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25.5: Gender Sexism And Socialization

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    Treating boys and girls, and men and women, differently is both a consequence of gender differences and a cause of gender differences. Differential treatment on the basis of gender is also referred to as gender discrimination and is an inevitable consequence of gender stereotypes. When it is based on unwanted treatment related to sexual behaviors or appearance, it is called sexual harassment. By the time boys and girls reach the end of high school, most have experienced some form of sexual harassment, most commonly in the form of unwanted touching or comments, being the target of jokes, having their body parts rated, or being called names related to sexual orientation.

    Different treatment by gender begins with parents. A meta-analysis of research from the United States and Canada found that parents most frequently treated sons and daughters differently by encouraging gender-stereotypical activities (Lytton & Romney, 1991). Fathers, more than mothers, are particularly likely to encourage gender-stereotypical play, especially in sons. Parents also talk to their children differently based on stereotypes. For example, parents talk about numbers and counting twice as often with sons than daughters (Chang et al., 2011) and talk to sons in more detail about science than with daughters. Parents are also much more likely to discuss emotions with their daughters than their sons.

    Children do a large degree of socializing themselves. By age 3, children play in gender-segregated play groups and expect a high degree of conformity. Children who are perceived as gender atypical (i.e., do not conform to gender stereotypes) are more likely to be bullied and rejected than their more gender-conforming peers.

    Gender stereotypes typically maintain gender inequalities in society. The concept of ambivalent sexism recognizes the complex nature of gender attitudes, in which women are often associated with positive and negative qualities (Glick & Fiske, 2001). It has two components. First, hostile sexism refers to the negative attitudes of women as inferior and incompetent relative to men. Second, benevolent sexism refers to the perception that women need to be protected, supported, and adored by men. There has been considerable empirical support for benevolent sexism, possibly because it is seen as more socially acceptable than hostile sexism. Gender stereo- types are found not just in American culture. Across cultures, males tend to be associated with stronger and more active characteristics than females (Best, 2001).

    In recent years, gender and related concepts have become a common focus of social change and social debate. Many societies, including American society, have seen a rapid change in perceptions of gender roles, media portrayals of gender, and legal trends relating to gender. For example, there has been an increase in children’s toys attempting to cater to both genders (such as Legos marketed to girls), rather than catering to traditional stereotypes. Nationwide, the drastic surge in acceptance of homosexuality and gender questioning has resulted in a rapid push for legal change to keep up with social change. Laws such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), both of which were enacted in the 1990s, have met severe resistance on the grounds of being discriminatory toward sexual minority groups and have been accused of unconstitutionality less than 20 years after their implementation. Change in perceptions of gender is also evident in social issues such as sexual harassment, a term that only entered the mainstream mindset in the 1991 Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill scandal. As society’s gender roles and gender restrictions continue to fluctuate, the legal system and the structure of American society will continue to change and adjust.

    important Gender-Related Events in the United States

    • 1920:19th Amendment (women’s suffrage ratified)
    • 1941–1945: World War II forces millions of women to enter the workforce
    • 1948: Universal Declaration of Human Rights
    • 1963: Congress passes Equal Pay Act
    • 1964: Congress passes Civil Rights Act, which outlaws sex discrimination
    • 1969: Stonewall riots in New York City, forcing gay rights into the American spotlight
    • 1972: Congress passes Equal Rights Amendment; Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in schools and sports
    • 1973: American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from the DSM
    • 1981: First woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court • 1987: Average woman earned $0.68 for every $1.00 earned by a man
    • 1992: World Health Organization no longer considers homosexuality an illness
    • 1993: Supreme Court rules that sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal
    • 2011: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed, allowing people who identify as gay to serve openly in the U.S. military • 2012: President Barack Obama becomes the first American president to openly support LGBT rights and marriage equality
    • 2013: Ban against women serving in military combat positions is lifted


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    This page titled 25.5: Gender Sexism And Socialization is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Kate Votaw.

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