Gender is a cultural construct. The definition of what make some one male or female varies cross culturally.Gender is an idea that enters a persons schema and becomes a part of who they are and how they persevere them selves as a person. Gender is created in the minds of individuals though exposure to examples of what makes a good man or woman. This experience with gender roles is what shapes gender construction. We develop an understanding of gender through a variety of venues. This article looks specifically at how the mass media, Religion and language help to develop and perpetuate gender roles.
The mass media is one of the most influential ways that society constructs gender. In the United States mass media is everywhere, from the big screen to the side of busses. We can see examples of how the mass media constructs gender by looking at movies, magazine advertisements and even children’s literature.
In the movies, traditional gender roles are hardly challenged. In Carolyn Durham’s Book “Double Take: Culture and Gender in French Films and Their American Remakes” is dedicated to exposing how the French and American construction of gender through the mass media is different. The book looks American remakes of French movies like La Femme Nikita/ Point of no return and Trois hommes et un couffin /Three men and a baby. According to Durham the female characters in these movies where re-written to come across as more maternal, warm and defenseless. This goes to show that gender differs cross culturally. Male movie characters make it seem like being male mean being “tough, independent, ruthless and threatening sexy”(Dennis 1994 21). These images of men and of women perpetuate ideal gender roles. Even when a woman is a superhero, she is inevitably dressed in something that resembles bondage, reminding us that real women are always sexy. Take for example Halie Berry’s character in Cat Woman (below)
When looking at advertisements, it is easy to see how gender roles are perpetuated and reinforced. In this ad for Max Factor Make-up is an excellent example of how advertising enables traditional gender roles and reinforces them in a person’s schema. This woman is beautiful, mysterious, sexy, and non-threatening. When it comes to adverting to men, we see men as powerful, strong, and taking up a lot of space.
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Advertisments may seem diverse but they restrict women and men to their set gender roles.
Even when a woman is a superhero, she is inevitably dressed in something that resembles bondage
According to Frank Taylor we start to develop Ideas about gender by the time we are 8 or 9. This means that fairy tales like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White all have a profound effect on how a child sees gender. In all of these stories, the heroin is incapable of saving herself, so a prince saves her. These Heroines are beautiful, demure, victims and the men who save them are handsome, brave warriors. Only recently have some Gender neutral books been written for children. Books like Cinder Edna and the Paper Bag Princess present a heroine who can look after herself.
Religion also effects gender construction. The influence of religion on gender construction has different strengths in different parts of the world. We can see how religion constructs gender by looking at Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
These three religions help to construct a society were women are subservient to men. In Christianity, women are told that they are “in subjugation to obey [their] own husbands” (The Homely of the State of Matrimony). According to Janet James, Women are more likely to go to church then men, but less likely to hold a position of authority. It was not utill 1970 that the Lutheran and the Episcopal churches began to ordain women. In 1970 Sally Preisand became the first Jewish Rabbi. In Judaism, women were exempt from some of the Mitzvoth. Some scholars believe this was because a husband has just as much say over a wife as god. A wife was exempt form the Mitzvoth because she should not have to choice between fulfilling god’s wishes and her husband’s wishes. (Biale 1993, 45). Religion often teaches young women that a ‘good’ woman is a dutiful, quiet, mother and a homemaker, while it teaches men to be strong, articulate leaders and breadwinners.
The Influence of religion on gender construction depends directly on the influence of religion in society. In Pakistan, for exampleIslam plays a huge part in socializing girls. According to Caroline Nagel and Ghazi-Walid Falah, “girls are placed at the very heart of upholding Islamic values”. (Nagel 2005 34) Pakistani girls are held to stricter standards of behavior. These girls are less likely to get an education or have any free time. This alone perpetuates male dependency.
Religion reflects society’s gender construction. In the United States, churches teach children traditional gender roles. In Places like Pakistan, religion is a much larger part of the social construction of gender.
The words that we use to describe men and women are very different. Women are beautiful and men are handsome. These differences in word choice occur at birth. A new mother will be told that her baby boy is strong, handsome, and smart, while a new daughter may be informed that she is cute, beautiful, and darling. The different words that we use to describe children create gender though a self-fulfilling prophesy. According to Ralph Hines, words create norms. If we tell girls from a young age that they are quiet and boys that they are rowdy, that is how they preseve them selves.
It is easy to see how words that are associated with the feminine have a negative connotation. Tailor denotes having ones own shop, it suggests success and success is something that we generally associate with men. While seamstress pulls forth an image of a woman who is struggling to survive, suggesting vulnerability, a characteristic that is considered female. It is also interesting to note that words like queen and mistress have taken on new meaning and are now used as insults. According to Penelope Eckert, Language is used to emphasize gender difference and patriarchy. Studies have also shown that men are more likely to interrupt and women are more likely to use qualifiers.
Gender is a social construct, we define our selves as male and female not just because of biology, but also because we are told that we need to identify as either male or female. We assert this identification with one gender after looking at examples and pressures from society. Some of these pressures come from mass media, religion and language
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Biale, Rachel Women and Jewish Law 1993 Schocken Books, New York, NY
Falah Ghazi-Walid; Nagel, Caroline Geographies of Muslim Women 2005 The Guilford press New York, NY
Eckert, Penelope Think Practically and Look Locally: Language and Gender as Community- Based Practice Annual Revue of Anthropology., 1992, 21, 461-490
Hines, Ralph H. Social Expectations and Cultural Deprivation The Journal of Negro Education, 1964, Vol. 33,136-142.
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