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February 12, 2011

Socialization into Gender

Sample paper 2 by Erica Spencer - Winter 2011

My seven year old has never fit into his specified gender role like most kids do his age; growing his hair long, preferring dolls and Barbie over traditional boy toys, at school preferring the company of girls to play with and happily avoiding correcting people when they mistake him for a girl. I never really understood the pressures society puts on people's gender until I watch what my son goes through. Whether a man or woman, society dictates that one's gender also comes with a set of rules- standards for clothing, activities, how people should perceive themselves, and sets expectations regarding appropriate behavior and interactions with others. Our family, peers, social institutions, work, religion, and media help to enforce the guidelines about specific attitudes about gender roles.

Parents are the first exposure to what it means to be a boy or girl, guided by an almost automatic response as to how they treat their children in terms of their sex. Gendered interactions begin to take shape as soon as the parents know the sex of their baby, even as they leave the hospital parents bundle their baby up in an appropriately colored blanket. "Studies have shown that even before birth, and certainly afterward, adults speak differently in tone and in content to a newborn based on the perceived gender of the baby" (pg.11, The Transgendered Child). In a study by sociologists Susan Goldberg and Michael Lewis in 1969, they observed how mothers subconsciously reward sons for being active and independent and daughters for being passive and dependent. While watching the mother's interaction with their child, "they found that the mothers kept their daughters closer to them. They also touched their daughters more and spoke to them more frequently than they did to their sons. By the time the children were 13 months old, the girls stayed closer to their mothers during play, and they returned to their mothers sooner and more often than the boys did" (pg.70, Essentials of Sociology).

Children mimic the world around them; through their interactions with adults they learn gender-appropriate behavior. A highly influential symbolic interactionist, Charles Horton Cooley (1864-1929), determined that one's sense of self is socially constructed. He coined the term the looking-glass self to explain how the process of how our sense of self develops. First people imagine how we appear to those around them, then interpret those reactions, and finally develop a sense of self. By looking through the social mirror, we are able to gain either a positive or negative self-concept depending upon whether the reflection is complementary or not. Just as one's sense of self is an ever-changing, life-long process, so is our understanding of gender roles. Our beliefs about gender are also socially constructed and are directly influenced by class, ethnicity, age, religion, and culture.

George Herbert Mead (1863-1931), another eminent symbolic interactionist, concluded that play is also an important part in the development of a sense of self. Through imitation, play, and team games children are able to take on the role of others, helping them to understand the feelings and reactions of others. Gender guided play is not uncommon for adults to push on their children; girls are expected to play house and act out a nurturing role, while boys engage in more sports and physical activities. What toys are given to children also shows a distinct role for children to play; boys get trucks while girls are given dolls. Whole sections of department stores are separated into "boys" and "girls" to help you select the proper attire for you little one, with toy aisles set apart to guide you in your purchase of what should be played with by whom. Such separation helps to reinforce what roles children are expected to play.

Our media reinforces behaviors and attitudes toward the appropriate expressions of gender roles. In the article Pressure to Modernize, Helena Norberg-Hodge found that because of the increasing influence of Western culture and glamorized violence in the films and television, young men in Ladakh have begun to put themselves in much more gender specific roles. The depiction of how "real men" are supposed to behave has led to a shift in their once sentimental and easy-going culture; previously men were not ashamed to show their emotions towards the young and old, now appear much more distant, angrier, and less secure. In American culture, men are often depicted as obsessed with sex and prone to violence. In a study by Melissa Milkie, she found that junior high boys talk most frequently about sex and violence because of views that are expressed on television programs and movies. Women are frequently depicted in the media in subordinate roles, stereotypically being more emotional, docile, and submissive and often viewed as sex symbols. Many teenage girls struggle with poor self-images and eating disorders due to the pressures to conform to unattainable standards in our culture. When women on television and movies are shown in dominant roles, they are usually given traditionally male traits to show their strength and power.

