The purpose of this essay is to discuss the significance of gender on contemporary childhood. It will follow the format of defining gender and sex, and continue to discuss the connotation of gender on contemporary childhood drawing on examples from the Open University studies (Book 1 Understanding Childhood). Biological theories perceive sexual differences as a product of nature whereas Socio-cultural theories view gender as a product of nurturing. The way children are bought up, in their ethnic and cultural backgrounds. (OU, Book 1 Ch. 5).
For the purposes of answering this essay, the discussion will be restricted to the last century. Gender is defined as: – a quality attached to a noun or pronoun that indicates an abstract category of the individuals are being referred to or sexual identity, especially in relation to society or culture or the condition of being female or male. Sex on the other hand is defined as biological / physical characteristics of maleness, femaleness (Online dictionary). Gender is a social construct indicating the socially and culturally approved roles that people (male and female) should follow.
Unlike sex, which is a biological. The impact of gender on childhood very much depends on the historical, social and cultural background that a child grows up in. Children’s lives are shaped differently depending on their gender. Gender is the undermining factor that determines the social status in any given culture. Scientist’s through experiments have proved that there are sexual differences between men and women, that these are biological are products of nature. On the other hand gender differences are a product of the mannerism in the way children are bought up i. . nurturing.
Although some elements of gender is connected to biological differences. From the moment of origin, even earlier as soon as biological parents contemplate about having children, they think of either having a boy or a girl, male or female. Children are born into society already with a gender without any opinion. As early as the ages between four and six children begin to become aware of their gender (Durkin 1985). Children as young as the ages of two or three show certain types of gender linked mannerism, such as their choices of toys and friends.
This indicates that there are factors other than society such as parental corroboration, that influences the adoption of gender related behaviour. (Gender Constancy, Gale Enc. ) As children develop, their gender awareness increases and they begin to examine themselves and the their expectations from parents, society and vice-versa. Television and media play a strong role in gender stereotyping. For example, girls playing with cooking toys, women shopping, men going to work, boys playing football. Some common gender role descriptions are (Gender role – Wikipedia): – A tomboy, is a girl who behaves like a stereotypical boy. * A boy, is someone who wears rugged clothing, likes the colour blue, plays with toy soldiers and does not cry. * A sissy, is a boy who behaves like a stereotypical girl. If girls played with action men toys dressed up in jeans and shorts they would just be considered to being a tomboy. On the other hand if a boy played with dolls or wore anything viewed to be remotely similar to girl’s clothes or colours he would be called a sissy and would be a playground reject. Girls can participate in both “male” and “female” things.
For example, girls can play football and baseball they get the best of both worlds whereas boys are restricted to “male” things, they cannot wear pink or take part in a ballet class. According to social constructionists, gender is not a product of biology or socialialisation but as a result of human’s impression and “meaning-making” (Understanding Childhood, Ch 5, Pg. 198). Colour in some societies is an important cultural marker to determine gender. In the UK for example baby boys are dressed in blue and baby girls are dressed in pink.
In Italy on the other hand baby girls are dress in blue as blue is the represents the Virgin Mary who is symbolic to their religious beliefs. The association of colour shows that gender is cultural, it can be constructed and deconstructed depending on the society. For example the influence of the children’s nature and parental nurturing have on Brian and Karen’s opinions in decorating their bedrooms and the toys they play with. Brian talks about guns and action man toys, his room being decorated in blue and his Pokeman quilt. Whereas Karen’s spoke about her Barbie dolls and room being decorated in pink.
The mannerism in which Karen’s connects the colour pink to the first colour she sees when she is born – her pink blanket. (OU, Video). This shows that Karen’s education regarding her gender started when she was born. Also playing with action men toys or Barbie dolls is a symbol of nurturing and not natural. Gender has a great influence on expectations, opportunities and experiences of both parents and children. Gender determines how male and female children are treated. Male and female children are treated differently and parental and society expectations from them differ.
