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Socialization: The Impact of Societal Forces

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What is Socialization? Socialization is the process by which human beings learn the social expectations of society. (Andersen & Taylor) There are numerous social expectations that come across in everyday life. These expectations, either clear or unspoken, can pervade our entire presence and attempt to shape us. Who we are; how we define ourselves and the set of values we judge ourselves by is the product of multiple forces. What is the process by which socialization shapes individuals? How does this affect the world in which we live?

We as living beings, breed, consume and peruse the world for our own. As in "Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn, one can assume we are the "takers" living as if the world was meant for man only. How did we become so greedy and heartless? Surely as infants one doesn't have the capabilities to decide such things as what resources we should seize, what to watch on television, what schools would be the best, or even what mom will cook for dinner. All these aspects of life to some extent are influenced by outside forces. As infants we are mere bare canvases; "tabula rasa" meaning blank slate. (Andersen & Taylor) This fact is an innocent yet very vulnerable state. Soon enough the innocence is replaced with massive messages filtering through a constant stream.

Messages are sent every which way one turns via social institutions. These institutions which include family, school, and media are placed to create order. Family is the biggest social factor to influence our development and create a sense of meaning to our lives. Our experiences and roles gives us meaning and creates an outline of how we're represented to others. Parents instill stories of which they were instilled as children. They place value on aspects of importance, bring meaning to their culture, and slowly shape our attitudes. They allow us to practice our role as individuals and give us a set of tools to enter the world with. In essence, they begin the sketch to the blank slate.
Schools are a huge socializing agent in that their role is significant in children's lives. School's impact is great that they consist of most of a child's life, and instructs one of their role in society. Schools at an early age establish gender roles by making a clear distinction with unspoken methods. Choices like Barbies and toy trucks, pink or blue, fashion designer or cop are all common in the day of a preschool or kindergartner. These children are just part of the cycle, each one being shaped internally by an outside force. They are reinforcing the message that anything beyond Barbie, pink, or fashion might indicate one isn't pretty. Yet life shouldn't consist of pure black or white concepts.

The media is yet another tool to bring order to a chaotic world. The T.V. is watched by millions on a daily basis. It's the source of news, defines fashion (what's hot or not), and provides a list of ideals. We're bombarded with images of the ideal marriage, body image, love, education, happy future, diets. Essentially our lives are routed and mapped for us through media. In the documentary, "The Ad and the Ego", we see many ads that display products and ideas that we need to have. It creates a constant inner crises, however, it's not apparent to us. Although we may want to disengage ourselves from the influences of media, unfortunately society is plagued by too many forces that can't be changed.

My socialization experience has been one that is very chaotic and multi-faceted. As a child and still to this day I am a very confused individual. Like most, my family had the most impact in my life. And being an Asian-American from an extremely "dysfunctional" family with an alcoholic mother was even more confusing. I grew up in an authoritarian household with traditions, values like everyone else. However, the roles I played were not "normal" to society's standards and left me feeling conflicted most of my life. I was an older sister, a daughter, a translator, a student, a provider for the family, a mother and (at times had decision making) like a wife. Having an alcoholic mother left me with extreme role strains and conflict. I was a daughter yet a mother at the same time. I couldn't be the best sister because I was acting as a mother. I wasn't the best student or friend because I was trying to help provide for the family. I felt that internally it was constantly leaving me feeling helpless and made it hard to identify who I was as one individual.

Also, culturally it was hard being the oldest daughter of two girls. The disappointment of having girls was evident in my father who would watch sports and discuss how if he'd "had a boy" they'd be able to watch and play sports together.

So as I matured I invested all of my energies and time to become what I thought my parents had wanted. I became very tomboy like, behaving and taking on the role as a boy would. I helped my parents with their business even at the sacrifice of a social life and education. It was my way of attaining to the expectations of my parents.

The socialization process is one that is very strange, particularly when one can take a step back and realize that in a chaotic world society simplifies what they think we need and how we can get it. We take in messages every waking moment on how we should think, feel, what we need, or who we should be. Socialization is an ongoing process and won't stop as long as we have society to continue manifesting the world. The important thing is that although we aren't able to avoid socializing agents, we do have the capabilities to limit how it affects our lives. Individuals have the power to oversee the overlying messages and begin to filter in our brain what is real or not. We are able to decipher the truths from what's an illusion. We can start making informed decisions by being selective on what products we buy, what programs we watch, what values we take from our family, and what ideas we take away from school.

Whether we want to believe it or not, socialization has a huge impact for us and our future. When one lives in a world where everything we need is relatively within one's grasp it can be fatal not only to us but to our world. Simple messages can bring distorted illusions and ultimately destructive ways of thinking. Our morale, our identities, our environment, our values are all at stake. The forces that bring about meaning can often times unintentionally present fallacies as a result of a single perspective lens. It is our responsibility to utilize the socialization agents as a means of guidance in our lives that can be left open to many interpretations.

Works Cited
Andersen L. Margaret and Taylor F. Howard. Sociology in Everyday Life. Ohio: Thomas Wadsworth, 2008.