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Societal Reinforcement of Gender Roles

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It is clear that society, whether intentionally or not, still indoctrinates young boys and girls with behavior that is appropriate for their particular gender role. Society acts in countless ways to reinforce traditional gender norms and de facto punish those who chose to break them. This is part one of an edited sociology essay that discusses gender role modeling in various aspects of contemporary society. 

How does society reinforce defined gender roles?

While scholarly evidence and popular opinion suggests a definitive shift from traditional gender roles and expectations since the 1970s in terms of behavioral social norms, society continues to aid the indoctrination of individuals into specific categories of gender roles. Specifically for example, Dr. Monica Brasted (1991) professor at Brockport State University of New York conveys an event which occurred during a trip when her 6-year-old daughter was greatly disappointed at a fast food restaurant upon pulling a “pink care bear out of her cheeseburger meal” instead of having been given a transformer toy (Care Bears vs. Transformers: Gender Stereotypes In Advertisements section, para 1). When asked why she was so upset, her girl responded because she is a tomboy (see gender roles and advertising). 

An ongoing buzz of public debate on the matter echoes a myriad of opinions regarding the socialization of gender norms among both scholars and community members. The purpose however of this investigation explores how society continues to socialize individuals into specific gender roles, giving clear examples of media influence, discussing both positive and negative aspects, providing commentary on gender sports concepts in media, indoctrination of advertisements geared toward children, and the mention of how influences of division of labor in the family draw lines of gender role formation.

Sports score with stereotyping gender

No argument exists as to the popularity of professional or competitive sports in America and how these activities and exhibitions are typed in terms of gender modeling. Briefly before jumping into an assessment of “perceptions of sports as gender-appropriate,” to borrow a term from researchers Hardin and Greer, a working definition of gender is necessary (p. 209). The word gender embraces both the biological distinction of sex and attributed behaviors, expectations and sociocultural roles based upon societies' assumptions. If a female child prefers to play with dolls, and domestic household activities toys while a boy child may want to interact with dump trucks, building blocks, and race cars – such a scenario might be considered to fall under the auspices of gender roles that reflect social norms. According to Hardin and Greer (2009) research study shows bias of gender-role participation in sports, for example noting that much gender stereotyping in sports revolves around social constructs particularly as derived from media and culminating in attitudes.

Popular sports in the United States, with regularity, assigns gender roles of men as being stronger, faster, having more robust stamina, and generally more aggressive. When you think of hockey or football, visual graphics of sweaty masculine body movements come to mind. When you think of basketball players, thinner and taller figures come to mind of mostly men, but women's basketball has made a strong impression on American society too. Women in pro basketball was actually boosted to popularity by a film called “Love And Basketball,” one positive aspect in terms of propagating equalization of both genders in sports. Perhaps one negative aspect of the male gender-dominated sports venue is that women’s participation may be still limited in certain areas, which automatically dismisses female abilities and diminishes confidence in young girls who might otherwise pursue professional or college-level sports. 

Sports reinforce these gender roles in video games

Although not especially in the category of sports, is the arena of sports portrayal in video games. The popular football video game Madden exclusively portrays men in the sport and specifically identifies the sport as masculine. Traditionally, society views of gender roles assigns sports interest and participation primarily to men; for example, the exclusive male role in football has been firmly constituted in society, while women have been traditionally encouraged to become gymnasts, swimmers, or ice skating athletes. Maybe one positive aspect of the football video game realm, as male-gender-role dominated, holds a certain respect for men in society in general as appreciation for their special skills. Girls would not enjoy playing these types of sports video games based upon societal norms if you consider advertisements are basically geared to guys when commercials are broadcast, whether televised or shown on the internet. 

