Question by stacyloaks: I am a college student and i need help with a sociology question.??
How do we “train” our children to “do gender” in today’s society? What is the difference today from past generations? How do clothing, toys, or books reinforce our ideas of gender?
Answer by kcal
Are you reading West and Zimmerman’s “Doing Gender”?
So if the idea is that gender is something a person has to do, not something they have, then we constantly need to be “doing” our gender. Children must be taught/trained to correctly “do gender” according to societal norms. Gender is something that must constantly and routinely accomplished in order for a person to smoothly navigate through society. People can be sanctioned for not doing their gender correctly. This can be as simple as getting snickers or comments while walking down the street. Often a person’s sexuality/sexual orientation is questioned when other’s feel they are not doing gender correctly. So when it comes to small children. We do this by putting boys in blue and girls in pink, we give boys action figures and girls barbie dolls. Girls play house and boys are expected to pay with “occupational” toys such as fire trucks and sandbox toys. Boys, not girls, are encouraged when they show interest in snakes, cars, and sports. Girls on the other hand, and for the most part not boys, are pushed to participate in cooking, learn about make up and fashion. Their is a division of labor in childrearing when it comes to gender formation. Boys model after their fathers and girls, after their mothers.
Conceptual understandings of gender have changed a lot in the last few generations. Many more women are in the work force by choice, not necessarily necessity. Gender is viewed as a much more fluid thing, not as restrictive (in terms of clothing and outward appearance). This also goes for behavior. Women can now work in traditionally male occupations, and visa versa (female steel worker, male nurse). Yet still, if you are reading the paper, Doctors are implied as male. So there will usually be an identifier, Dr. Stevens, a female doctor at ….
Clothing and appearance are probably the most significant tool in reinforcing ideas about gender. Children learn that men and women wear pants, but only women can wear skirts (American children at least). Clothing often screams, HERE IS MY GENDER!!! SEE HOW WELL I AM SHOWING YOU WHAT I AM!!! By dressing and acting in certain ways, we perform our gender for the rest of the world. By asserting our gender we can determine how others will treat us (to a degree). People will visually judge others, on appearance, clothing, mannerisms, etc, and decide how to interact with them based on that.
Another thing that reinforces ideas of gender that you did not include would be the media (TV shows, commercials, advertisements, movies etc). “Doing gender” is about succeeding at stereotypes in a way. There is a commercial for paper plates right now that makes me cringe every time I see it. It makes certain assumptions about motherhood and what it means to be a good mother that is manipulative and perpetuates (what I believe to be) negative gender role stereotypes. Tangent sorry.
You can take the example of Jennifer Miller, a woman with a beard in NYC (I think). She decided not to shave her beard and it really freaks people out. She looks very much like a woman, but has a full beard. You can find a video about it on YouTube.
There is also the trans-man (female –>male) who just gave birth to a baby girl. I can’t remember his name but it was a pretty interesting story.
Feel free to email me with any questions about this
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