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Gender As A Social Construct; Psych Effects?

With having an older brother and a twin brother, saying that my mom was “excited” when she found out that the other twin was a girl, is a bit of an understatement.  She had dreams of dressing up her baby girl in pink and dresses.  Unluckily for her, I had different plans in mind.  Since I was little, I despised dresses and hated wearing anything with the color pink in it.  My mother even jokes that my first words were “no dresses”.  I could not help it though; I wanted to be just like my brothers, and boys do not wear dresses.  It was my admiration for my brothers that turned me into a little bit of a tomboy.  Cuts, bruises, and getting dirty were my favorite things about getting to play with my brothers.  My twin brother and I even played on a lot of the same sports teams; from tee-ball to soccer, if he played it then so did I.  As I got older though, sports became more segregated; coed teams turned into separate boys’ and girls’ leagues, tee-ball turned into baseball and softball, and my attempts at trying to be just like “one of the boys” became even more difficult.

In addition to the societal expectations placed on girls, I felt a few of these pressures at home as well.  Specifically, the pressure to present myself as more “ladylike”.  There were times when a certain phrase, posture, or mannerism of mine would have my mom questioning my femininity.  Even today she will still tell me “that is not very ladylike” after saying or doing something considered uncharacteristic for my gender.  Though I hear the hint of teasing in her tone, the words in which she speaks are still an example of just how powerful gender norms are; whether she realizes that or not.  At least my mother never forced me into proving others of my femininity by entering me in beauty pageants.  Yes, I am referring to poor, little Miss Taralyn Eschberger.  In chapter five of Peggy Orenstein’s book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, we are introduced to Taralyn and her mom, Traci.  Traci spends thousands of dollars in order to make her daughter look like the epitome of a “girly girl”.  From hair to makeup, and even a spray tan, no expense is spared.  Surely there must be a better—and cheaper—alternate way for Traci to prove to the world that her daughter, Taralyn, is truly a girl.

That does not mean, though, that girls are the only gender to feel the pressures of today’s extreme societal norms.  Take the boys on the Esquire Network show “Friday Night Tykes,” for example.  As a way to prove their “manliness,” they play on TYFA, the Texas Youth Football Association—one of the most competitive youth football leagues in the nation.  I personally have never had a problem with youth sports leagues—seeing that I have been on a few—that is, until I saw the Esquire Network show.  I say that because, on a weekly basis, all these kids hear are extremely demeaning things; one example is being told not to cry because “emotions [are] a female trait.”  Coaches have even been suspended for encouraging players to use profanity, and illegal and dangerous hitting.  My question is, how does all of this affect these boys? No wonder so many young men grow up feeling that they have to wear a—metaphorical—mask and hide who they really are; because they grew up believing that that made them less of a man.  As I questioned earlier, there must be another way for parents to “show off” their children without pushing them to the extremes.

My question is: what psychological effects do these “social constructs” have on children and how do you think that carries over into their adult life? Let me know what you think! I’m super interested.

What do you think?

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Written by Emily Schamber

Profile photo of Emily Schamber

Psychology major at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

2 Comments

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  1. Gender norms is a damaging and dangerous social construct. If you look back at history and even different cultures, some of them reject the concept of femininity and masculinity. It was monotheism that completely hammered the nail on which gender roles were which and it was adapted by society because back then, even until today, it’s conform or be killed figuratively and literally.

    I wrote an article about this, it mostly focuses on the male. Do check it out if you can as i believe it answers some of your inquiries.

  2. Well, I personally think that children who is being pushed with this social construction of gender can not express themselves well. Like a boy should do the hard part of a working like lift up heavy things while the girl should do the cooking part and stuff. A girl should not very athletic and should be in the house for the most time and boy is in the opposite. Not everyone can accept this construction that make them can not express themselves well and then they can not look deeper into their true potential. Most of them become like everyone else because under these social construction, being different is a total mistake.

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Gender As A Social Construct; Psych Effects?