Social Construction of Gender

Karin Martin produced an extremely interesting study that is perfect for our class. Karin Martin’s study, in summary, depicts how gender is human nurture and is taught to us versus being pure biology or human nature. In her study, her key methods were observation and ethnography, or the way the teacher interacts with the students. Her driving research questions included how males and females are treated differently from a very young age, how socialization happens at a very young age, how socialization and gender characteristics are produced from schooling, and how boys and girls are taught to act differently. In Martin’s study, she focussed on preschools because in most studies on gender, the age studied are adults. Focussing on preschools describes that what we know about gender is taught to us an extremely young age. Martin studied on the hidden curriculum, or what is taught in schools that is not obliviously written the lesson plan, throughout her studies in preschools.  What she found is that males and females are treated differently throughout preschool, with a distinct difference appearing between ages 3 and 5. She found that when teachers touch their students, their reasoning behind them teaches gender to the children. When the teachers touch the boys, they were preventing violence by taking the boys away from each other, in turn teaching the boys that masculine behavior includes violence, competitiveness, and dominance. On the other hand, when the girls were touched it was mainly to fix their clothing or hair. These actions teach the girls that they should, and are expected to, look nice and maintain an appealing appearance. In addition, girls were touched more often and taught to be quiet in relation to men. This idea then in turn leads to the lack of females in Fortune 500 companies. Teaching boys and girls these differences at a very young age is what produces gender characteristics later in life. The fact that these boys are taught to speak out their feelings at such an early age is why so many males are executives in Fortune 500 companies. Fortune 500 companies look for someone to is confident in their ideas and isn’t afraid to say them in a business and meeting type setting, which is how these young boys are taught in the hidden curriculum of their preschools.

Of course males and females are biologically different. We contain many physical and genetic differences.  But specifically the idea of gender is socially constructed. Gender is taught to children at as young of an age as pre-school, making gender human nurture as opposed to human nature. Much discrimination against women is because people think gender is human nature. The consequences of thinking gender is completely human nature makes women looked at as “less” than men and less powerful. This idea is taught to children throughout preschool through the hidden curriculum, and so if our society is going to make a change, it needs to start from the beginning.

In addition to the misunderstanding of gender as human nature, and relating to other topics we have talked about in class, another topic we have discussed is the misinterpretation of the words “feminism” and “feminist”. How these two topics relate is that as the idea of looking at gender as human nature makes women look bad, so does the misunderstanding of the words “feminism” and “feminist”. As described in the dictionary (, the word “feminism” is described as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men”. Notice the word equality in this definition. Many people believe that feminists strive to make women the dominant sex, but in reality, feminists strive to have no dominant sex. They solely strive for equality of the two sexes. This relates to the fact that people think gender differences and stereotypes are human nature. Yes, men are more physically strong than women and this part is human nature, but people believe that the fact that women strive to look nice all the time and don’t speak out their feelings as much as men is solely human nature. This is completely not true because, as Martin’s study shows, it is taught as early as preschool throughout the hidden curriculum. This is the reason that one gender is dominant over the other gender, and the fact that people think one gender has to be dominant over the other is why people misinterpret feminism.

An example throughout our society and in the media are the multitude of housewives. A perfect example of a housewife in our media who is very well known is Gloria Delgado-Pritchett from Modern Family.

Played by Sofía Vergara, Gloria is a stay at home mom who is married to Jay. Jay is much older than she is, reinforcing her image as the stereotypical trophy wife. She is beautiful and always dressed in low-cut tops with stilettos and makeup on, a typical feminine trait. Also, she is known for using phrases incorrectly, reinforcing the stereotype that women are dumber and have less common sense than men. Also, she is loving, caring, and a great mom.

Many questions can be discussed when thinking of the topics throughout this article. Why do you think people don’t believe that gender, specifically gender characteristics, are human nature rather than human nurture? Why do you think feminists are misinterpreted? Are figures like Gloria on Modern Family hurting the female gender by reinforcing the stereotypical “feminine” characteristics?