The concept of social constructionism describes the philosophy and perceptions that social institutions and every social aspect of human life are not innate or inherent but rather created or performed by people in society. The theories of social constructionism propose that all social aspects people believe as a reality is not entirely inherent and the power of that belief is partly socially situated in the social system. The power of social aspects of life is drawn from the perceptions people ascribe to rather than what is entirely true about them. Among the various social aspects of human life, gender is among the major social institution which has been claimed to be socially constructed by several social theorists.
Gender is a highly controversial and complex social institution particularly on its key aspects including gender identity, gender role, gender patterns and stratification, and gender inequality and sexism. Understanding of gender as a social institution creates a heated conversation on the acceptable approach of creating social statuses and assigning rights and responsibilities (Lorber 60). Ideally, gender is believed to be equivalent to sex determined by the biological and physiological difference in anatomy among people. However, gender is constructed through various social interactions and relationships and learned or understood through ascription to various processes such as behaviors, modes of dressing and color dogma particularly pink-blue dogma social status patterns(Feinberg 95).
Feinberg claims that parents and doctors tend to classify the gender of a baby in the delivery room by looking at the genitals as either man or woman. Lorber also notes that gender is constructed through “combination of genitalia, body shapes, clothing, mannerisms, sexuality and roles” (Lorber 58). People can ascribe gender identity to an individual by carefully observing their appearance, dressing code, and body shapes. In her video, Judith Butler explains how behavior creates gender for individuals by explaining her personal experience. She explains that “we act and walk and talk in ways that consolidate an impression of being a man or a woman” (Butler). Our daily interactions and actions produce and reproduce our gender identity.
The common notions on masculinity and femininity on gender include beliefs that there are only two gender identities; either male or female. This notion is supported by the fact that gender identities are learned from the stereotyped gendered attitudes and behaviors (Lorber 62). Parents exceedingly contribute to creating gender perception for their children through naming and dressing choice since their birth. This notion is further expanded during the cognitive development of the children as they identify their gender group and respond by behaving differently. Curtis Sittenfeld also identifies this notion on the entire lifecycle of a girl since her birth through the educational system and the various interactions which further define her gender identity (Sittenfeld 25). Also, the advice and tips offered to a girl by her mother in Jamaica Kincaid’s article describe how the notion of gender identity based on actions and behaviors have been based on describing the gender identity (Kincaid).
Gender roles are also another aspect of gender construction which has depicted gender as a performative social institution. Traditionally, gender has played a big role in the division of labor, allocation of resources and assigning of responsibilities (Lorber 56). Traditionally, men and women could not work on the same jobs as some jobs were considered masculine while others were considered inferior and feminine. This notion of gender roles limited the potential of both men and women because roles and responsibility were assigned based on gender rather than on the basis of “talents, motivations and competence” (Lorber 56). Therefore the division of labor and execution of tasks was less efficient and did not utilize the full potential in men and women.
Butler, Judith. “Judith Butler: Your Behavior Creates Your Gender.” YouTube, 6 June 2011, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bo7o2LYATDc.
Feinberg, Leslie. “We Are All Works in Progress.” Women’s Sexuality, 1998, pp. 193-197
Kincaid, Jamaica. Girl. San Francisco Examiner, 1991.
Lorber, Judith. “Night to his day”: The social construction of gender.” Race, class, and gender in the United States: An integrated study 6 (2004): 54-65.
Sittenfeld, Curtis. “Your life as a girl.” Making Sense of Women’s Lives: An Introduction to Women’s Studies (2000): 25.
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