Friday, June 19, 2009

What is a woman?

My own personal cultural context consisted of things such as being raised with Barbie dolls, the fisher price plastic kitchen play set and easy-bake ovens. Although these were admittedly fun, I never quite realized how much these toys shaped my path towards womanhood. In module three, we learned about parents buying toys geared towards a particular gender (ie: dolls for girls and dinosaurs for boys). I didn’t realize how true that was until I examined the types of things that I played with as a young girl. I definitely have my ideas of what defines the female gender vs. the male gender and these ideas were definitely shaped by childhood experiences and even some experiences as a young adult.

The dominant notions of masculinity and femininity in US society go hand-in-hand with what I have been mentioning from the start – the media. I honestly think that – while tradition and culture plays a significant role in gender definitions – the media has an even greater influence in modern day society in deeming the male and female gender for what they really are. There are too many times where we see commercials of young girls playing with a new Barbie doll or young boys playing with transformers or super soakers. Even with battery-controlled vehicles for young kids, gender makes an appearance. Usually they promote green jeeps for young boys and pink corvette ‘Barbie’ cars for girls.

People learn to ‘do’ gender in part by how they were raised and in part by how society influences their lifestyles from a young age all the way into adulthood. It’s not something that just happens spontaneously. People just don’t wake up and decide that Barbies are for girls and dinosaurs are for boys. These ideas are set in place by parents who buy gender specific toys for their young children. Scientists are always telling us that children learn the most at a very young age because they pick up on things easily. That being said, it’s no surprise that they are easily influenced into believing that the dinosaur or the Barbie is the toy that was meant for them. I’m almost certain that if a girl was raised with dinosaurs and space ships she would probably associate more with interests that are labeled ‘male specific’.

Some sources where I learned to do gender are, as I mentioned, from my parents and from watching TV and reading magazines. I know, based on magazines and life experiences, that when I am asked to attend a formal event I should show up in a dress or skirt of some sort. If I showed up in a suit or a tux I would probably receive bewildered stares.

I think that gender ranking reinforces sexism because it places the value of the male gender above that of the female gender, which is essentially what sexism does as well. Sexism is all about favoring one gender over the other. Gender ranking is all about favoring one gender over the other. I think that both concepts are extremely similar.


  1. Great specific examples!!! You are right that gender ranking reinforces sexism. The two concepts aren't identical because gender ranking is really only about how society assigns values to different genders. If, for instance, society really thought masculine characteristics are more valued than feminine characteristics but they never DID anything to reinforce that valuation, you would only have gender ranking. Sexism comes into play when society or individuals ACT in ways to reinforce such a hierarchy. In reality, however, it's pretty difficult to tease those two things apart, partcicularly with regard to gender since the socialization process is so ingrained. Good job!

  2. I totally agree with you about the media! Kids are constantly bombarded with comercials of girls playing with some toys and boys with another. The characters on many T.V. shows also strongly suggest that girls are meant to do certain things and boys and meant to do others. I've even noticed that certain shows show comercials with mostly boys playing with the toys in them and others with mostly girls. This clearly shows that advertisers consider some shows "boys" shows and other's "girls" shows (I used to watch a lot of the shows my brother watched, so I noticed this a lot)