Role of family in the social construction of gender

Gender in contrast to sex is a social construct. It is an established set of characteristics of society according to which people are categorized into males or females. Gender roles vary from society to society. There are many agencies present in society that facilitate the social construction of gender. Family is one such agency.

In this article, I will try to show the various processes through which gender identity is established in children by their families. 

As a child grows the gender identity is established through four processes namely:

  1. Reinforcement or moulding-Parents at home treat their children differently depending on their sex. Boys are normally given more freedom than girls while girls are treated more protectively. Any ‘effeminate’ behaviour on the part of the boy is highly discouraged and if such tendencies continue they are regarded as ‘psychological disturbances.’As a result of this training, children learn their sex roles effectively and quickly. 
  2. Opportunities-Opportunities go a long way in determining gender roles. While boys are encouraged to take up technical jobs girls are discouraged . Girls are encouraged to go along the ‘the feminine way’ and boys are expected to develop themselves along ‘the masculine way’.Boys are given cars, building blocks etc to play with while girls are given kitchen set, dolls to play with. The boys are expected to help their fathers and girls are expected to help their mothers.
  3. Role modelling-It is a major mechanism of gender socialisation. By the age of three, nearly all children know whether they are male or female and by the age of four, they have very definite ideas of what masculinity and femininity must involve. A male child usually identifies with his father and a female child with her mother. The boys considering their father as a role model emulates them and the same is the case with girls who look up to their mothers. Role modelling is more effective when the child has a strong and warm relationship with the role model.
  4.  Explicit verbal instruction-Certain instructions also determine gender identity.” Boys don’t cry like girls”,” Pink is the colour of girls”,” You are a girl you should know how to cook” etc are some very common instructions. Hearing the same everywhere and on daily basis influences the mind of an individual and determines the gender identity.

Hence, families give the earliest reinforcement for acting appropriately according to one’s gender, and the environment continues to teach what is acceptable for men and women.