The Different Significance Gender Categories Have for the Individual and Society
Gender as a Social Institution Essay:
Gender, defined in the simplest of terms, is the state of being male or female, with reference to social and cultural differences as opposed to biological differences such as sex organs. How people interact socially is what designs their identification with one gender or the other; it is nurture rather than nature. Judy Lorber (1994) discusses gender, as a process of social construction, a system through which society classifies individuals within every aspect of their lives, be it in the family, in the work place, sexually or in terms of language and culture, 1 effectively making gender a social institution. The state of the social structure of gender in society is the mirror image of how that society understands their roles.
Stratification through gender (gendering), determines the roles individuals are assigned in society, and their behavioural patterns. Gendering begins at birth; a baby is dressed a certain way depending on its genitalia. As the child grows, they respond to the gender assigned to them, they behave in accordance with the way people treat them. They conform to the expectations set for their gender. This sets the base for their behavioural patterns once they ascend into puberty. Adolescent boys and girls are very much aware of their gender, and coupled with the onset of hormones, they learn how to interact with members of the other gender. Then comes adulthood, and with it, parenthood, and jobs. Different roles are assigned to both parents, though these roles are reversed at times. These reversals are often frowned upon, but in other cases applauded, as in the case of fathers looking after little children. All these processes shape each individual socially, in reference to their gender.
As a social institution, gendering acts as a guide through which society is organized. Gender is one of the methods used to assign tasks of society. Categorization through gender is often imbalanced, with men dominating most aspects in life, ultimately depriving women of equal opportunities in society, for example promotion in the work place, resulting in the universal issue of gender discrimination.
The Different Significance Gender Categories Have for the Individual and for Society
Judith Lorber (1994) observes that individuals have the need to conform to the norms set for their gender by society. They do this by sticking to behaviour deemed appropriate for their gender. Gender oriented behaviour is reinforced by cultural practices of a given society. These practices are for example circumcision for boys in the African culture and in the Jewish religion. In staying within the parameters set for own gender, the individual deems himself as one who fits in society and therefore does not feel out of place or deviant.
Society only recognizes two statuses of gender, male and female. Every act committed by any person is categorized into either of these statuses. Even if two individuals of opposite genders do a similar thing, their actions are perceived as different. This segregation is done to maintain gender separation.
In conclusion, Judith Lorber maintains that gender is indeed taught. If it was genetic, gender ambiguity would not occur, and there would be no need for gender markers. As a result, one can enact behaviour of the opposite gender, and this could easily render the statuses set by society null and void.
Lorber, J. (1994).Night to his Day: The Social Construstion of Gender.Paradoxes of Gender.