The Influence of Social Institutions on Gender Roles Essay
Women are disproportionately represented in many social institutions, such as politics, religion, institutions of higher learning, and the modern workplace In a society which is rife with many different gender stereotypes and biases, the dominance of men in many social institutions has continued to emphasize gender roles. The society has a set of different ideas about how men and women should behave, dress as well as present themselves (Grusky 43). Therefore, gender roles in the society can be defined as how people are expected to groom, speak and conduct themselves according to their assigned sex. For example, it is of the essence to note that girls and women are expected by the society to dress in feminine ways, be polite and nurturing. However, men are expected to be aggressive, bold and strong. Every society has gender role expectations and they differ from group to group. Social institutions such as family, religion, school and mass media reinforce gender roles in the society.
From a very young age, children learn what it means to be a boy or a girl. Essentially, they study through numerous events, reassurances, dissuasions, covert recommendations and evident conducts. It is through this process that children experience the process referred to as gender role socialization. A child’s earliest experience to what it means to be female or male originates from the family (Grusky 24). From the time that children are infants, their parents treat sons and daughters in different ways. They cloth the children in gender specific color, and give them distinguished toys and finally they expect dissimilar conduct from boys and girls. The children then internalize these parental messages and start to behave according to their gender.
Typically, parents encourage their sons and daughters to participate in different gender specific activities. For example, playing with dolls and engaging in housekeeping activities is encouraged for girls, whereas playing with cars and engaging in sporting activities is encouraged for boys (MacDowell 49). Further, it is more likely for boys to be given maintenance chores as they grow up in the family, such as mowing the lawn and painting. However, girls on the other hand are likely to be given domestic chores such as laundry, cleaning and cooking.
Most religions are patriarchal and consequently, women in most religions around the world play second fiddle to men. Gender roles in the society are further reinforced through church. For example, in the Christian religion, women are portrayed as homemakers and helpers to the man (MacDowell 71). Therefore, the leaders in the Christian church have to advocate this perspective to its believers. Young girls are taught in church, in the mosque and synagogue that they have to submit to men and that men are the providers. Therefore, this reinforces gender roles as women find their place in rearing at children and preparing the home for the husband and for the children.
According to a lot of religions, the role of women in the society is to be wives and mothers and nothing more (Grusky 87). Further, there are certain occupations such as being a Kadhi, a priest or even a scribe which is not allowed for women. Consequently, women are taught in this case that indeed they have a glass-ceiling in the society especially when it comes to religion. Further, they are taught that there are certain roles in the church that are gender specific and they are only devoted to men.
These reinforced gender roles in the society caused by religion can many at times get in the way of personal fulfillment, and this especially occurs for women, where they feel that they cannot be able to advance their lives as a result of the restrictive gender roles. Religion is also biased in the way that they treat men and women. For example, in most religions there are areas where men can go and prayers that they can say, whereas this is not the same case with women. Therefore, this discrepancy adds to the issue of gender roles with women feeling inadequate.
Schools are also at the forefront of reinforcing gender roles in the society. This is especially given the way that they tackle formal aspects of education. A report has shown that the majority of schools often deliberately fail to encourage subject choices in a manner that can be defined as being gender neutral (MacDowell 22). As a result of this stereotyping and reinforcement of gender roles, boys are often less likely to take what is described as stereotypically girls subjects such as English and psychology. On the other, girls in many cases opt not to take mathematics and physics at the A-level. This is because these subjects have over the years been described as belonging to boys by schools and consequently increasing gender roles.
This is bad news, given the fact that children should be free to choose what they want to study and what they want to be in future. Therefore, they should not be subtly steered from certain subjects because the school believe and propagate certain stereotypes. Research has also shown that half of state mixed schools do not see any girl progress to A-level physics. In contrast, the likelihood of girls continuing to A-level physics from a girl’s only sex school is three times greater than that of a mixed school (Grusky 33). This report shows that indeed there exists something fundamental with the school ethos and stereotypes. The way teachers handle girls in classes and the way they handle boys is different and this contributes to girls feeling that physics and mathematics are not meant for them. This later on affected their careers with most girls going to humanity related careers whereas boys go to technical careers.
Therefore, this evidence clearly shows that schools reinforce gender roles, and this is something that many educationalists have long suspected (Enos 18). There is a need to get rid of these gender stereotypes and roles in schools in order to create a balanced educational system. This is because it is not right to deter girls or even boys from pursuing their dreams, and this is irrespective of what their dreams are.
Mass media often plays a very significant role in the current world, particularly since it broadcasts to such a large audience. Mass media consists of television, print, radio and the internet. By generating a certain type of meaning, it is imperative to note that indeed the media can influence people’s sentiments and approach. It should be realized that people in the society often consolidate their knowledge concerning the setting around them by sorting and make simpler the information that they receive (MacDowell 33). Consequently, people create what is defined as reasoning schemes which are certain illustrations of reality in the most central properties. One of the most common types of schemes which is used is orientation and it is often used in the social environment. It is these gender stereotypes in the mass media that eventually crafts gender roles (Enos 22).
The difficulties that currently exist in the society in regards to gender roles can be described as an ample example of the negative social effects of mass media stereotyping. A division of gender roles in the society is entrenched in social standards. In the past, patriarchy was the most overriding family model and this can be seen in many diverse civilizations around the world. Through the ages, men have been regarded as being career focused, independent, and financial providers (Grusky 22). On the other hand, women have been portrayed as being loving mothers and wives, home makers and casual workers. The family model has changed with more women going to work; however, mass media still continues to portray these different gender stereotypes.
For example, in many war films, women are left at home taking care of the children while the men go out in the battle to fight. Such type of actions in the end creates gender roles. Persons watching such films often believe that the place of the woman is in the house. Mass media affects the lives of people, given that it shapes their opinions, their beliefs and their attitudes. Consequently, in the case of mass media, it has perpetuated gender roles, and has established the hegemony of males by slowly but steadily institutionalizing male dominance of women (Enos 19). By influencing gender roles, the media has been able to create a certain duplicate of reality, which is unswerving with the strategy of the governing group which in this case is men. In the end, the reflection of the real world and the roles that genders presently occupy are totally inaccurate.
Gender roles in the society often show people how they are supposed to act, groom and conduct themselves and this is based upon their assigned sex. Every society and ethnic group have gender role expectations (MacDowell 61). However, they change from time to time and group. There are however several consistent gender roles across the world. For example, gender roles show that women belong in the house conducting domestic chores and taking care of the family home. Men on the other hand are seen as the providers and consequently, they are supposed to move out of the house and cater for the family.
These gender roles are reinforced by different social institutions such as family, school, religion and mass media. Children learn at a very young age from their family what it means to be a boy or girl. They learn these aspects from their parents, who buy them different toys, and expect different behaviors from them. In religion, persons are encouraged to stick to certain gender roles as written in the scriptures. When it comes to mass media, films, video games and other digital platforms encourage gender roles by portraying men as strong, independent and women as dependent. Consequently, from these aspects, it is clear that social institutions do reinforce gender roles in the society.
Enos, Theresa. Gender Roles and Faculty Lives in Rhetoric and Composition. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2015.
Gardner, Peter. New Directions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2005.
Grusky, David. Social Stratification: Class, Race, and Gender in Sociological Perspective. , 2011.
MacDowell, Linda, and Rosemary Pringle. Defining Women: Social Institutions and Gender Divisions. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2014.