesbians to transvestites to transsexuals. Societal norms and expectations of men and women continue to change as society continues to progress. However, critics question the ability to categorize a person who is neither male or female. The question that arises is, what if I am both a man and a woman, where do I belong? Using, The Gendered Society written by Michael Kimmel with the help of other researchers and two additional research articles, the construction of gender and its development in early years of childhood are relative to one another.

“Is it a boy or is it a girl?” is the most popular question that is asked when a woman is about to give birth to a child. The knowing of the sex of a child is one of the defining factors in assigning a gender. With the sex, parents can design the pathway that they wish for their child to partake in within society’s social norms. Gender socialization occurs at the early stages of life beginning from birth and continuing into adulthood. Nikola Balvin from Unicef, Evidence for Action defines gender socialization as a “process by which individuals develop, refine and learn to ‘do’ gender through internalizing gender norms and roles as they interact with key agents of socialization, such as their family, social networks and other social institutions.” Individuals of modern day abide by social norms that are accepted by society in all terms. Girls are expected to be dependent, gentle, caring, and are defined by their feminism whereas boys are expected to be independent, detached from femininity, rough, and are defined by their masculinity.

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As children continue to grow into adulthood, in their adolescence gender differences and gender inequality are created and reinforced through play, media, and is especially reinforced within schools (Kimmel, 2017). In children, gender stereotyping is quite common and is often the consequence of the parents. When parents have children, they tend to gender stereotype their children with colors and the relationship they develop with their children. Girls are shown more care when compared to boys. According to Kimmel, after the first six months with a child, mothers begin to show differences in care among their children, “During infancy, expectations about how each gender ought to be treated lead to different behaviors by parents and other adults…During the first six months of children’s life, mothers tend to look at and talk to girl infants more than to boy infants, and mothers tend to respond to girl’s crying more immediately than they do to boys’.” Within the early years of childhood, parents unintentionally treat their children differently in an effort to conform to the gender category that they have assigned to their children. Girls receive more treatment as opposed to boys in order to show the dependency that females typically have whereas boys are assumed to be more independent and have the ability to take care of themselves. Within the early stages of life, parents gender stereotype their children with just the simple question of, “Is it a boy or is it a girl?”

Gender stereotyping continues into adolescence through play and isolation. As children grow and begin to attend schools, they begin to recognize the type of activities that occur with children who are just like them. Kimmel states, “the earliest interaction with other children is an arena where children express and utilize the gender expectations they have picked up from parents and the world around them,” (Kimmel, 2017). Boys tend to play with other boys by “horsing around”, rough play, participating in sports, and playing with action figures such as Superman, Spider-man, the Black Panther, and etc. Girls however lean towards playing with kitchen activities, dolls such as Barbie and Bratz, “house”, and etc., “…girls assume more domestic, nurturing, and female-typed roles associated with low physical movement, whereas boys more often engage in male-typed roles and occupational-typed play with higher activity levels,” (Marjanovi?-Umek, Fekonja-Peklaj, 2017). According to research the type of toys children seek to play with is an important factor that helps in identifying the gender a child seeks to show relation to. In children, parents play an active role in influencing the type of toys children play with. When children recognize that other children that fit their gender category fail to adhere to the standards they were raised to adapt to, they tend to push these children aside and seek the conformation of other children that fit their standards. The upcoming of children and their relationship with their parent is an important factor in association to gender. This proves to be of importance because children tend to imitate the acts of adults and their exposed surroundings.

In the early 20th century and years prior, women performed household duties by being caretakers, mothers, and etc. By performing household duties, women were considered to be the “ideal housewife” that many men desired to have. Men were expected to be the breadwinners of their family and were expected to bring more to the table than women. Men and women were abiding to society’s social norms of what was considered the average American family. If one was to deviate from the social norms, they were ridiculed and looked upon negatively by society. The ability to develop the ideal nuclear family was valued and recognized as patriotic in the early 20th century, however, by the 1950s, many ideals began to change. Women began to get involved in the labor force and began to leave the traditional “housewife” expectation. The traditional gendered expectations of the family were beginning to change under the contemporary lifestyle of modern day.

According to Kimmel, gender flexibility in participation to be a breadwinner and caretaker proved to be beneficial to young adults. Active work essentially breaks the traditional gender roles. Gender breaking is the idea of allowing both sexes, male or female, to actively participate in roles that are typically assigned to men and women. A male could be the caretaker and a woman could be the breadwinner. Both sexes have the ability to interchange roles without disassociating from their societal gender norms. The concept of family has proved to be a resilient institution that has the ability to adapt to changing economic, social, and cultural circumstances (Kimmel, 2017). In American society, family proves to be essential to the overall foundation of most people whether it be immediate family or extended family. The idea of family and gender holds a stronghold of importance. Compared to the typical household lifestyle prior to the 1950s, in modern day families have adopted new ways of assigning the workload to both men and women. These new assignments do not typically follow the gender stereotypes of men and women prior to the 1950s. Growing up, women and men are raised to fit typical gender stereotypes that their parents assigned to them. However, nowadays there is an increase in divorce rates because women are actively working, participating in the music industry and other labor forces, “Divergent trends in opinions about gender in work and family also have been found in research on gender attitudes. It has been long established that support for gender equality at work has been greater than gender equality in the family,” (Scarborough, et al.). Women are deviating from their traditional gender stereotypes and are participating more in masculine gender roles. As for males, men are beginning to leave their traditional ways of expressing masculinity. Men are beginning to express their femininity through household work, less traditional ways of work such as through dance, singing, cooking, and even in their physical appearance. In their ability to be flexible in their ability to express themselves, men and women are able to enter both each other’s “social spheres”.

