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Laura Gougeon

Power and Imagination

Professor Trimble
March 10, 2016
Gender, Discrimination, Inequality
The theory of social construction was created to develop an understanding of reality and
shared assumptions of the world. One of the most controversial socially constructed topics is
gender and gender roles. I will explore how an individual's family is the first encounter with
gender they will have and how that will carry with them throughout their time in the education
system. The physiological developmental process of children enforces an ingrained idealization
of gender from the day they are born through socialization in their society. The concept is
inevitable due to the fact that it dates back for centuries. Social construction of gender has led to
the divergence of gender perceptions and roles between females and males through the language
and social institutions including the education system and families which has created segregated
discrimination and inequalities.
The masculine, feminine and neutral pronouns were first created by Protagoras to define
Greek nouns in the fifth century BC, which was the start of the study analyzing the grammatical
gender systems to the real world (Curzan 11). The translation of these pronouns that were first
created from Greek to English are he/him for masculine, she/her for feminine and it for neutral.
The act of Protagoras defining individuals as either feminine or masculine lead to a

misunderstanding, persuading people to believe that there was a reason behind why he applied
these nouns, when in reality the sole purpose was to exhibit his power.
In today's society, sex is referred to as the biological status of an individuals identity. The
features that define a person's sex reproductive organs, external genitalia, hormones and other
aspects that an individual is born with. Gender, on the other hand, is a socially constructed theory
that society made to differentiate females and males (Social Constructs). With these gender
categories, gender roles and mannerisms are automatically attached on how boys and girls are
supposed to behave.
When man and woman were created, 200 thousand years ago, they were seen as equals
regardless that they had a different role to play in society, man being the hunters and women
being the gatherers (Manson). The inequality between man and woman came to be when
agriculture was discovered. The best farmers needed to be able to use heavy tools and work with
large animals, so then men had a biologically natural advantage over then women. With the
women's contribution to the economy decreasing, the man is held at a superior view over woman
(Manson). This socialized idea that the man is above the woman continued to be socialized from
generations. In today's society, intelligence and creativity as well as other attributes that can be
seen from both females and males equally, are the important features in an individual to obtain a
job but since the socialized idea that the woman is inferior compared to that man has not changed
in society. This has led to unconscious discrimination and sexism in many aspects of life such as
the business world where the man has a higher wage than a woman even if they are ranked the
same in the business.

In many cultures, gender is included within the structure of the language through various
language systems. Strict semantic system also known as semantic gender is the system of
language where the noun/pronoun defines the gender (Curzan 16). In turn, the gender is able to
determine the meaning of the noun. The noun classes in a grammatical gender system such as the
Romance language speaking countries, including France, Spain and Italy, is not related to
conceptual categories. For example, there is no linguistic rule for why French categorize all
nouns as either feminine or masculine. The only explanation for the European countries that have
a grammatical gender system to categorize nouns as masculine, feminine or neuter is simply for
the fact that they had the power to do that themselves. Formal systems referred to as grammatical
gender is based on the use of large pronouns grouped through formal criteria from either word
structure, morphological, or sound structure, phonological (Curzan 16). The root of the formal
system is not semantic based, but there is still a semantic core that can be traced in the system.
Natural gender is the system in which it is possible to predict the gender through the meaning of
the noun no other outside references (Curzan 13). The use of natural gender is seen in the
English language as a semantic system in which pronouns refer to masculine, feminine and
neuter forms that describe features of the object that are not necessarily part of their biological
status. The correspondence of the pronouns can be seen in real world with him referring to the
male human and her relating to the female human. Linguistic gender is the system in which the
classification of nouns and pronouns are reflected through the behavior that accompanies that
particular word (Curzan 13). The use of the linguistic gender system is one of the first key
factors that caused the socialization of gender because by associating behaviors with nouns and
pronouns, it automatically segregated the perception of how females and males are supposed to

