Free The Social Construction Of Gender: Argumentative Essay Example
Type of paper: Argumentative Essay
Topic: Gender, Sociology, Society, Women, Construction, Limitations, LGBT, Identity
Gender and its Limitations
Gender forms a great deal of our personal and individual reality, and no one is exempt from its influences. When we are born, we are biologically identified as male or female. However, as we grow, gender becomes a major identity marker of and influence over who we are. The problem with this is that gender is not inherent; rather, it is socially constructed and therefore carries with it incredible limitations over identity and personal development, as well as the identity of groups defined by gender.
Often, gender is not a personal choice but rather an external pressure put on young boys and girls due to social expectations and social constructions of what male and female are and how they are represented. We see this pervasively in the media, but on a very intimate and personal level, this exists within the family--boy means blue and toy cars; girl means pink and dolls. However, these choices don’t reflect an infant's natural tendencies, or if they do, it should be considered on an individual basis versus on a gender basis. In this way, gender stereotypes are perpetuated, and the society shifts and reshapes to incorporate these definitions of what boy or girl means. But this value is assigned, not inherent, and this restricts individual development and expression. Judith Lorber explains this process in her article, "The Social Construction of Gender": "A sex category becomes a gender status through naming, dress, and the use of other gender markers. Once a child's gender is evident, others treat those in one gender differently from those in the other, and the children respond to different treatment by feeling different and behaving differently." She further explains, "All of these processes constitute the social construction of gender" (21).
There are reasons for this social construction, and it is important to understand these reasons because they reflect the limitations that result. Lorber states, "As a social institution, gender is one of the major ways that human beings organize their lives. Human society depends on a predictable division of labor, a designated allocation of scarce goods, assigned responsibility for children and others , common values and their systematic transmission , legitimate leadership, , and other symbolic productions" (22). Clearly, gender has a social function, but one that helps society operate mechanically versus operating humanly, one of the great beauties of the human experience. To not acknowledge this and let it flourish is of grave detriment to the human experience. By pointing out these reasons, gender can be better understood as an identifying characteristic. The important fact to remember is that gender is socially constructed and not inherent. This distinction is important to bring into the conversation because gender is often discussed as simply existing without acknowledging the role that society plays and the ramifications of this way of thinking. Still, this also has it's limitations in marginalizing those who specifically identify with gender, namely gay, lesbian, and transgender, but this will be tackled further in the paper.
Oftentimes science corroborates gender differences and how they connect to biology. Stephan Jay Gould tackles this head on when he analyzes a study done by Paul Broca in the 19th century that concluded men's brains are larger than women's which is in some way responsible for the "increase in male superiority" (43). Through close examination of this study, Gould discredits Broca's findings by revealing flaws in the science such as too small of an experimental group and the absence of important variables like brain degeneration and age that were not taken into account. Since we rely quite heavily on science in western culture, scientific findings often substantiate concepts that are socially constructed. Anne Fausto-Sterling examines further limitations of the role science plays in gender construction in her article, "The Biological Connection." She states, "In analyzing male/female differences these scientists peer through the prism of everyday culture [.]" She goes on to explain that "more often that not their hidden agendas, non-conscious and thus unarticulated, bear strong resemblances to broader social agendas" (42). These agendas again discredit the concept of gender and how we use it in society. This further supports the massive limitation that socially constructed gender has on individuals.
These limitations don't only exist for individuals, but also to groups as defined by gender. This is of particular importance to individuals who lie on the fringe of normal social constructs of gender, namely those who identify as gay, lesbian, or transgender.These "genders" are marginalized all the more in terms of social expectations and social function. Carole Vance comments on this in her article, "Social Construction Theory": "social construction theory implies that sexual identity, or more to the point, lesbian and gay identity, is somehow fictional, trivial, unimportant or not real, because it is socially constructed" (30). Here the idea that gender is socially constructed is doubly limiting. It limits individual identity and self-expression regardless of gender, and it raises doubt and suspicion into the value of those same identifying characteristics as laid out by social construction theory. The limitations seem endless, and this presents a degree of identity crisis because of how convoluted this socially constructed idea of gender truly is. To put it more simply, these defining characteristics make things absolute and static instead of focusing on the inherent dynamic nature of humanity.
It is all good and well that gender has its uses in society, and that normal operating procedure might depend on the socially constructed nature of gender. However, to focus solely on this, or to define gender in these terms can be of huge detriment to society through the effects it has on individuals. These effects, or limitations, are what is at stake. There certainly are differences between men and women, things like physical appearance, biological functions and needs, psychological processes, and so on, but to pigeon-hole individuals into specific categories as far as expression of the individual is too perpetuate a stereotype that not only harms the individual, but also the group, which is the same society that creates those stereotypes. Gender as socially constructed may further an agenda in some ways, but there is certainly a cost involved. The cost is those limitations to the individual, inhibiting them from fully developing and flourishing and sharing those gifts with society instead of the gender specific ones society requests.
Fausto-Sterling, Anne. "The Biological Connection." The Rise of Western Science. Print.
Gould, Stephen Jay. "Women's Brains." The Rise of Western Science. Print.
Lorber, Judith. "The Social Construction of Gender." Women's Lives, Multicultural Perspectives, 3 ed. Ed. Kirk & Okczawe-Reiz. McGraw, 2004. Print.
Vance, Carole S. "Social Construction Theory." An Intro. to Women's Studies: Gender in a Transit World, 2 ed. Eds. Grewal & Kgden. McGraw, 2006. Print.