Gender Socialization

As a college student soon to be embarking upon your life path, it is imperative that you begin to understand women, men, and “gender.”

First, remember: Your sex is who you are biologically. Your gender is what society expects and prescribes for you based on your biological sex. Our gender can be important because it helps us organize our world in this environment of controversy about women and men’s rights. But it can also cause us to end up in a “gender straightjacket” (Pollack, 2001 - if we rigidly adhere to messages about what it means to be male or female.

Here are a few realities:

  • We are all embedded in gender.
  • We have gender constructed experiences (e.g., both women and men experience broken hearts, but society allows women the ritual of "wallowing" in their grief ( Tavris, 1993 ). And society tells men to "tough it out - no wallowing!
  • No matter how masculine or feminine your mannerisms or behaviors, gender will still influence your views - No matter what!
  • We view the world through a series of lens: some of those lenses include AGE, RACE, ETHNICITY, CLASS, ABLEISM AND GENDER.
  • Few other LENSES ON REALITY are so compelling as the LENSE OF GENDER (Which, by the way is the name of a book by Sandra Bem - )- that will provide a critical look at gender.

NOW - WHEN WE SAY, "Think critically about gender issues," we need some 'givens' before we explore this area:

Gender norms ( what we expect of women and men ) and stereotypes ( How we generalize our understanding of women and men ). Exaggerate the differences between women and men in PROBLEMATIC WAYS.

gender issues

Women and men often misinterpret each others' behavior,

leading to difficulty in communication. We often project our own gender experiences on members of the opposite sex.

Educating people about the negative effect of norms and stereotypes in a non-judgmental manner helps reduce conflict and improve relationships between women and men.

Those of us who are unaware of the way in which gender constructs our experience may inadvertently do harm to our relationships.

How do we do harm?

Sometimes we project our own gender bias onto those of the opposite gender. We act as if everyone should be like us! In the workplace this creates tension and lawsuits; and in our intimate relationships, it creates pain and heartbreak. It reinforces gender stereotypes.

A groundbreaking study done in 1971 - Broverman and Broverman asked Mental health workers to list and describe the characteristics of the typical male. They came up with this partial list of descriptors: Aggressive, unemotional, logical, rough, blunt, direct, ambitious, active, independent, sloppy (Broverman and Broverman 1977).

The same mental health workers were asked to list and describe the stereotyped characteristics of the female. They came up with this partial list of descriptors: unaggressive, emotional, gentle, less logical, tactful, unambitious, passive, dependent, neat, and sneaky.

Finally, the mental health workers were asked to describe the HEALTHY PERSON. Guess what that list looked like? It was almost identical to the “Health male” list. So that tells us that in the early 70’s, what was considered “healthy” and “average” pretty much described the male in our culture. This left women to be seen as somehow deficient and unhealthy.

The Accuracy of Academic Gender Stereotypes – (Statistical Data Included)
Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, May, 1999 by Sylvia Beyer



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