behave in society. The different language systems is a prominent reason for the divergence of
gender perceptions because by correlating a noun with a gender, it creates specific stereotypes
and viewpoints of the different genders.
The English written language has become the leader of unconscious Sexism. Sexism is a
socialized act of segregating and discriminating females from males. Writers use the noun man
with its corresponding pronouns he/him as a term to identify all humanity but with the lack of
the use of the noun woman and its pronouns she/her it creates a mental picture of just the
man (Halon-Soto 3). The absence of acknowledgment for the female species cause segregation
between male and female which in turn leads to discrimination between the two genders. The
mental image created of always reading about man is that males overpower women in society.
In order to solve the problem of the lack of female nouns and pronouns used by writers is
the idea to create new pronouns that will intermix the male and female pronouns Se was
substituted for he/she; hes for his/her; and hir for him/her. Another experimental approach
appearing in the literature Miller and Swift, has devised new words which do not denote gender.
Tay replaces he/she; ter replaces his/her; and tem is used instead of him/her (Halon-Soto 4).
A study conducted by psychologist Argentino, Kidd and Bogart amongst junior high school
students for the interest of finding out if the act of changing pronouns will reduce discrimination
and inequality between males and females. A participation pool of 500 junior high school
students was given two different essays to read, the content of the two essays were the same the
only difference was the use of pronouns. The research concluded that the use of pronouns
designed originally for sex, he and she, forms segregated gender perceptions between male and
females (Halon-Soto 28). The repetitive exposure to the new mixed pronouns in the essays did

give a positive result that the students were rating the reading material higher for the fact that
there was less unconscious discrimination amongst the two genders.
The new inclusionary language of the intermixed gender pronouns is slowly being
incorporated into society. This language system is being promoted in the educational system in
an attempt to prevent unconscious discrimination between males and females by transforming
gender to be looked upon as equal. Textbooks are being transformed by being written with the
new inclusionary language system and eliminating the traditional sexist language so that children
will be socialized more equally between males and females (Halon-Soto 28). This will slowly
reduce the stereotypes of males and females which will essentially reduce the segregated
discrimination amongst the two genders.
When an infant is born, the sex of the child is the first feature that is identified. As soon
as the sex is revealed, then the gender is automatically attached with the pronoun he or she.
This occurs because parents would rather take the traditional route of accompanying the
biological sex with the gender associated with it. The parents of the newborn will automatically
use very clear symbols to classify their child in the gender category from the color of clothes the
baby is dressed in to the, pink for a girl and blue for a boy, to the toys that are given to the child
(Social Constructs). As soon as parents force their child to be a specific gender, society has made
very specific perceptions of how a girl/female and a boy/male should behave and act in the
culture that they are raised in.
Sigmund Freud, developer of psychoanalysis, was the first person to identify that the
family institution is a childs first encounter with gender. His view was based both on the
biological attributes as well as the social factors from the parents (Eckes and Trautner 67). The

mother of an infant provided soft feminine attributes of love and nurture while the father
provided the masculine strength and discipline. As the child grows older, the parents genders
roles become ingrained in the child, which soon allow them to diverge themselves into the
gender that they were assigned to when they entered the world. The process of the parents assign
the child a gender based on their sex, even though sex and gender are two separate identities in
an individual. This process is inevitable because it has been passed on from generation to
generation for centuries and the socialization of this act has proceeded to change. Babys brains
are not developed when they are born so it is part of the law that the parents are able to make
consent for decisions of their children. Since babies are forced into a gender category when they
are born, gender perspectives and segregation are unavoidable without choice in society which
makes discrimination inevitable between males and females. Parents have been
socialized to only know the concept of males and females as genders. This
dates back for centuries when the socialization of gender was created and
the segregation of males and females was prominent for specific job roles
essential for that society in that time era. With the evolution of technology
and industries, the social construct of gender has stayed the same.
The educational institution is one of the key factors that have socialized gender and
gender roles. In schools, there are two primary sources that influence gender, teachers and
surrounding students. The teaching curriculum that teachers are given to focus their lesson plans
around, are filled with gender stereotypes of behavior for the different genders. This is seen when
teachers differentiate the jobs for boys and girls, such as facilitating a dress up station for girls
and a kid friendly construction site for boys (Eckes and Trautner 66). Teachers unconsciously

