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The Social Construction Of Gender Essay

1310 words - 5 pages

The Social Construction of Difference Between Genders Gender refers to the cultural shaping of sexual identity; gender is the way in which one's biological sex is given shape and meaning within a culture. To quote Simone de Beauvoir: "you may be born a woman (sex), but you are also made into a woman for the rest of your life (gender)." In her book Gender Trouble, Judith Butler (1990) tells us that gender itself is "never fixed, always fluid." Butler sees gender largely as a performative act, which has to be continuously repeated to anchor identity. Identity is a practice of assigning meaning. Through societal stereotypes of "˜feminine' and "˜masculine' roles or ideologies, gender is constructed and reinforced on a daily basis, through our performances of masculinity and femininity.A successful male performance may entail: ¨ Active ¨ Domineering ¨ Reasonable ¨ Sexually potent (with a woman), and ¨ Literate in a public sphere A woman might be expected to perform as: ¨ Passive ¨ Supportive ¨ Emotional ¨ Sexually desirable, and ¨ Literate in the private or domestic sphere.(Butler, in Shirato and Yell, 1997 cited in Mason and Horsfield, 2001) The social biases that influence gender construction begin in childhood, where boys and girls are often treated differently on the basis of sexual stereotypes. From a very early age, males and females are taught different linguistic practices. (Mulvaney, 1994). Girls are also given different types of toys than boys. For example, one study of children from one to six years of age found: "Boys had more vehicles, toy animals, military toys, educational-art materials, sports equipment, and spatial-temporal objects. On the other hand, girls had more dolls, doll houses, and domestic objects." (Rheingold et al, 1975) Young children are taught to "˜perform' their gender role according to the societal understanding of male and female as shown to them.Laurie Arliss argues that "communication is thought to be, at once, the process by which we learn to be male or female, and the product of our attempts to behave sex appropriately." Mass media, as one of the major forms of communications in our society is one area where these binary representations of masculine/feminine roles are portrayed and influence the way we act out our perceived gender role.Mass media has both reflected and shaped our social conventions. Judging by media representations: men lead the companies and the conversations, women react and follow. Traditionally, men were direct in expressing what they wanted and on what terms; women could express themselves but were morally obligated to "be nice" about it. On television shows if a female character was aggressive or angry, the situation was diffused: these emotions were taboo, their implications too volatile and threatening. The aggression was downplayed as a cute scheme or the anger...

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