04 September 2012 Written by  Medhanit Adamu and Sofanit Mekonnen

Gender socialization

Socialization, as a process of transmitting culture, has been defined as consisting of “complex process of interaction through which the individual learns the habits, beliefs, skills and standards of judgment that are necessary for effective participation in social groups and communities.” Socialization is a process, which not only allows the baby to know about the basic norms of the society, but also helps in the gradual development of one’s self. Development of ‘the self’ or the ‘the ego’ comes with the help of role playing, where a child puts himself/herself in somebody’s else’s shoe and tries to get his/her self image through others’ perception. Coming to know about the ‘other’, he knows about the ‘self’. Thus the child comes to learn about the norms, expectations and different roles to be played in the group through the process of socialization. A child learns about hiss/her gender identity by learning what is s/he expected to do by others. An individual learns about his or her gender identity by knowing what s/he is not, or in other words, by learning about the other which helps in the emergence of one’s self. For instance, a male child learns to confirm to his own gender group by neglecting all activities that a girl child does. Thus, a male child becomes violent and plays hazardous games keeps way from dolls and kitchen set or else he would be branded a girl.

Socialization is a continuous process that helps one to learn the normative behavior, which mostly happens to be stereotypical behavior. The very first thing the child is socialized into is the views regarding his/her gender identity.

Socially constituted gender roles form stereotypes. A stereotype, according to the Webster’s New World’s Dictionary, (1998), is an “unvarying pattern, specifically a fixed or conventional notion or concept of a person, group, idea etc. held by a number of people and allow for no individuality or crucial judgment”. However, social psychologists define a stereotype as being a cognitive structure containing the perceiver’s knowledge, belief, and expectancies about human social group. Stereotypic behavior can be linked to the way the stereotype is learned, transmitted and changed and this is part of has socialization process.  The process of the stereotypification of gender, has a sort of biological determinism, which starts with the reproductive ability of woman. Some say for women ‘anatomy is destiny’. Women are characterized with lack, the lack of the genital. Thus they are incomplete. They stand inferior to man biologically; even physically, they are weaker. This sort of biological determinism has been used, to justify the submissive position of women. (Bhasin 2000: 10).

Individuals are converted from biological male and biological female into man and woman respectively with the process of socialization, which takes up the task of gendering individuals.

regarding socialization, Ruth Hartley (Hartley cited in Bhasin, 2000) believed socialization takes place through four processes, namely, manipulation, canalization, verbal appellation and activity exposure.

Manipulation refers to how a child is handed. Boys are taken to be strong and girls are given more feminine designation of being pretty. Such experiences on one’s physique matters in shaping the self-image and personality of boys and girls. 

The second phase canalization involves the familiarization of boys and girls with certain objects, which later shapes their perceptions, aspirations and dreams. Well, we all know that anything that is pleasurable in the childhood becomes a memory to be cherished through out one’s life. “Verbal appellation” likes “strong” for boys and “beautiful” for girls help them construct different identities. It is always strength versus beauty. The fourth process activity exposure pertains to different kinds activities, boys and girls are exposed to. Girls are asked for help by their mothers and boys usually accompany their fathers outside the house.

This is how the idea of gender is constructed and slowly permeates into the psyche of the individual. As mentioned earlier, gender is socially constructed and, so does one’s personality. It is important to note here that the basic difference between a man and a woman does not seem to have any genetic foundation. It is the result of one’s culture, which is injected into an individual through socialization process. Let us have a look at the basic differences between  a man and a woman in most societies and from where this difference springs from a psychoanalytic perspective.

Gender construction: a psychoanalytic view

The learning of gender differences in infants and the young children is centered on the presence or absence of penis. “I have a penis’ is equivalent to ‘I am a boy’ while I am a girl is equivalent to ‘I lack a penis’.

“At a very early stage, the little boy develops an object-cathexis of his mother, which is originally related to the mother’s breast…, his father by identifying himself with him. For some time, this two relationships exist side by side, until the sexual wishes in regards the mother become intense and the father is perceived as an obstacle to them; this gives rise to the Oedipus complex.

So, “in repressing the erotic feelings towards the mother and accepting the father as superior being, the boy identifies with the father and become aware of his male identity”. The father represents an all-powerful protector; the omnipotent lawmaker who yields the rod of punishment. In psychoanalytic terms, the father is the breaker of the mother-child dyad, the transcendental signifier of law, culture and language. If the boyr is at war with his father, he is at war with himself. He suffers from worthlessness and shame, and through the process of identification, he intends to internalize the voice of the torturer.

 

Cultural construction of masculinity and femininity

This socialization process is so strong in men and women that one can notice a deep chasm between them in terms of their perspectives, priorities in life, their dreams and aspiration and lifestyle and their ways of looking at things. ‘Human beings are not isolated atomistic individuals; they live and thrive in communities in rational units. Life is not just rules and principles but also individuals and responsibilities. And this is where the difference between man and woman lies. The feminine that is associated with woman is characterized as passive. Tenderness consideration and physical weakness are synonymous to the feminine genre. The masculine is defined as dominant and encouraging male violence against women as virile. Men are supposed to be high on strength and prowess.  Men and women have different moral orientations. Men speak the language of right and women the language of responsibility.

Right from their childhood, boys attempt to dominate and control. But girls are encouraged to be good mothers. So the first thing they do is attract a man to depend on: they are expected to be emotional, unstable, weak and talkative about their problems. They are valued for their look or smallness but not their strength and brains.

