Gender Identity Thesis

Pages: 9 (3232 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Women's Issues - Sexuality

Gender Identity Defined

The purpose of this paper is to introduce, discuss, and analyze several essays from the book "Signs of Life in the U.S.A." edited by Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon. Specifically it will consider the debate over the origins of gender identity: Is it primarily biological or largely socially constructed? Gender identity is something just about everyone struggles with at one point or another. There are girls who want to excel at athletics and science, and boys who want to excel at fashion design and color coordination, and these desires directly oppose the gender roles society places on men and women. Gender identity then, is largely socially constructed, but for many people who struggle with their identities from a young age, gender identity is all about their own unique biology. Gender identity then, is a blend of social constructs and each person's own unique biological makeup.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Thesis on Gender Identity Defined the Purpose of This Assignment

Gender identity is most certainly socially constructed in our country, and it begins at the time of birth. Little baby boys come home from the hospital to blue, yellow, red, or green rooms (never pink), decorated with sailboats, jungle animals, or trains, while little girls come home to frilly pink rooms decorated with ruffles, fairies, princesses, and stuffed animals. From then on, the gender roles for little boys and girls become even clearer, and they point children down the "right" paths that little boys and little girls should always follow at a very young age. Little boys grow up learning they do not play with dolls, cook, or care about what they wear, while little girls grow up learning they do not get dirty, do not play competitive sports, and never outshine the boys on the playground or in the classroom. In her essay, "I Won. I'm Sorry," Maria Burton Nelson writes about Sylvia Plath, the well-known poet who committed suicide, "Sylvia was pleased to finish second in a spelling contest. 'It was nicer, she felt, to have a boy first'" (Burton Nelson 439). While this idea may seem outmoded in today's world, there are subtle (and not so subtle) signs of this everywhere in society today, from the National Spelling Bee, where boys almost always finish first, to the recent television news report that finally dispelled the notion that boys are inherently better at science and math. Parents and others grill girls from a young age that boys are somehow "superior," and this is a gender identity social construct if there ever was one.

Social constructs follow boys and girls throughout their lives, as well. Writer Aaron Devor explores many of these constructs, which begin very early, in his essay "Gender Role Behaviors and Attitudes." He writes, "Members of both genders are believed to share many of the same human characteristics, although in different relative proportions; both males and females are popularly thought to be able to do many of the same things, but most activities are divided into suitable and unsuitable categories for each gender class" (Devor 459). This is the crux of the socially acceptable gender issue, "suitable and unsuitable," and what that boils down to in society. There are certain roles that women can certainly fill in society, from racecar driver to football player, but these roles are not always considered "suitable," which is why there are so few women in these male-dominated sports. Even more unsuitable are females who show no maternal or nurturing tendencies - society tends to view them as abnormal in some way, while men who show these tendencies are seen as unsuitable or weak, as well. Thus, society, subtly and not so subtly, colors the way gender is viewed and the way men and women view themselves. There are so many social constructs for each gender that children, from a very young age, grow up understanding what is right and wrong for their gender, and how they will be viewed if they stray very far from these constructs. Society is a strong element of gender identity, and it always will be.

There are elements of society that almost demand strong gender identity. Society views masculine males as strong, aggressive, self-assured and toughness, while feminine women are nurturing, maternal, less assertive, and inherently weaker than men (Devor 460-461). People who stray from these roles are seen as suspect at best, and certainly not as role models for their gender. It might seem as if societal pressures are not strong enough to truly alter the gender identity of a person, but fitting into society is an important element of life for most people, and so, they will attempt to fit into these gender roles to "get along," even if they are not quite comfortable with all those roles. Society can create intense pressure for people to fit in, and that can be a compelling motivation, especially on children, who will do just about anything so they do not stand out in the crowd. Children can be inherently cruel, and they will immediately spot a weakness and capitalize on it, so children are especially motivated by the social constructs of gender, so they can avoid bullying and fit in with their peers. This may not be right or good, but it seems to be how society works, and this helps create strong and vivid ideas about gender identity from a young age.

Another very strong social construct regarding gender is the very way society is arranged in most of the world. In most societies, including the United States, the family is centered around a hierarchical male head of household, with women playing a less dominant role in the family. This is the "typical" American family model that a wide majority of people adhere to and believe in. The male is the dominant partner, normally making more money, making most of the financial decisions, and providing for the family. The female may work, but she also works inside the home, providing most of the caregiving, from meal planning to cleaning and managing the household, while the male is far less involved in the day-to-day operation of the home and family. This traditional family helps perpetuate the gender identity ideals of society, placing men and women in far different roles in the family, and graphically illustrating these gender differences to the children. While every family does not conform to this model (such as single-parent families, gay and lesbian families, and others), it is the societal norm, and the model that most people aspire to as they mature. This division of family responsibilities creates lifelong role models for children, and creates expectations about gender (and life in general) from a young age. Children see the model family as something to strive for, and parents attempt to fill their roles effectively and as society instructs. Thus, the social constructs of the family help create the social constructs of gender identity.

This family construct also helps create the way men and women want to be perceived by others. In her essay, "I Won. I'm Sorry," writer Nelson writes, "Femininity is about appearing beautiful and vulnerable and small. it's about winning male approval" (Burton Nelson 440). Society makes up these rules, and biology plays a part, as well. The most feminine (and attractive in society) women are petite, slender, graceful, approachable, and kind. These feminine characteristics are necessary for most women to attract men, which is what most girls learn from a very young age is necessary for them to be "successful" in life. Without a man, a woman is not fulfilling her maternal, nurturing role, and to catch a man, she must be attractive. The plain, overweight, masculine-appearing woman does not stand a chance in most of society, as Burton Nelson illustrates in her essay. Women try to fit into societal roles in many ways, from not wanting to be taller than their male partners, to not being as aggressive in sports and allowing men to "take care" of them.

The same holds true for men, who must live up to certain societal roles, or face ridicule and even persecution. Males must be masculine, in charge, aggressive, sure of themselves, and most of all, leaders. They must be able to take care of their families and provide for them, leaving the child rearing and homemaking to the women in their lives. Men who do not meet these standards are seen as weak, effeminate, and non-masculine, something not acceptable to most of society. Society and societal norms are strong motivators for most men and women, and society shapes the roles most men and women play in the world around them. Thus, to "fit" in society, men and women have to play certain roles, and these roles are centered on their gender and what is deemed acceptable for their gender. Some people do buck the system, (like gays and lesbians, or trans-gendered individuals) but they are always seen as "fringe" members of society, not accepted or acceptable to many people in society.

Advertising and the media also play a role in this gender… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Gender Identity" Thesis in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Gender Identity.  (2008, July 28).  Retrieved September 21, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Gender Identity."  28 July 2008.  Web.  21 September 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Gender Identity."  July 28, 2008.  Accessed September 21, 2021.