The Social Construction Of Gender

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The Social Construction of Difference Between Genders Gender refers to the cultural shaping of sexual identity; gender is the way in which one's biological sex is given shape and meaning within a culture. To quote Simone de Beauvoir: "you may be born a woman (sex), but you are also made into a woman for the rest of your life (gender)."� In her book Gender Trouble, Judith Butler (1990) tells us that gender itself is "never fixed, always fluid." Butler sees gender largely as a performative act, which has to be continuously repeated to anchor identity. Identity is a practice of assigning meaning. Through societal stereotypes of "˜feminine' and "˜masculine' roles or ideologies, gender is constructed and reinforced on a daily basis, through our performances of masculinity and femininity.

A successful male performance may entail: ¨ Active ¨ Domineering ¨ Reasonable ¨ Sexually potent (with a woman), and ¨ Literate in a public sphere A woman might be expected to perform as: ¨ Passive ¨ Supportive ¨ Emotional ¨ Sexually desirable, and ¨ Literate in the private or domestic sphere.

(Butler, in Shirato and Yell, 1997 cited in Mason and Horsfield, 2001) The social biases that influence gender construction begin in childhood, where boys and girls are often treated differently on the basis of sexual stereotypes. From a very early age, males and females are taught different linguistic practices. (Mulvaney, 1994). Girls are also given different types of toys than boys. For example, one study of children from one to six years of age found: "Boys had more vehicles, toy animals, military toys, educational-art materials, sports equipment, and spatial-temporal objects. On the other hand, girls had more dolls, doll houses, and domestic objects."� (Rheingold et al, 1975) Young children are taught to "˜perform' their gender role according to the societal understanding...