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Sociology of Gender

Author: Emily Jiang

Editors: Flynn Ma, Emily Yu, and Rachel Chen

Artist: Felicia Chen

Most of us have probably experienced gender stereotypes firsthand, from the way we are treated to how we are taught to act. As humans continue to grow and develop within a society, we learn to conform to the people around us. Gender is a major factor that shapes us into who we are today, assigning us specific roles and labeling behavior with terms such as “femininity” or “masculinity.” For example, a common belief that is deeply ingrained in many people is that women are more nurturing than men, while men are less emotional than women. The study of the sociology of gender aims to understand the social construct of gender and how it relates to biology and culture. Sociology examines the structure, life, change, and functioning of human society—or, more generally, it is the study of social problems. Sociologists research topics such as socialization and gender roles while developing sociological theories on gender.

The difference between sex and gender is that sex is the biological category based on reproductive organs, while gender refers to the social and cultural characteristics of men and women. Humans are put into the categories of female or male, but people who have neither (or both) sex characteristics of female and male are called intersex. The reproductive organs are called the primary sex characteristics, while the biological differences that develop during puberty are called secondary sex characteristics. For example, boys develop deeper voices and grow more body hair, while girls develop breasts and begin to have their period. These characteristics influence people’s views on what it means to be a male or female. 

In most countries, people see men and women as opposites, but some cultures may have different views. For instance, in the Navajo culture, berdaches are a third gender category, between male and female, while physically being a man. They marry men, but it isn’t considered a homosexual relationship compared to modern Western views. Their practice shows how gender is a social concept, even while sex is a biological concept. Based on our biological characteristics, society expects men and women to act a certain way and adhere to their gender roles. People are taught their roles through socialization—learning how to act based on society’s expectations. An example is how clothes and toys are color-coded; with girls, their room is more likely to be pink, and with boys, their room would be blue. As children, girls are likely to play with dolls, while boys would be given toy cars. These differences reflect gender stereotypes and how this can directly impact children and their way of thought. Children learn to “do gender” by observing how their parents act, whether it be praise or physical closeness. These actions help us form gender identities as we continue to be socialized through friends, peers, teachers, our community, and the media. Forming gender identity influences our decisions in life, including how we dress, how we act, the way we present ourselves, and how we treat others around us. 

We humans live in a society, and we are inevitably affected by it. For instance, as we grow up with preconceptions of different people, biases, and stereotypes, we perpetuate this cycle of gender norms. By putting people into boxes, we risk ostracizing those that don’t fit the norm. Though not always bad, we must recognize our biases and prevent any negative impacts on future generations. We can identify our biases by educating ourselves, exposing ourselves to different perspectives, and self-reflection. To combat ignorance, the first step is always acknowledging the bias within yourself and taking action. 



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