What does it mean to say that gender is socially constructed? What are the expectations for femininity? Masculinity? What happens when someone does not meet these expectations?

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According to many theories, gender is a social construct. This means that culture and society influence how men and women operate in the world they live in. It is not the same as sex, which is concerned with biological differences between men and women.

Generally speaking, society imposes certain stereotypes on all of us which we must embrace if we are to be accepted by it. So, what is a social stereotype? Social stereotype is a public belief about a certain behavior, social group, individual or social issue. We are supposed to abide by these stereotypes because if we do not, we will not be socially accepted. We will deviate from the norm and from what is expected from us. For example, children at a very young age already have an idea of what they are expected to do. Boys are not expected to play with barbie dolls because they learn from society (namely, their family) that barbie dolls are associated with girls, so girls should only play with them. What happens here is that they learn what behavior they should not adopt if they are to be in accordance with the typical male expectations.

So, who maintains these social rules? Family, friends, school, and the media all influence the way we operate. We constantly strive to live up to the social expectations that are imposed upon us, so that we can appear normal.

Some conventional female stereotype characteristics state that women are  "affectionate, dependent, emotional, friendly, kind, mild, pleasant, prudish, sensitive, sentimental, warm, and whiny" (Schneider 438). On the other hand, typical male stereotype characteristics include: "adventuresome, achievement-oriented, active, ambitious, coarse, independent, loud, robust, self-confident, stable, tough, unemotional" (Schneider 438).

Any serious deviation from these prescribed characteristics can lead to social condemnation of an individual and his/her alienation from society, which can lead to serious consequences.

 

Schneider, David J. The Psychology of Stereotyping. New York: Guilford, 2004. Web