In work and within workplaces, men have been proven to be superior to women. Women are viewed as inferior when compared to their male counterparts. However, the question that arises is what if a person is both male and female? What is one supposed to identify as if they have both female and male gentilia? What gender category do they fit into? According to Kimmel, “cross cultural research suggests that gender and sexuality are far more fluid, far more variable, than biological models would have ever predicted,” (Kimmel, 2017). Biological differences between men and women vary from person to person. Males are typically defined by their biological given part, which is that of a penis and testicles. Women are defined by their breasts and their vagina. However, some women are born as men and some men are born as women. All biological differences occur within the womb before transcending onto physical attributes.

“Men as Women and Women as Men: Disrupting Gender,” written by Judith Lorber tells of the physiological anomalies of modern day. In Lorber’s sub-category, “Penis and Eggs”, she discusses hermaphrodites in foreign countries and the importance of sexual assignments in relation to the assignment of a gender. In the Dominican Republic, females were born and raised as females. However, when they reached puberty, their voices deepened, and their bodies appeared to be masculine. At first, this unusual sight was viewed as an outrageous phenomenon. The social norms that these women knew to be, unfortunately changed dramatically. Instead of adhering to traditional gender roles, these women were given names in order to identify the type of hermaphrodite they were associated with and began to adopt the traditional social norms of men. The names that were used to identify these women were “Guevedoces”, meaning penis at age 12, “Machihembra, first woman then man, and “Guevotes”, penis and eggs, (Lorber, 1994). Many of these women still felt as though they were women because they were raised to be female, however, because their outside appearance failed to match their inside, they were coerced to abide by society’s social norms of their male counterparts.

In a small village within Papua New Guinea, Kwolu-Aatmwols, male pseudo-hermaphrodites were assigned the gender of a male. Within this society, boys undergo rituals as they grow up in order to proclaim their adult status as the male gender. In their adulthood, male pseudo-hermaphrodites were considered to be incomplete, “Although the kwolu-aatmwols went through boys’ rituals as they grew up, their adult status as men was incomplete ritually, and therefore socially, because they were embarrassed by the small size of their penises,” (Lorber, 1994). Due to their inability to physically grow in terms of their penis growth and inability to acquire muscular growth, these boys were considered to be incomplete ritually. Socially, these boys were unable to produce offspring because they were sterile and had very small penises. Behaviorally and physically, they were men, “In their behaviors and attitudes, they were masculine,” (Lorber, 1994). As an adult male, their adulthood was represented by their penises. Often times, boys would essentially focal with other men’s penises in order to emphasize their ability to accept their adulthood and speed up the process of their own manhood. Their identity as adult men were considerably stigmatized. In western tradition, these boys would be considered as homosexuals, “…their identity as adult men was stigmatized, however, because they did not participate in what in Western societies would be homosexual (and stigmatized) sex practices, but in that culture made them fully men,” (Lorber, 1994). However, in Papua New Guinea, none of their rituals or traditions was considered to be out of the ordinary because they fail to abide by typical western traditions of what it means to be a man or what it means to be a woman within their own society.

The topics of sex, sexuality, and gender govern the social lives of people today. Sex is what defines people biologically today whereas gender is socially constructed to fit the lifestyles of people today in western culture. Judith Lorber’s, Gender as Process, Stratification, and Structure, states “As a social institution, gender is a process of creating social statuses for the assignment of rights and responsibilities,” (Lorber, 1994). Gender is important to most countries because the topic of gender sets rules aside for both men and women to follow. Societies with only two gender statuses typically do not challenge the institutionalization of gender that is implemented. In foreign countries such as the Dominican Republic and Papua New Guinea, gender is much more reinforced. Hence, the reason why Papua New Guinea enforced rituals and traditions that boys were to follow in order to acquire their manhood. The inability to acquire certain traits such a penis size in Papua New Guinea, deemed children unfit to abide by social norms that were common amongst the majority of men within the country.

Gender proves to be of the utmost importance in foreign counties because it places emphasis on the imposed structures of inequality between men and women, “when gender is a major component of structured inequality, the devalued genders have less power, prestige, and economic rewards that the valued genders,” (Lorber, 1994). Gender emphasizes the inequality of man and women and entails what society deems as appropriate towards a man and towards a woman. In the Dominican Republic, children who were born as female were raised to abide by traditional ways of life for a woman living in that society. However, when these females failed to maintain their traditional ways of what defines them as a woman at puberty, they had to abide by what society deemed as appropriate for a man. The change in their voices and their physical appearance was considerably “inappropriate” for a woman and in order to fit into society’s way of life, these girls had to completely change genders. The females were taught new gender roles to live by and the social norms they learned prior to puberty were left behind. Their families were more so concerned with how their child would be viewed in society as a woman with male traits that they were willing to completely reverse their roles. The expectation of fitting into gender norms in countries that typically have only two genders, men and women, is very important to the building of social status among various cultures.

Gender continues to change and each year develops new meanings across various cultures all over the world. Most foreign countries and even in western cultures continue to practice the traditional ways of defining men and women by placing them in categories that fit their social norms. The assignment of gender begins at birth and continues into adulthood. A child born under the sex of a male is assigned the gender of a man. A child born under the sex of a female is assigned the gender of a female. The simple act of parenting is considerably gendered Traditionally, a woman remained inside the home, was considered a caretaker, inferior to male counterparts and much more gentle and caring. Compared to females, men were the complete and total opposite. Men were considered the more dominant species, breadwinners of the family, much more rigorous and rough. Gendering from birth lays the foundation of societal expectations through work, religion, law, science.


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The Construction of Gender and Its Development. (2021, Feb 19). Retrieved from