Men’s predominance in the public domain and their association with reason distanced them from talking about relationships, emotions, which is rooted in culturally construed and historically specific form of masculinity. Right from their childhood, men have been treated by their parents as independent and out going. With masked emotional dependence on women and weak skills of communication as far as feelings are concerned, men have also suffered from this gender game. Culture has made women more expressive and it also happens that their expressiveness is confused with the display of weaknesses. In order to conform to the codes of socialization meant for men, men bottle-up their emotions and eventually fail to be expressive. Culture has made them unexpressive for which they suffer from depression and have learnt to keep quite and not to talk about their problems as it is considered feminine. Their silence on problems has been mistaken for strength and courage but the truth is that it shatters them from within.

The society does not follow one single model of masculinity or femininity. However, it may boast machismo in men and there is a general notion that it is the most ideal way for men to behave, and for women to find it desirable. There are different expressions of masculinity and femininity. At the level of the society these contrasting versions are ordered in a hierarchy, which is oriented around one defining premise- the domination of men over women. That is why men take advantage from the dominant position of “hegemonic masculinity”. Some call this as “patriarchal dividend for those who benefit from it. Femininity can be of various types. The most popular and one which has been accepted as a general norm to be followed for women has been named as “emphasized femininity”. It complements the “hegemonic masculinity”. It is oriented towards accommodating the desires and interest of men, which is characterized by compliance, nurturance and empathy. It is supposed to be the embodiment of motherhood and sexual reciprocity. This type of femininity is the most prevalent image of woman.

 

Patriarchy and its structures

 

Patriarchy refers to male domination and female’s acceptance and internalization of that dominance. Its literal meaning is the supremacy of the father. In the current discourse it can be replaced with “male rule”. ‘Patriarchy may also be described as a system of social structures and practices in which men dominate, oppress and exploit women.’ It is both a social structure and an ideology that perpetuates such a structure and vice-versa. Most of the institutions of the society are patriarchal in nature, regardless of whether it is the state, religion, educational institutions, family or the media. The ideology of patriarchy is so deep rooted in the society that all kinds of violence and subjugation of women appears to obvious.

Culture itself has certain demands from male and female separately. This male dominant society has looked down upon women. As indicated earlier, there exists a certain basic difference between men and women. Women tend to stress on relation ships and responsibility while men emphasize rules and rights, which make both of them different. This quality is not the matter of being inferior or superior.

Our male dominated society has frequently claimed  that the development of the child requires the mother to devote herself completely to the welfare of the child and it is the primary duty of the mother to shower all kinds of affection and care to the child. The father is not expected to carry out such duties. It does not come under the domain of man. It must be noted that motherhood is also socially constructed. Nevertheless, the patriarchal knows how to appropriate results in its favor without giving much effort.

The world of a man and a woman has been divided into two halves, forming many pairs of binary opposites. It is a world of body versus mind, nature versus culture, emotion versus reason, and private versus public. These dichotomies stand in chainto each other that shape the culturally constituted roles for men and women. This dichotomy is perpetuated by patriarchy itself.

Nature versus culture

 The male dominated society and male culture decree that dominance is the male temperament and subordination the women’s. Women were allocated domestic service and attending upon children while men did the rest. The limited role allocated to women arrested her at the biological level, which was nearer to the animal instinct. When a child is born, the mother in most cultures is usually in charge of breast feeding the baby, taking care and socializing it. Infant and children are considered a part of nature. They are unsocial zed like animals. They are unable to walk upright, they excrete without control and above all, they do not speak. Thus, infants and children are close to ‘nature’. Moreover, women with their association withinfants and children are tagged together with ‘nature’. Since men lack a natural basis meant for family orientation, i.e., they do not reproduce, the cultural reasoning seems to go that men are the ‘natural’ proprietors of religion, ritual, politics, and other realms of cultural thought. Thus men are associated with culture, i.e., the higher form of human thought involving art, religion and law.

Private versus public

These physical and social roles of women and men have extended their association with nature and culture respectively. The nature/ culture debate can further be extended to a form of private/ public dialogue which divides the roles of men and women into another dichotomy. No doubt, in our society, a gender hierarchy exists. The ideology of patriarchy remains intertwined with other social institutions. This becomes clear from the private/public realm. The private sphere popularly known as the domestic has no economic, political or historical significance. It does not contribute to one’s social life. It is tagged as the ‘personal’. The private realm stands in opposition to the public sphere. It needs to be nourished with understanding, co-operation, care, and selfness and of course bundles of emotions. The public sphere is a competitive world, which requires being aggressive, reasonable and ambitious with no trace of emotions.

Gender and workplace

With the industrial revolution came a separation between work place and home. There emerged the idea of public and private space. Prior to this, women had a considerable influence within the household due to their importance in economic production, as the house happened to be the production centre at the same time?  Due to the kind of work, they took up, Men were more exposed to the outside world, thus becoming an integral part of the public sphere due to the public sphere due to their participation in local affairs, politics and the market. But women were relegated to the domestic sphere. Mostly, jobs stand gendered. Women traditionally have been doing household works like cooking and taking care of children. Thus, certain jobs have been branded feminine and masculine. One can see occupational segregation based on gender. This refers to men and women being concentrated in different kinds of occupation. Occupational segregation has two dimensions, vertical and horizontal. “Vertical segregation” refers to the tendency of women to remain in the second position, whereas men remain in influential position. “Horizontal segregation” refers to the tendency of men and women to occupy different categories of jobs.  Women shouldered the responsibility of taking on household tasks, while men were mostly seen in jobs outside home.

Things get extremely difficult for women who are working because they have to bear the double burden of domestic work, as well as work place.

Last modified on Tuesday, 04 September 2012 14:33