There are long-established views of gender differentiation in the workplace; men have been viewed as the "bread winners" and spending long hours away from home and emotionally detached from their kids, while leaving the children rearing and housework to women. Those views are becoming outdated as more and more women have entered the workforce and are stepping outside of traditional roles, though the progress and benefits are slow moving. There is still a noticeable difference in wages and rates of advancement between men and women. Women often have to prove themselves worthy enough to obtain the same status as men in the workplace. In our society leadership and hard work have been deemed a masculine trait. Being decisive and taking charge is not what parents reward their daughters for, but rather being dependent, passive, and compliant. People's attitudes about women in the workforce certainly has nothing to do with their actual abilities, hopefully as ideals about gender equality progress and evolve society will allow for women to get the wages and recognition deserved. As Western influence continues to spread to the people of Ladakh, women's work is no longer viewed as "productive" as it doesn't contribute to the gross national product. Viewed as inferior, the women are developing feelings of inadequacy and negative self-concepts. Men of the country are spending more and more time away from home and family, and with the new views on masculinity spreading fathers have begun to show their children less affection.

Gender plays a huge role in everyone's life, be it a man or woman. While society may view my son as being different and out of the norm, to me he is perfect and who he is meant to be. Whether his sense of self is due to nature or nurture, I let him express his identity in whatever way he feels is appropriate for him; to do otherwise I think I would be doing him a huge disservice to him as an individual. I think everyone should have the ability to express their gender identity in whatever way they see fit. It is when people begin to develop superiority complexes about their own gender and dismiss others as inferior that I have an issues arise. At birth we are all born equals; it is through our encounters and socialization with others that negative self-concepts and beliefs come into being, and that is when social change is needed the most.


1. CA, 2008. Brill, Stephanie and Pepper, Rachel. The Transgender Child. First Edition. Cleis Press Inc: San Francisco.

2. MA, 2009. Henslin, James M. Essentials of Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach, Eighth Edition. Allyn and Bacon: Boston.

3. Norberg-Hodge, Helena. The Pressure to Modernize.

February 8, 2011

Language Ideology, Loss, and Culture

Sample Paper 2 by Lauren Langley - Winter 2011

Henslin (2009) discusses language as something that allows the human experience to be cumulative, cooperative and goal directed (p.57). Language allows culture to exist. It gives us the opportunity for a collective experience that includes a shared past, present, and a social future. Furthermore, languages are not universal - just like gestures, mores, values, and customs (which consequently are supported by language), language is a unique way of perceiving the world around us and making sense of it all. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis states that embedded in language, each and every language, are these unique ways of looking at the world. Learning a language is part of the sociological experience - we learn the perceptions, knowledge, history, traditions, and attitudes of our respective cultures. In this way, according to Henslin, "language both shapes and reflects our cultural experience." (p. 44).

So what happens when a language disappears from this earth?

We lose those unique ways of viewing the world. When a language dies, we lose parts of the ideas and knowledge of a culture - while a people may survive language death, so much of their culture dies with the language. There is tradition, language used for ritual, general and unique understandings about the world and life and the role of humans - this all exists in language. Language loss leads to a narrowing of the human mind - a 'tunnel vision' of thought. The thinking, values, mores, and morals reflected by the language of the dominant culture will prevail, thus creating more of an imbalance and inequality among cultures, and within societies. If there is a view of the dominant culture as 'superior', then that language, too, becomes 'superior'.

In American culture and society, not only the English language itself, but 'proper' grammar and pronunciation are associated with success, education, and even superficial ideas about 'intelligence'. This language ideology has led to culture clashes, and helped fuel the rise of a dominant social class in America. This has had an incredible impact on the development of socioeconomic classes, social inequality, and has had a role in perpetuating racial discrimination rooted in the world's history of cultural domination and ideas of superiority.

