Considering how broad social justice is i have been specificly focusing on ‘gender’. This is an area i find myself passionate about.
If we consider recent changes in public domains such as policies, laws, and opinions have initiated discussions regarding gender and gender related topics and are now one of the most prominent cultural discourses in the world today (Smith & Smith, 2016). In spite of increased acceptance of gender nonconformity in public laws and Court rulings, such as legalising gay marriage, gender roles, the pardoning of thousands of gay men – The Alan Turing law – and equal pay, to name a few. There is still a social stigma towards individuals who express their gender in non-binary ways on both macro and micro levels (Weitzer, 2002). With this in mind I will explore gender through an identity orientated lens in an attempt to shine a light on this misconstrued topic.
Narratives, ideas and emotions regarding gender permeate nearly every aspect of our daily lives (Smith & Smith, 2016). Whether we look at the aforementioned issues of the “pay gap”, gay marriage and non-binary gender identification, this notion of gendered indifference has served to divide and categorise us throughout history (Spade & Valentine, 2010). We even have gendered consumerism regarding the roles of each gender, where boys and girls are subjected to different notions and ideas. Toys for boys seek to inspire the inner hero, the explorer, the hard worker. Whereas toys for girls focus on concepts such as beauty and motherhood (Wood & Fixmer-Oraiz, 2016). This limits people based on their gender or sexuality which has, until recently remained unchallenged, also highlights the power and reality of our collective views on gender.
One way to understand how our conceptualisations of gender, whether they be fluid, binary or other, Influence our views of the world, as well as our experiences within that world, is to start with a broader understanding of the self (Smith & Smith, 2016). The self is an undeniably multidimensional and complex concept whose layered structures reflect the multi-faceted reality of an individual’s personality and social interactions (Mead & Morris, 1934; Cooley, 1983). The many roles, groups, and situations in which we all participate merge with our own idiosyncratic, creative, and biological make up, to shape how we perceive the world, how we experience emotion, and how we behave in a world of constant social interaction (Burke & Stets, 2009). The self is an abstract concept upon which entire disciplines have been built. As such, we build from the core concepts of the multi-faceted self as a reflection of the structures of society and utilize a structural symbolic interaction framework for the self (Stryker 1980). This view sees self-meanings as directly and undeniably tied to that social structure. Gender is particularly well suited to this, as the definitions of gender have wide-ranging interrelations with social structures in a variety of different forms (Risman 2004).
The core conceptual component linking structure and the self for our social-structural frame is identity (Stryker 1980). This is because gender is one of the earliest social categories that children adhere to, children develop a conception of themselves and others as being male or female by around 2.5 years of age (Martin & Ruble, 2004; Martin et al. 2002). Recent research also suggests that as young as five years of age, transgender children in the U.S associate themselves not with their biological sex but with their expressed gender identity on both explicit and implicit measures (Olson, et al 2015). It is the tendency to categorize the self as male or female that we assert is best labelled gender identity (Martin, 2000).
Furthermore, a social-cognitive view of gender identity should not imply that biology plays no role in one’s tendency to self-categorize as either male or female (which typically but not always aligns with one’s biological sex) or one’s tendency to exhibit communal, achievement, or dominance traits and goals. Given the early age and absolute certainty with which transgendered individuals associate gender with the self in a recent U.S study (Olson, et al 2015), or evidence that girls with congenital adrenal hyperplasia in the U.S. are more likely to identify with males (Pasterski, et al 2015), it is agreed that both traits and gender categories have some biological basis as Wood and Eagly (2015) also note. However, perceiving these tendencies in oneself and associating them with one’s gender identity is, at its heart, a social-cognitive process.
Moreover, the gender an individual identifies with the most is a result of thoughts, feelings, experiences etc. It is deeply associated with what that individual relates to the most, therefore, gender, in my personal opinion is more than the organs we are born with, but relies heavily on social influences experienced as the ‘self’ develops through the various developmental stages we all go through in life.
Burke, P.J. & Stets, J. E (2009). Identity theory. New York: Oxford University Press.
Cooley, C.H. (1983). Human Nature and the social order. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons.
Herbert, G.M & Morris, C.W. (1934). Mind, Self and Society from the Standpoint of a Social Behaviourist. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Martin, C. L. (2000). Gender identity. In A. E. Kazdin (Ed.), Encyclopaedia of psychology (Vol. 3, pp. 444–448). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Martin, C. L., & Ruble, D. (2004). Children’s search for gender cues: Cognitive perspectives on gender development. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13, pp. 67–70.
Martin, C. L., Ruble, D. N., & Szkrybalo, J. (2002). Cognitive theories of early gender development. Psychological Bulletin, 128, pp. 903 – 933
Risman, B.J, (2004). Gender as a social structure: Theory Wrestling with Activism. Gender and Society, 18(4), pp. 429-450.
Smith, J, & Smith, K (2016). What it Means to Do Gender Differently: Understanding Identity, Perceptions and Accomplishments in a Gendered World, Humboldt Journal of Social Relations, 38, pp. 62-78.
Spade, J.Z. & Valentine, C.G. (2011). The Kaleidoscope of Gender: Prisms, Patterns, and Possibilities, Pine Forge Press: USA.
Stryker, S. (1980). Symbolic Interactionism: A Social Structural Version. Benjamin-Cummings Publishing Company.
Weitzer, R.J. (2002). Deviance and Social Control: A Reader. 2nd Edn, McGraw-Hill: UK
Wood, W., & Eagly, A. H. (2015). Two traditions of research on gender identity. Sex Roles, this issue.
Wood, J.T. & Fixmer-Oraiz, N. (2016). Gendered Lives: Communication, Gender, & Culture. 12th Edn, Cengage Learning: USA.
Olson, K. R., Key, A. C., & Eaton, N. R. (2015). Gender cognition in transgender children. Psychological Science, 26, pp. 467–474.
Pasterski, V., Zucker, K. J., Hindmarsh, P. C., Hughes, I. A., Acerini, C., Spencer, D., … Hines, M. (2015). Increased cross-gender identification independent of gender role behaviour in girls with congenital adrenal hyperplasia: Results from a standardized assessment of 4 to 11- year-old children. Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 44, pp. 1363 – 1375.