differentiate the two genders because they have to work with the materials, from the teaching
curriculum to the toys, provided to them by the school. When a child begins school, they are
placed amongst other children who are the same age but mixed between the two genders, male
and female. With developing brains, children learn primarily through observation of their social
group they are placed in from the way they walk, talk and gesture (Riseman 436). The
socialization of gender through the education institution can cause problems because with how
the developing brains of infants work, they internalize the gender stereotypes and prejudice from
their teachers which forces them to choose a definite gender, segregating the two prominent
gender groups of either male or female (Eckes and Trauter 68). The process of socialization of
gender in the education system forces stereotypes on the two genders for occupations that is seen
as acceptable for females and males in society. Teachers
The education system influences the use of gender pronouns by teachers implementing it
in their teaching curriculum and reading materials given to students. The Gender-Schema
Development and Children's Constructive Story Memory was a study conducted by Welch-Ross
& Schmidt to emphasize the blind segregation of genders in school. This study was used by
observing the process of a child interpret different stories. A group of participants that included
boys and girls from ages 6 to 9 from the working and middle class were taken in for a study
where they read stories of imaginary characters that were open to interpretation by using varying
pronouns for stereotypical masculine, feminine and neutral activities and occupations
(Conkright, Flannagan, and Dykes 483). The results from this study showed nonspecific nature
of generic pronouns and the differences of gender interpreted from the conscious mind from the
reading materials obligatory in schools. To try and minimize segregation between females and
males the study concluded that the pronouns for characters in school textbooks changed If this

is done continuously throughout a textbook, further, there is equal chance of each gender specific
pronoun being paired with same-sex and opposite-sex activities. Thus, alternating he and she
might both indicate gender no specificity and also indicate to the reader that the activity (or
occupation) is appropriate for both boys and girls (Conkright, Flannagan, and Dykes 497). By
changing the curriculum that is given to teachers to instruct their students with, with material that
does not incorporate pronouns will create an equal image of the two genders which in turn will
diminish segregated discrimination between males and females. The socialization created in the
education system forces students of both genders to feel obligated to stay in the gender that they
were assigned to by society and by eliminating the use of pronouns in school, students will be
able to have the freedom to explore and decide which gender they want to belong to.
Gender has created segregation and inequality amongst females and males in every
society and culture to some extent. Studies have shown that if men and women are doing the
same job or completing the same task they are spatially segregated for the sole purpose to
differentiate genders. This is demonstrated in large business corporations where the same job
has a different title such as executive secretary for males and administrative assistant for females
in the large business corporation (Lorber 58). The divergence of gender in a small issue as a job
title creates the distinction between males and females regardless if it creates a positive or
negative impact. The discrimination between females and males is seen throughout the military
branches as well Women recruits in the U,S. Marine Corps are required to wear makeup-at a
minimum, lipstick and eye shadow-and they have to take classes in makeup, hair care, poise, and
etiquette. This feminization is part of a deliberate policy of making them clearly distinguishable
from men Marines. Women are volunteering to serve and protect their country while risking

their life at the same time, yet they are being forced to divide themselves from the men.
Segregated gender perspectives is seen throughout all parts of society from government based to
private sectors and large corporations which proves how unavoidable the social construct of
gender is.
The clear distinction in gender perceptions and roles is a socially constructed concept
created through the process of socialization and language systems. The family institution is the
beginning process of the development of gender in an individual then becomes further
segregated through the educational system. There is no possibility of eliminating the concept of
gender or the gender roles that accompany it, but there is an opportunity in diminishing the
discrimination and inequalities that coexist with this idea. If the educational system changes the
curriculum that teachers must use in classrooms to one that portrays an equality between the
male and female genders, students would create less of a divergence amongst themselves.
Without the stereotypes of gender and gender roles, the inequality and discrimination between
the two genders would decrease for there would not be as large of a gap between the two.

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