Society expects different attitudes and behaviors from boys and girls. Gender socialization is the tendency for boys and girls to be socialized differently. Boys are raised to conform to the male gender role, and girls are raised to conform to the female gender or role. A gender role is a set of behaviors, attitudes, and personality characteristics expected and encouraged of a person based on his or her sex.
Experts disagree on whether differences between males and females result from innate, biological differences or from differences in the ways that boys and girls are socialized. In other words, experts disagree on whether differences between men and women are due to nature, nurture, or some combination of both.
Example: There are some significant differences between female and male brains. The language center in the male brain is usually in the dominant (usually left) hemisphere, whereas females use both hemispheres of the brain to process language. This may explain why females seem to have stronger communication skills and relish interpersonal communication more than males and why, on average, girls learn to speak and read earlier than boys.
Every culture has different guidelines about what is appropriate for males and females, and family members may socialize babies in gendered ways without consciously following that path. For example, in American society, the color pink is associated with girls and the color blue with boys. Even as tiny babies, boys and girls are dressed differently, according to what is considered “appropriate” for their respective sexes. Even parents who strive to achieve a less “gendered” parenting style unconsciously reinforce gender roles.
Example: The toys and games parents select for children are often unconsciously intended to socialize them into the appropriate gender roles. Girls receive dolls in an attempt to socialize them into future roles as mothers. Since women are expected to be more nurturing than men, giving a girl a doll teaches her to care for it and fosters the value of caring for others. When boys receive dolls, they are likely to be action figures designed to bring out the alleged aggressive tendencies in boys.
As children enter the educational system, traditional expectations for boys and girls continue. In the past, much research focused on how teachers were shortchanging girls in the classroom. Teachers would focus on boys, calling on them more and challenging them. Because boys were believed to be more analytical, teachers assumed they would excel in math and science. Teachers encouraged them to go into careers that require a lot of math and science, such as computer science or engineering.
Research from the late 1990s, however, indicates that the current educational climate is failing boys. Boys are falling behind girls in school. The dropout rate for boys is rising. More boys are being diagnosed as learning disabled. The number of boys applying to college has declined. Some sociologists argue that current teaching methods favor girls’ learning styles. Girls mature more quickly than boys and are able to focus and concentrate in class more easily.
Example: Studies show that boys are more physically active than girls. This difference is greater when children are in elementary school. Boys may be less able to sit still during a lesson. They are often sent out of class as disruptive, which puts them behind in the schoolwork and can reinforce their problems in the classroom.
If cultural expectations dictate that girls are more compassionate and nurturing than boys, then parents, teachers, and counselors will steer them toward fields that require patience and concern for other people, such as nursing, social work, or elementary school teaching. Though a girl who expresses a desire to become a nuclear engineer would probably no longer be explicitly discouraged, a boy with a similar goal would probably encounter more encouragement.
Example: Women working in traditionally male occupations often hit a glass ceiling, an invisible barrier that keeps women from reaching executive positions. Men who work in traditionally female occupations, such as nursing, social work, or elementary school teaching, are often viewed as more qualified than women. These men often benefit from a glass escalator; they are paid more and promoted more quickly than their female counterparts.