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Pink is for girls and blue is for boys is a concept that has evolved through parental expectations. Parents impose such conditions on their children due to which the roles of men and women are developed.
The purpose of this essay is to identify the formation role of genders and sexes from childhood and how these roles or expectations determine life chances in society. Firstly, the definition of gender and sex will be looked at from different feminist perspectives followed by studies into the nature of gender, i.e. parental expectations, exploitation of females through children's books and lastly by the media. A conclusion will then be made to sum up.
The word Gender is not commonly confused with sex which is incorrect. It was first differentiated by Dr. Robert Stoller (an American Psychoanalyst) in the year 1968 (Schwartz-Shea, 2002). According to Stoller, sex is a biological composition that differentiates between men and women, i.e. Genitalia (internal and external). He further pointed out that feminine or masculine qualities are defined by the gender and that the gender and sex are not dependent upon each other (Schwartz-Shea, 2002).
According to the Davis, Evans, and Lorber, the word feminism is the conviction in economic, political and social equality among both sexes (2006, pp. 25). People perceive feminism in many different ways as people have different experiences in their lives and hence every one takes it in a different way. Therefore, there is no one best way to define feminism. One very vital aspect of feminism is that greatly affects our society including culture and religion (Partner & Sawyer, 1995).
Gender refers to the factors like psychology, physiology, anatomy, society, and culture of a person. These are the factors one thinks about while describing any other person as masculine or feminine. Gender and sex are not only the aspect by which people see us, but it is also the way we understand ourselves.
Gender, Sex And Feminism
According to the feminist belief, women are being exploited by the sources like books, media, and the society by means of children's toys. Feminists are of the view that the society aims to put conditions on children from their birth about their anticipated roles in society. These conditions are generally related to masculine dominance and feminine subordination. The feminist perspective of gender and sex is sub-divided into Radical Feminism and Marxist Feminism (Partner & Sawyer, 1995).
Radical feminists take the argument of masculine dominance and feminine subordination further by labeling the society as patriarchal or that the world is dominated and ruled by men. Radical feminists believe that women have always been under the thumb of men and if men feel threatened, they may resort to violence in order to maintain and exert their power.
Radical feminist also believes that patriarchy is the chief cause for conflicts, war, and is damaging the environment enormously. According to them, patriarchy is being learned and taught generation after generation. Few female supremacists would argue that society would be better off if a matriarchy system was enforced.
In the statement, 'pink is for girls and blue is for boys', radical feminists would strongly argue that through parental expectations things like toys, books, and television begins the exploitation of women. For instance, girls are given dolls to play with, kitchens, prams, and tea sets. Feminists would claim due to imposition of such conditions, girls into their expected roles of playing the housewife and caring for children.
On the other hand, boys are given footballs, computer games, cars, trucks, and are encouraged by their fathers for dummy fight. This encourages men to be masculine, violent and physically powerful according to the feminists. Feminists are of the view that men strength has got nothing to do with male dominance as with the evolution and innovation in technology; most of the work in the modern era does not require physical strength. They further argue that women are also being exploited even in the religion as well by means of masculinity in God's stature. Radical feminist take on the view of women being victims of male dominance and some critics would argue that this is heavily exaggerating both female and male roles in society.
Marxist feminists are slightly different in their view of exploitation. They agree that men play a large part in exercising power over women; however capitalism is the main source (Gill & Partner, 1996). They would argue that although the socialization of children into their gender roles does benefit men, it benefits the capitalists more. By encouraging young girls to play with dolls, cook and clean is endorsing women's role of becoming a housewife and childcarer which allows the men to go out and work, therefore keeping capitalism in force. According to Toller, Suter, Trautman, all paid work is simply an extension of the work women do at home i.e. childcare, cleaning and caring (2004).
Like radical feminism, Marxist feminist do agree on the need of revolutionary change, however instead of it being a matriarchal system, as proposed by the radical feminists, Marxist feminists state that a communist society should be established.
The functionalism view of gender and sex is very different to that of feminism (Gill & Partner, 1996). Functionalists believe that socialization is one of the key factors in maintaining social harmony or in other words, functionalism focuses on society as a whole and how parts of society contribute positively to the whole to make the society run smoothly without conflict. The family is a key instrument in the process of socialization for children and a reinforcement of traditional or functional gender roles.
In recent years, feminists have argued that through the media, television, and advertisements, young children are becoming more conscious of their physical appearance. Advertising has played a negative role in portraying women low status (Gill & Partner, 1996). Advertisements generally portray women's innocence with a sex. A plenty of juvenile models can also be seen over massive billboards and magazines cover pages.
From a feminist viewpoint, this not only accentuates women subordination, but it also degrades women and children (Partner, 1993, pp. 61). A feminist would argue that the media and television has a negative impact on the socialization process of children due to male domination but the above extract would show that it is not only male dominated roles in children's book and the media that is the problem, but women demoralizing themselves to please men.
To conclude, it has been made apparent that the exploitation of women begins at birth through parental expectation, i.e. enforcing the rules and norm of society through socialization on how girls and boys should act. Most parents do not want a child that is different from other therefore, if a baby boy is born, they bestow the rules of masculinity and likewise for a girl.
Studies have shown that society is evolving with regard to the suppression of women; however there are still masses of evidence to show that it still goes on. There is so much emphasis on equality in today's society through schools, the government, and the law making. Therefore young girls do have slightly better life chances than they did 50 years ago but unfortunately not as much as boys.
Davis, K., Evans, M., & Lorber, J. (2006). Handbook of gender and women's studies. London: Sage.
Schwartz-Shea, P. (2002). Theorizing Gender for Experimental Game Theory: Experiments with “Sex Status” and “Merit Status” in an Asymmetric Game. Sex Roles. 47 (7-8), 7-8.
Toller, P. W., Suter, E. A., & Trautman, T. C. (2004). Gender Role Identity and Attitudes Toward Feminism. Sex Roles. 51 (1-2), 1-2.
Partner, N. F. (1993). Studying medieval women: Sex, gender, feminism. Cambridge, MA: Medieval Academy of America.
Partner, & Sawyer, B. (1995). Studying medieval women. Sex, gender, feminism. The Journal of Ecclesiastical History. 46 (2), 326.
Gill, K., & Partner, N. F. (1996). Review of Studying Medieval Women: Sex, Gender, Feminism. Journal of the History of Sexuality. 7 (1), 105-108.