African American Vernacular English has been the subject of much interest and controversy in the study of language (note: despite the name AAVE and the race of the majority of its speakers, we should look at AAVE as it exists in culture - that is, at the root of the relationship between language and culture, it goes beyond race, and we can look at it as a cultural phenomenon - i.e. White, Hispanic, and Asian people are speaking AAVE too). Having in the past been perceived by prescriptive linguists and closed minded folk as a "lazy" use of English, or "slang", the dialect has attached to it connotations ranging from lack of education to deviance - all based on perceptions about the relationship of language use within a society. In fact, this dialect has a very structured grammar and syntax - there is a right and a wrong way to speak AAVE - this is not something you see with slang, and by no means is it a lazy way of speaking English. In the mid-1990's, when The Oakland school district proposed starting a program that would incorporate AAVE into classroom learning activities, people, including members of the African American community, were up in arms. The proposal was misinterpreted as one that would teach children the vernacular, which most people at the time equated with slang not appropriate for an academic environment. In reality, it was an attempt to recognize the student's language as valid yet different from the "standard" English being taught in schools with the hopes of giving students an opportunity to excel in an environment that was otherwise unaccommodating with standards that were setting them up for poor performance. While it is true that a standard language and dialect is necessary for communication and progress, what happens to the hundreds of thousands of minority languages and dialects as one dominant language becomes standard, and subsequently the 'ideal'?

The ideology of language superiority leads to ideas of cultural superiority, and vice versa. When cultures which have been shaped by values and social 'norms' reflected in a language experience oppression, that language too will suffer. During colonization, the dominating culture would force their language upon the people they viewed as less than. Since they viewed their culture as so clearly superior, their language, too, was the right way to speak, and subsequently described the right way to 'know' how to live, much like the way the Taker society works as described in Ishmael. In the film "The Linguists", a group of Native American adults discuss how up until the 1960's, children were forbidden to speak their tribal languages in the mainstream schools they were forced to attend. This is how languages die - someone somewhere decides that a culture's voice is not as valid as the majority, and so that voice is ultimately silenced. It could be due to colonization, or it might begin within a culture as we see with industrialization and economic changes affecting societies - many South American indigenous languages have died and are dying out due to an increase in the number of children leaving their small societies in pursuit of opportunity in the bigger cities. Children do not learn the language of their parents, perhaps out of practicality, and so the language remains with the elders and dies with the elders. Also discussed in "The Linguists" is Chulym, a Siberian language, which is close to complete language death. The Chulym people are looked down upon as a culture by the dominant society. For whatever reason, their culture is viewed as inferior, and the result was much like what was seen with the Ladakh people- there evolved a sort of "inferiority complex" when it came to speaking the Chulym language - something that would, just by speaking the words, identify a person by others as well as in their own minds as inferior. The linguists in this film travelled to the Chulym community in order to assess the status of the language and attempt documentation. They met with several elders who were hard of hearing and difficult to understand before learning that their driver and guide, who was in his 50's, was in fact also a fluent Chulym speaker. He was embarrassed about this fact, and in his mind it was a personal flaw which, because of the perceptions of the dominant culture, made him inferior, and this is why he withheld this information initially. Children as well as adults were embarrassed to speak the language in public, and the language slowly began to die. If we look at Cooley's idea of the self looking glass (Henslin, p. 64), we can see that children growing up surrounded by language ideology will ultimately internalize the attitudes of the people around them and adjust their relationship with language accordingly - and subsequently this will reflect on culture.

And so it becomes that there develops a stigma associated with a minority language (native or foreign) spoken within a society whose dominant culture revolves around another language - That culture, as is seen with the case of Native American students, has this incredible ability to shape the fate of a language, all based on perceptions about language use. Conversely, we also see language ideologies stemming from socioeconomic factors, racial conflict, feelings of superiority, and patriotism coupled with politics.


Henslin, James M. Essentials of Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach, Eighth Edition. 2009.

AAVE: African American Vernacular English. The Linguist List (http://linguistlist.org/topics/ebonics/)

Norberg-Hodge, Helena. The Pressure to Moderise.

Quinn, Daniel. Ishmael. 1992

"The Linguists". IronBound Films, 2008.

