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Mariah Wood
Professor Corri Ditch
English 113A
17 September 2014
Conformity is the Social-norm
The essays, “Night to His Day: The Social Construction of Gender” by Judith Lorber, and
“Becoming Members of Society: The Social Meanings of Gender” by Aaron Devor cover many
different topics regarding gender construction, but both readings share a common theme. Out of the
many topics brought up such as gender inequality, roles and stereotypes, gender conformity is the one
particular idea that they both share. The authors write about gender conformity because it fits into the
several different topics they mentioned, and it raises awareness of the extreme lengths we go to just to
conform to gender codes. The fact that there is such a desire to conform to these gender codes prove
even further that gender is indeed a social construct that is based purely off the current norms in our
society. I can't speak for everyone when I say this, but gender norms and conformity has definitely
shaped the way I currently behave in different environments and scenarios.
Gender roles are enforced in many areas of life, even at birth. Moments after we are born we are
wrapped in pink or blue blankets depending on our sex, and growing up we get gender specific toys by
default, just because there are a multitude of assumptions directly tied in with our sex organs. The
conformity to gender norms isn't spontaneously established either, we begin picking up on cues at a
very young age from our surroundings, and most of all, our parents. Parents have a large influence on
how a child behaves due to how impressionable they are at a young age. According to Devor, “It is not
until children are five to seven years old that they become convinced that they are permanent members
of their gender grouping”(36) Until that time, parents teaching or lack of teaching of proper gender

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“etiquette” directly influences how we conduct ourselves around others. Once we finally learn how to
appropriately act, we then proceed to set an example for others to follow, and the cycle repeats while
gender polarity ensues.
Due to the fact that gender is conceptualized as binary in many cultures, society puts everyone
under a great deal of pressure to follow the rules attached to feminine and masculine traits, and one is
expected to habitually follow these rules if they want to be accepted by others. Women are supposed to
be sensitive, submissive, and dependent in whatever they do, whereas men are expected to behave in an
aggressive and dominant manner. It is also expected that women are homemakers, while men are the
breadwinners. These are only a few examples of what society presumes acceptable, but many men and
women carry out these gender roles unintentionally because they have been brought up to believe that
those are the only acceptable duties they have in life.
Conformity doesn't just mean behaving according to your gender, but appearing that way as
well. Women and men have a particular image to live up to, and many will go to any length to attain it.
Because women are supposed to be charming with sex appeal, they not only alter their appearance
through products and makeup, but some take more extreme measures like facelifts and breast implants
just to appease people's expectations in fear of being judged. Western society is not the only one to
conform to the cultural idea of what is attractive or normal. “In traditional Chinese Society, mothers
once bound their daughters' feet into 3 inch stumps to enhance their sexual attractiveness”(24). Men are
also under a lot of pressure to hold certain physical traits as well. They are expected to be muscular,
tall, and broad shouldered. If men don't have these physical traits, then they are considered weak,
scrawny, and “girly”. More males than you think spend time obsessing over their bodies and dedicate
countless hours trying to build muscles at the gym.
It is only when gender roles are not obeyed that we truly realize how men and women are truly

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supposed to act according to their gender-roles. Often times, males or females who are androgynous,
meaning they possess both masculine and female traits equally, are called out for the way they behave.
The only exception are transvestites, but even then many are looked down upon for lacking a definite
identity. People assume that just by possessing male or female genitalia, you will automatically have
the personality traits to match, but that is not always the case. Gender, being the traits we posses, and
sex, our genitalia are not directly related. Everyone feels the need to place others under a gender status,
otherwise we feel “uncomfortable until we have successfully placed the other person in a gender status;
otherwise, we feel socially dislocated”(20).
As stated before, it is undoubtedly true that once identity is established, we try harder to fit
under feminine or masculine traits. Those who are transgender, however, have a difficult time
identifying what their true gender is, so they end up being ostracized by society. This would be an
example of the negative affects gender conformity has on us. There are both rewards and punishments
for either conforming or opposing. “As we move through our lives, society demands different gender
performances from us and rewards, tolerates, or punishes us differently for conformity to, or digression
from, social norms”(46). Those who refuse to conform to gender roles are called names like “sissy” or
“butch” and are then ostracized and judged by others. We are judged on every last thing we do,
whether it be the way we look, dress, speak or gesture.
Due to the fact that everyone is stooping to conformity whether they realize it or not, I can think
of how gender codes apply to my life as well. Growing up, my parents were never particularly strict
about me properly fitting into gender roles in the slightest. They let me play with barbies and dress up
in princess costumes, but at the same time they weren't afraid to let me play videos games or sports
with my brother. Nobody ever told me at a young age that as a female I had to behave a certain way, or
have specific interests, so I found my identity based off of what I liked, not what society considered

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appropriate for me. There was never the constant pressure to conform to gender roles, so I developed
some rather androgynous personality traits and interests. It wasn't until middle school where I was
heavily criticized by my peers, which was also around the time everyone sought acceptance and tried
especially hard to fit into cliques. Just like the rest of my peers, I was trying to find out where I
belonged during such a confusing and uncertain time, but there was not a single person at school that
would accept me into their group. People called me names and mocked me for my “tomboy-ish”
behavior and appearance. They made it seem as if I didn't have the criteria to converse with either
gender. I wasn't masculine enough to hang out with the boys, yet I wasn't feminine enough to be around
the girls. I grew tired of being both bullied and ignored by my peers, so I began doing what was
considered most acceptable, which was to act more like a girl of course. I forced myself to dress and
behave in a more feminine manner, which didn't instantly grant me a handful of friends, but the
bullying finally came to a sure end.
Later in high-school I was finally able to embrace my true identity, and surround myself with
more caring and accepting people less concerned about gender roles, but I still feel like the way my
peers mistreated me back in middle school did in fact alter my behavior at home, at school, and in my
community. It just goes to show you that like Lorber said, gender is a social construct, and “Human
beings produce gender behaving in the ways they learned were appropriate for their gender
status...Resistance and rebellion have altered gender norms, but so far they have rarely eroded the
statuses”(23).
We all know what society's steep expectations are, which means we are also aware of the
repercussions of conforming or digressing to what is considered the norm. Failure to follow specific
gender codes usually results in harsh criticism from others, and being negatively sanctioned. Nobody
wants to face harsh criticism or judgment, so disobeying gender codes seems almost out of the option.

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Society's categories for what is considered feminine and masculine are quite unrealistic, because
it is impossible for every person to posses every trait under the list of gender characteristics. There are
very few people, if any, that possess purely feminine or masculine traits, which is why everyone has to
try so hard to conform. The truth is that we may show different traits at different times, and are more
similar to one another than we think. All men have some feminine traits, and all women have some
masculine traits. We are taught to behave in ways that are complete opposites of one another, which
explains why there is such a big barrier between what it means to be male or female. Most people are
fully aware of this and has been put to the attention of many, but people will continue to conform to
gender codes in fear of judgment, and gender-stereotypes will continue to shape the way we all act
because after all, gender is “a human production that depends on everyone constantly “doing
gender””(19).