Gender as a Social Construct
Gender is one of the factors affecting social differences between women and men in the society. The social difference between women and men is studied during the life of a person, its change over time and variation depends on the community, where a person lives. Gender is normally used to assign different roles to women and men, while being a chief determinant of the powers of men and women. Generally, men are perceived to be more superior to women and are normally associated with crucial duties in the society. However, some people argue that gender is defined by anatomy or actions of an individual. This essay will rely on Aaron Devor's article “Becoming members of society: Learning the social meanings of gender” and Hanna Rosin’s article “A Boy’s Life” in order to explain why gender is a ‘social construct’ and not defined by anatomy or one’s actions.
In his analysis of gender, Devor conceptualizes that a person’s identity is a lifelong process through learning of behavior and attaining roles in life. Devor argues that among all social categories, gender is the most translucent, because people acquire their roles in life. This means that people find their place in life through learning and interaction, but not through their anatomy or actions. Furthermore, Devor disagrees that gender (male or female) is not a “product of socialization, but a natural process of social construction” (1989). In terms of this aspect, it is rather conciliative, because in society, males and females are constructed to behave and interact in a certain manner. For instance, girls tend to associate more with color pink as boys love color blue. Similarly, boys love sports cars and toys, while girls love dolls.
Consequently, Devor explains that children start to learn appropriate behaviors associated with them from a tender age through their culture (1989). As a result of their social construction, the mind of a child becomes influenced, and they begin to perceive what a boy or a girl should do and not do. This is initiated by parents, who buy different types of toys in an attempt to shape their minds. For instance, girls receive dolls, while boys get toys molded in the form of motor vehicles and puzzle games. The toys, more essentially the puzzle games, improve the thinking ability, while dolls do not even engage the mental ability. Consequently, a girl grows up expecting to be less involved in complicated issues of development. There are those, who realize and change the mentality, but the realization of the potential comes too late as the tender age is always an orientation stage. On the other hand, boys grow up knowing that the society expects them to be brave, innovative and creative. Boys are commonly involved in research, and those that pull through come up with brilliant ideas. Girls might have the potential to perform in the same way as their male counterparts, but the society condemns them to be less productive. In respect to this, Devor affirms that the central part of developing one’s self is gender identity (1989).
In explaining gender as a social construct, Devor observes that people, who engage in executing the duties of a different gender, perform poorly. However, if they succeed, they may be ridiculed, scorned or lack recognition for going against the grain of gender rules (1989). This is strikingly true, because there are some men, who have ladylike features such as a shrill voice, protruding hips, smooth face without beards among others. As a result, if they sing so well in a tenor voice or dress in bright colored clothes, such as pink shirts, people might label them as gay. Devor clarifies that people, who are heterosexual, especially women, have been socially constructed by the society to dress, speak and behave in a way that attracts the male gender. However, there should be no discrimination against anybody because of their gender identities.
Devor also uses the aspect of body language to demonstrate that gender is a social construct. He argues that body language and postures significantly describe a person’s gender. For instance, the society has constructed women to keep their legs closed and fold their arms to their bodies as a sign of respect. Besides, women tend to have a high sense of interpretation and interpersonal communication as opposed to men (1989). This evidently shows that body language can easily describe a person’s gender and role in society.
In explaining the issue of gender as a social construct, Rosin uses the story of a boy, who was born weighing 8 pounds and2 ounces, by representing him as a normal kid just like any other that deserves respect. Rosin (2008) expounds on the issue of “blockers” that are injected into the body of a person to change their identity. For instance, boys can be injected with steroids to prevent them growing an Adams apple, facial hair or even break their voices. Similarly, these blockers prevent girls from having their periods or growing breasts. Although these blockers can be reversed for those, who do not like their gender, it sounds utterly surprising, because it is unhealthy.
Rosin provides an example of a transgender child, whose identity had been changed by the blockers. A mother explains how she has changed his son’s future (Brandon Simms) to become a girl by injecting him with blockers to change his identity to that of a female, and even changed his name. However, when transgender children are treated in this way, parents and society are in a dilemma over the kind of treatment to accord such a child. For example, when a boy’s gender has been changed into that of a girl, it becomes difficult to make decisions over the child’s lifestyle, including dressing and social behaviors. Just like in Brandon’s case, it would take so much effort to make a boy start dressing in girl’s clothes and feel comfortable (Rosin, 2008).
Rosin also concedes that gender identity disorder is a common problem in society. According to Rosin (as cited in Sachs, 2010), the nature vs. nature concept is truly evident in society and highly determines the established social constructs. She provides an example of two male twins, where one suffered from a botched circumcision and ended up being transformed into a girl. As a result, nurture became apparent, when the transformed male started liking dolls, frilly blouses and dresses at an early age. However, nature took its place, when the transformed child began to portray male tendencies such as liking trucks, peeing while standing, and beating up other kids. This example is significant, because it demonstrates that changing of a gender does not influences one’s identity.
In her article, Rosin also quotes Dr. Milton Diamond’s words, “Everybody comes into this world with some degree of femaleness and maleness”. Therefore, changes in gender do not necessarily connote the sex organ by shaping one’s thoughts and perceptions (Rosin, 2008). This statement is true to a considerable degree, because the society plays a fundamental role in shaping who one becomes. Thus, a person’s gender is a social construct, because it is a mixture of nature and nurture.
The nature of the child upbringing facilitates gender inequality. Boys are brought up differently from girls. Girls are made to see that their life revolves about relationship and family, while men have other bigger roles. This affects their mind and makes women be dormant in terms of development, while boys strive, since they see development as their responsibility. Besides, the issue of transgender children has become common in the society, and they need to be accorded equal respect like other children. Therefore, it is essential to note that both articles provide a fascinating read on the issue of gender as a social construct as opposed to the anatomy or actions of a person.