Causes of gender inequality and differential socialization

Socialization based on sex causes gender inequality . This socialization occurs even before birth: from the moment the pregnancy is identified whether the baby is a boy or a girl, a long process of socialization begins, the result of which is the differentiation of people as men or women. In this article we will give you the causes of gender inequality.

From a gender perspective, it is possible to understand that the application of the sex-gender system in the socialization process builds a set of beliefs at a social level in which each gender is assigned certain behaviors.

The difference between sex and gender

The roles of each gender are given different importance, according to a hierarchy of values, positioning women in inferiority. Thus, stereotypes arise that contribute to the maintenance of inequalities between men and women.

The concept “sex” refers exclusively to the physical characteristics that biologically differentiate people as men and women. However, the concept of “gender” is a social construction based on the attribution of different roles according to sex.

This means that gender is used to describe socially constructed characteristics differently for men and women. The social differences that we find in today’s society between men and women are the result of learning from the sex-gender system.

The sex-gender system: a theory of inequality

The sex-gender system is a theoretical model that explains how gender socialization occurs. This theory identifies the natural with the socially constructed and establishes that sex itself is not the cause of inequality between women and men, but their socially constructed gender position.

This system produces a set of learned and internalized social norms that structure the behavior of both sexes and condition the perception and interpretation of social reality. Consequently, they generate a differential socialization.

Biological inequalities translate into social , political and economic inequalities between women and men that generate sexism, with women being the most disadvantaged in this process.

From birth, people learn the behaviors, attitudes, roles and activities that correspond to the characteristics determined by belonging to one or the other sex, thus developing gender identity and roles.

Gender roles and identity construction

Gender identity is the attribution to one or the other sex, that is, identification as male or female. From this gender identification, the development of a specific differentiation process is triggered in which gender roles are learned.

Gender roles imply assuming social representations of masculinity and femininity as one’s own through the various agents of socialization: the family, the educational system, the media, culture, the community, institutions, etc.

This socialization is maintained throughout life. Through interactions with other people, the values, attitudes, expectations and behaviors of each society are learned and internalized to function in it.

Differential socialization between men and women

Walker and Barton’s (1983) theory of differential socialization explains how people, in their process of initiating social and cultural life and from the influence of socializing agents, acquire differential gender identities that lead to attitudes, behaviors, moral codes. and stereotyped norms of behavior attributed to each gender.

The key to the differential process of socialization is the congruence between the messages emitted by all the agents of socialization . This facilitates the assumption and internalization of each individual, to the point of considering that it is something of their own, their personality, making them think and behave accordingly. Thus, boys and girls will assume from childhood the traditional male and female roles as their own.

Male roles: work and ambition

The socialization of children in the traditional male role focuses on producing and progressing in the public sphere. They are expected to achieve success in this area as they are trained and educated so that their self-esteem and gratification comes from the public sphere.

Men are repressed in the affective sphere, promoting various freedoms, talents and ambitions that facilitate self-promotion. They receive sufficient incentive and little protection, which guides them towards action, the exterior, the macro-social and independence. Men are instilled in the value of work as a priority and obligation defining their condition.

Female roles: family and home

In the case of girls, the process of socialization in the traditional female role focuses on their preparation for reproduction and their permanence in the private sphere. Your successes are expected to come from this area, which will shape both your source of gratification and your self-esteem.

Opposite men repress their freedoms, talents and ambitions that facilitate self-promotion, promoting the affective sphere. They receive little encouragement and sufficient protection, which guides them towards intimacy, the interior, the microsocial, dependence and the value of work are not instilled as a priority or obligation defining their condition.

All these values ​​and norms are called gender mandates , that is, those implicit social norms that do not reflect what men and women are, but what they should or should be and what is expected of each of them.

Socialization agents: how gender roles are reinforced

The process of differential socialization according to gender is produced through different reinforcements and models. Differential reinforcement occurs when men and women are rewarded or punished for different behaviors , interests, or expressions of emotions.

Much of this learning takes place in the early years of life through modeling, that is, learning through observing other people’s behaviors and the consequences that behavior has for the model.

This normative and informative influence occurs through socialization agents. The main socializing agents are:

1. The family

The first role models that the child will have are family members and they play an important role in the first stage of life as transmitters of behaviors, values, etc., through modeling and emotional learning. Several studies indicate that the most important role of the family lies in the regulation of sex-based activities.

2. The educational system

The educational system is the social structure that best reflects prevailing beliefs and values . Its influence in maintaining differences occurs through the hidden curriculum and the processes of social interaction that take place in the educational system.

There are four aspects of differential socialization that contribute to the hidden curriculum: the distribution of men and women in the education system, which acts as a role model for students; educational material and textbooks, which tend to reproduce gender stereotypes; school organization and practices, which reproduce the choices of traditional gender activities; and teachers’ expectations and attitudes, which affect students’ expectations of themselves.

Regarding the processes of social interaction, differences were also observed in the interaction in the classroom, in the attention of teachers, in the distribution of recreational spaces, etc.

3. The media

It is the informative influence that, through selective regulation, presents stereotyped cultural models, based on the ideals of men and women that do not correspond to reality. They influence our perception of men and women in general and of ourselves.

To achieve the elimination of gender inequalities, it is necessary to understand that the origin of inequality is based on differential socialization and that socialization is a self-justifying process; that is, it makes men and women behave differently and develop their activity in different fields.

Differential socialization helps to confirm the belief that the sexes are different and justifies the need to continue to perpetuate socially constructed differences.

As the key to continuing to maintain this differential process is the congruence between the messages issued by the agents of socialization, it would be useful to use them as a path to change and promote through the same congruent messages that eliminate gender inequalities.

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