For example education in some countries like Bangladesh. Girls have fewer educational opportunities than boys. Girls are viewed as homemakers (wife and mother). Education is not perceived as important for girls and early marriage inhibits education. (Understanding Childhood, Ch 5, Pg. 207). Moni from Chittagong in Bangladesh and lives in a bustie (crowded shanty). She is fourteen years old and her marriage has already been arranged. She keeps her small collection of clothes carefully above her sleeping mat. Her parents did not seek her consent for this even though she did not like the boy. She was forced into marriage.
After the wedding she bought court charges, as she did not want the same happening to other girls. Moni sees that being a girl in Bangladesh is very restrictive and suppressing. Terina is twelve years old and lives in Oakland, California. The choice that Terina has to make is what clothes to wear, is it a named brand? Where to shop and how popular she will be with her group of friends. Although she is aware of the constraints what she can do as girls, she has the freedom of option and the liberty to state her views. The two examples indicate the disparity in the girls circumstances dependant on the society and cultural background.
The views that the girls have regarding their gender although common are different depending on their ethnicity. (Video 1, Band 6, Being a girl). Being male is biological but being masculine is considered being a cultural idea. Boys behave differently also depending on the cultural background and society they come from. In Australia and United States, men are considered masculine wen they are involved in sports like surfboarding and American football. On the other hand the view is that there is a “crisis in masculinity” as there are more teachers that are female than male.
Mothers in single parent families are bringing up more boys. So boys have less male role models. Ann Phoenix called this the oestrogen effect in the OU Audio 2 – Masculinities. Also not all boys will be boys. Some will not accept their genders and want to dress and behave like girls / women. Eddie Izzard, a male who likes to wear female clothing. He probably wears female clothing as sign resistance or challenge either parental authority and / or society. In the UK girls have equal admittance to schools and education. There has been a steady rise in female achievements in education.
The trend in girls achieving better results than boys has resulted in boys suffering from low self-esteem. They have become less ambitious with low aspirations that make them less employable. (Wilkinson 1994) However as noted in a recent editorial in an UK newspaper The Guardian- headed “Unequal and Unfair: Girls beat boys but end up with less pay (Friday 17th August 2001). This means that even though girls and boys are give the same educational chances and the girls academic performance is more enhanced than boys, the opportunities girls receive in society, the work place and boardroom are profoundly deficient by the gender.
The perception that equal opportunities exist in contemporary society is fictitious. Social Constructionists see Gender as a fluid identity that allows the possibility of negotiation, resistance and change. (OU, Block 1 study Guide) The discussion shows that there are positive and negative features of both male and female genders in society. Some societies are inflexible in their expectations of male and female children whereas, in other societies they are reasonably accommodating. For instance, western society in the early 20th century indicated gender roles as relatively fixed.
People who transgressed gender roles e. g. women in highly paying jobs were frowned upon and met with disapproval in society. Female children were expected to be feminine with a mindset from early childhood of child rearing and home making. The latter have of the 20th century (1960’s) after feminism movements, gay liberation of the late 20th century, new gender roles became more acceptable and perception of genders are more flexible. E. g. boys, learn ballet, men are househusbands.
In Western society female and male children are equally accepted, whereas, in societies like China and India having male children is more appreciated as they are seen as carrying on the family name and producing heirs. Female infanticide still exists in these countries. Gender in this country can mean a matter of life and death. (OU Ch 5). The significance of gender on contemporary childhood is important and complex because gender determines how a child is accepted in society. It created by society to determine and differentiate between the relationships of male and female children and adults.
A child’s gender has a considerable impact on their childhood awareness, their objectives and choices in life. It has a real impact on children’s lives. It is the crunching point of acceptability in society. It impacts a number of things, some being access to education, reproductive control, and earning potential (Block 1 study guide pg. 34). A child’s gender is commonly connected to societies view on the way in which a child is reared, child-care, education, opportunities and the amalgamation of children into society. (OU, CH 5)