Where does a boy learn to be a man and a girl learn to be a woman? If is impossible for one to pinpoint the exact moment in time where they learned what it means to be a boy or a girl. The reason? Gender roles are a result of constant exposure to gender socialization. From birth forward, we become susceptible to society’s opinion on what a male or female should consist of. The way we dress, the way we act, the choices we make, and the way we interact with others can all be linked in some way back to the gender roles present in our lives. While that may not seem like such a bad thing, gender roles can prove to be quite detrimental to the growth and development of a child. This is because gender roles provide stringent guidelines that one feels compelled to adhere to, leaving little choice and autonomy for a child growing up in our society.
In order to explore the origins of how gender roles are learned, a solid definition of gender versus sex must be developed. Sex is completely biological, and the physical sex organs one is born with are determined by nature. Gender, on the other hand, is not biological in any sense—it is in fact something that is decided and dictated by societal and parental influence. What it means to be male or female is something that we are taught. Contrary to popular belief, it is clearly not something that comes preprogrammed into our brains. The American Psychological Association defines gender as “…the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for boys and men or girls and women. These influence the ways that people act, interact, and feel about themselves.” This definition confirms that gender is learned, rather than inherited. As psychotherapist Hershel Russell chooses to describe gender versus sex, “Sex is between your legs, gender is between your ears” (“Child”).
So the next logical question would be how does one acquire knowledge of the genders? Where does it all begin? Since gender is something that is constantly learned throughout one’s lifetime, I will focus solely on the gender influence one is exposed to in early childhood.
It starts with a simple nursery rhyme: “What are little boys made of? Dirt and snails, and puppy dogs tails. That's what little boys are made of! What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice, and everything nice. That's what little girls are made of!” This particular saying has been around for ages, commonly known and passed down through the generations. Although seemingly harmless, this saying proves to be everything but. The “what little boys/girls are made of” nursery rhyme is a perfect example of what perpetuates the inescapable gender roles in our society. Before a child is even born, parents already have an interpretation of what their child will be like. A baby girl will be sweet, dainty, and like a little princess. A baby boy will be rambunctious, strong-willed, and attracted to dirt. A majority of expectant...