The Impact of Socialization on Gender

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  • 0:01 Socialization & Gender Roles
  • 2:41 Agents of Socialization
  • 6:48 Impact of Gender Roles
  • 7:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Nowaczyk

Jason has a masters of education in educational psychology and a BA in history and a BA in philosophy. He's taught high school and middle school

The following lesson covers how boys and girls are taught how to be boys and girls and where and by whom they are taught this behavior. A short quiz will follow to check your understanding.

Socialization & Gender Roles

Growing up, what kind of toys did you play with? If you are a boy, did you play with trucks, action figures, toy weapons, or sports equipment? If you were a girl, did you play dress-up, play with dolls, or pretend kitchen sets? If you said yes to any of the examples, there is nothing wrong with that, but if you feel that those are the only types of things boys or girls should play with, it is most likely because you have been taught that that was the acceptable thing to believe.

As we grow, we learn how to behave from those around us. At a very early age, children are introduced to certain roles that are typically linked to their biological sex. The term gender role refers to society's concept of how men and women are expected to act and how they should behave. These roles are based on norms, or standards, created by society. In American culture, masculine roles are usually associated with strength, aggression, and dominance, while feminine roles are usually associated with passivity, nurturing, and subordination. Role learning starts with socialization at birth. Even today, our society is quick to outfit male infants in blue and girls in pink, even applying these color-coded gender labels while a baby is in the womb.

And when we think back to the toys that we played with growing up, we also learned certain gender roles. The types of toys that we mentioned that parents give their daughters often teach them that their role is to be nurturing or delicate and that the role playing they engage in is to take care of others or may be too fanciful to be useful in real life, like being a princess. Meanwhile, the types of toys that parents give their sons, like trucks, toy guns, and superhero paraphernalia, are meant to promote motor skills, aggression, and solitary play.

Furthermore, playing with things that promote aggression often leads to us hearing the phrase that 'boys will be boys,' which is often used to justify behavior such as pushing, shoving, or other forms of aggression. The phrase implies that such behavior is unchangeable and something that is part of a boy's nature, and boys and men accept that behavior because it meshes with the cultural script for masculinity. The 'script' written by society is in some ways similar to a script written by a playwright. Just as a playwright expects actors to adhere to a prescribed script, society expects women and men to behave according to the expectations of their respective gender role. Scripts are generally learned through a process known as socialization, which teaches people to behave according to social norms.

Agents of Socialization

We've already said that children learn at a young age that there are distinct expectations for boys and girls and that one of the earliest ways that they learn gender roles is through play. And as children get older, gender roles continue to be reinforced by different groups. We call the groups that promote or enforce social norms and roles agents of socialization. Gender socialization occurs through four major agents of socialization: family, education, peer groups, and mass media. Each agent reinforces gender roles by creating and maintaining expectations for gender-specific behavior.

Family is the first and most influential agent of socialization. The gender roles that a child learns here set the tone for the child later on through life and make it increasingly difficult for a child to later change their thought process. There is considerable evidence that parents socialize sons and daughters differently. For instance, boys are allowed more freedom and independence at an earlier age than daughters. They may be given fewer restrictions on appropriate clothing, dating habits, or curfew. Sons may also be free from performing domestic duties, such as cleaning or cooking and other household tasks that are considered feminine. Daughters, on the other hand, may be limited by their expectation to be passive and nurturing, generally obedient, and to assume many of the household responsibilities.

And even when parents set gender equality as a goal, there may be underlying indications of inequality. For example, when dividing up household chores, boys may be asked to take out the garbage or perform other tasks that require strength or toughness, while girls may be asked to fold laundry or perform duties that require neatness and care. It has also been found that fathers are firmer in their expectations for gender conformity than are mothers.

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