No Name or Bar Code Only

Sample Paper 2 by Tamison Kilmer - Winter 2011

Often times you find yourself having to deal with customer service representative either over the phone or in person. You are asked a series of questions to prove your identity so you may inquire about your accounts. No longer do the banks or companies have any personal ties with you. The customer is now either a bar code or a name flashing on the screen. Most if not all big corporations are set up bureaucratically. Each worker has their defined role and what tasks they are to accomplish within that bureaucracy. With more and more companies outsourcing their customer service departments for cheaper labor; Americans are searching for that personable touch to their daily business interactions that were there in yesteryear.

Bureaucracies have become a powerful social organization. It dominates our social life. Major corporations in America have adapted the bureaucratic format. Corporate America found that the five characteristics of a bureaucracy was a good business model. Henslin (P. 124-125) describes bureaucracy that have clear levels with assignments flowing downward and accountability flowing upward, a division of labor, written rules, written communications and records, and finally impersonality and replaceability. Corporate America has a CEO who is the figurehead for the corporation. There are the Vice Presidents, Regional Presidents, middle management and then it dwindles down to the peon that is taking the customer service calls in the call center. Most, if not all, communication between the CEO and the peon is through generic all company emails or bulletins. It is very impersonal and very efficient, what better way to announce layoffs than a mass email?

With this impersonal form of communication, it leaves a void in the employee. Corporate America has taken the individuality of an employee and replaced it with a droid. Each cubicle is the same; each office setting has the same brown carpet and beige walls. An employee of this bureaucratic form can become very alienated and depressed. Their cubicles being less space than that of a prison cell, employees find ways to personalize their space. With the increasing gnawing feeling that they are no longer valued; they are an ID numbers or just another replaceable body in a cubicle. Employees are banding together. Employees need to feel validation and feel as if they have some control over their work. Many corporate employees turn to one another for that validation.

As an employee of a major corporation I know all too well how employees of corporate America are feeling. I too seek that validation from my co-workers. Validation that the job I do daily makes a difference in someone's life, that I don't just go to work to fund the CEO's bonus. In our department we have been on continuous overtime since 2008. Each and every time a coworker has broken down and left the company for another corporate American company still believing that it would be different there, we have absorbed their work. No replacement for that cubicle dweller. The bottom line looks much better when you have a lean working model. As the hiring freeze continues, we fall deeper and deeper into bureaucratic alienation and resisting that alienation is getting harder and harder.

No longer is the occasional lunch room vent enough for employees. The occasional vents are turning into daily bitch sessions. It is no longer staying within their departments. They are going on the web to voice their disdain about their employers. Many websites have the same message, "Corporate America is failing Americans". Take for example the website www.bankofamericasucks.com , http://www.hel-mart.com , and http://www.complaintsboard.com . Many employees echo the same thing, corporate America can careless about its employees, clients and the American people. They are not the only ones with these sentiments.
" The profits of American corporations are soaring," writes Robert Reich, the former Secretary of Labor for Bill Clinton," ... largely because sales from their foreign-based operations are booming ... It's also because they've cut their costs of production in the US ... American-based companies have become global--making and selling all over the world--so their profitability has little or nothing to do with the number and quality of jobs here in the U.S. In fact, it may be inversely related." He cautions Obama: "the President must not be seduced into believing--and must not allow the public to be similarly seduced into thinking--that the well-being of American business is synonymous with the well-being of Americans."

More Americans are fed up with the constantly living in fear of being replaced. Americans are looking for not only employers but local companies and banks that know who they are. That looks beyond the badge or barcode. Americans desire days of yonder when an employer took care of its employee. Hopefully, this is something America can see again.

Works Cited
"Killing the American Dream: Bureaucracy conquers small business." Herald Net [Chicago, IL] 17 Oct. 2010: Web. 1 Jan. .http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20101017/BIZ/710179971

Henslin, James M., ed. Essentials of Sociology A down to earth approach. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 2009. Print.

Rosenberg, Eli. "Rape of the Union." Atlantic Wire 25 Jan. 2011: Web. 6 Feb. 2011. http://www.hhttp://www.theatlanticwire.com/opinions/view/opinion/Rape-of-the-Union-Corporate-Profits-and-Lost-Jobs-6701eraldnet.com/article/20101017/BIZ/710179971.