Gender Socialization: Teaching Girls How to Act From a Young Age
Felicia is a 16-year-old from Metuchen, NJ. She enjoys playing tennis, writing, travelling, and is currently in the process of refining her first novel.
I have always been interested in how differently girls and boys are viewed by society and how each sex has stereotypes of activities they should participate and excel in. Yet what has come to my attention recently was how parental guidance from a young age plays a part in developing interests for later in life. Two years ago I wrote an extensive research paper on Title IX, the constitutional amendment that was supposed to create gender equality in both school athletics and academics. The more research I delved into, the more frustration bubbled up inside me. What my first instinct had been chiding to me was true; despite the new legislation passed by the government, contemporary society’s perception of females as being the “lesser sex” has not changed, and thus we are still far from achieving gender equality.
Such perceptions have had a tremendously negative and limiting affect on the way young girls view themselves and their behavior. According to Unicef.org, gender socialization from a young age teaches girls to be “forgiving and accommodating and ladylike”, while it teaches young boys to be “assertive and strong”. The differences between the two are already clear at this young age, and the implications that girls are meant to be the weaker and more dependent sex are also eminent as a result.
When it comes to gender stereotypes on intelligence, parental guidance is the leading factor in determining a child’s academic interests. Researchers at the University of Michigan followed over 800 parents and their children for a time span of thirteen years. They found that traditional gender stereotypes have influenced parental behaviors and attitudes, directly impacting their child’s success in math. They discovered that parents with a young boy will purchase more math and science related toys and spend more time on these activities with their sons, than those who had young daughters. The lack of focus girls spend on the subject during these crucial years of intelligence development, directly impacts their lack of interest towards the subject in the future.
Such stereotypes have also been linked to certain colors. Sexual perceptions of color is omnipresent throughout our lives; pink is for girls, blue is for boys etc. says a study done by Missouri Western State College. Now, let’s connect this bit of research to contemporary society. If you peek into a middle school science classroom and take a look at the color of the children’s binders and folders, the overwhelming majority will have some shade of green. Similarly if you take a look into a math classroom, many school supplies will be colored blue. Both of these colors are sexually perceived as being linked with the male gender. Likewise, many children use colors like pink and orange for subjects such as English and social studies; both being colors that associate with pink and, therefore, girls.
In athletics, children are taught from a young age by parental behaviors that boys should take sports more seriously than girls. Even at a young age I was extremely into soccer and softball, and also enjoyed playing basketball and tennis. In my town, the softball and baseball fields were built next to each other, separated only by a small park. Each time I drove past these fields I would ask my parents why the boy’s field always had tarp on it when it was raining, and my field didn’t. Or why the boy’s field’s grass was always freshly cut and the lines made clear, and my field wasn’t. On many of these occasions my parent’s weren’t exactly sure how to respond to me. Once, though, my mother replied saying that the parents of the baseball players were more into the game than the parents of the softball players. This was when it was made clear to me that girl’s athletics were obviously less important than boy’s athletics. Think about it, have you ever watched a professional softball game on television? Can you name the captain of any women’s professional team? If I asked you the same about professional baseball, I’m positive you would respond much quicker.
We need to help change gender socialization. We need to teach young girls that they should be strong, assertive and confident, too. To all of the parents reading this, introspect on what you focus on with your children. Do you encourage your sons to play sports and your daughters to play with dolls? Do you encourage your daughters to read and paint and your sons to be interested in math and science? We, as a society, need to remember that people, no matter what their gender may be, can have a plethora of interests. And these interests should be supported even if they are not “traditional” for a certain sex. Do not limit your child’s potential because of gender bias, but encourage their talents and interests. It is not until this occurs that the genders will be perceived as completely equal.