One factor some may find disturbing or interesting is that most male Olympic sports are generously televised, whether gymnastics games or shot put events while women's Olympic action sports seem not to be given equal air time. What is meant by that? According to Hardin and Greer the influence of gender-role socialization in terms of media use is occurring when NBC, as a national network offers “Olympic coverage showcases [of] women's figure skating” while women's discus or shot put are routinely “virtually invisible” (p. 211). As a result of such media influences, socialization is constantly being disseminated which reinforces or strongly suggests proper masculine and feminine aesthetics with regards to sports. Perhaps a positive aspect of such conditioning may be deemed as younger girls being inspired by the beautiful grace of female figure skating, and aspiring to seek a career in the sport. On the other hand, negative influences could be assumed if a girl has dreams of participation in baseball which may be considered a non-traditional girl's sport. See the problem?

College sports represent worst of gender stereotyping

Leaving the media world of pro sports, clarification in collegiate sports may be of importance. The general breakdown of sports in the collegiate realm consists of men's sports as baseball, basketball, football, cross country, gymnastics, indoor and outdoor track, tennis, soccer and wrestling. Women's collegiate sports, Hardin and Greer continue to explain, include all the above and softball, volleyball, and rowing but excludes wrestling and football. After giving a questionnaire pertaining to feminine and masculine appropriateness of intercollegiate sports, Hardin and Greer found that gender role socialization attitudes and perceptions combined with hours of media exposure reflected results in which volleyball and gymnastics were deemed as “Feminine sports” and manly or “action sports” were characterized as skateboarding, snowboarding, or surfing (p. 214). Obviously you know that women do partake in snowboarding and surfing, it's the attitudes and socialized perceptions which comprise the emphasis of the survey. 

Gender roles in society begin being developed at a young age

Gender socialization most likely begins at a much younger age, extending beyond the media influence of sports and gender norms or roles. Gender-role shaping and socialization of children through media and advertisements have widespread implications based upon reliable documentation and source reporting. Dr. Monica Brasted addresses this situation quite well and candidly.

"Media-driven advertisements toward children not only engage members of society to think in terms of specified gender roles, but actually promulgates gender stereotypes. The next section discusses  this vital component of gender-role shaping and socialization of children through the media."

Media advertisements, aimed at children, not only enforces normative gender roles but encourages socialization of specific gender roles to the point of framing gender stereotypes. Dr. Brasted notes that gender stereotypes are responsible for such notions as her daughter's self-identification as a tomboy, and why a transformer is considered a boy toy in the first place. Brasted posits that the majority of children are exposed to gender-biased socialization media indoctrination when “commercial after commercial” depicts girl toys pertaining to play with dolls, makeup, and cooking while boy toys are geared toward “playing sports, racing cars or battling action figures (Care Bears vs. Transformers: Gender Stereotypes In Advertisements section, para 2). The positive and negative aspects or long-term impacts of such gender-role stereotypes and indoctrination may not be readily apparent. 

Using media to determine gender roles 

The gender-bending stereotypical indoctrination of media is not the exception either, but rather seems to be the rule. In quoting a 1998 study by Browne in her article,

Brasted furthermore informs us that as a result of such advertisements boys “assumed more dominant roles” are more “active and aggressive” while gender-appropriate roles were subtly suggested with body language use in ads wherein both sexes appeared together, girls were typically shown as “shyer, giggly, unlikely to assert control and less instrumental” (Care Bears vs. Transformers: Gender Stereotypes In Advertisements section, para 5).

Is it a big deal whether a child prefers pink or blue? Aren't ads just designed to sell? Seek a deeper inquiry, by looking at socialization of gender roles regarding the division of family labor. Non-verbal communication does play an important part in gender role.

Although media influences can explain a great deal, advertisements don't explain everything with regards to socializing individuals into specific gender roles. Where else might the seeds of such expectations begin? The division of labor in the family according to a conference presentation by Jiu (2004) assumes females to clothe themselves in garments of “domestic roles of homemaker,” in industrialized societies according to researchers Reskin, Padavic, Shelton, and John (p. D2). In other words, society generally expects women to do the cooking, cleaning, childrearing, and such tasks which solely involve caring for the home environment. Obviously, the heavier work such as cutting the lawn, or formidable lifting is expected to be done by the man. After all, everybody knows that washing dishes is women's work and bringing home the bacon – so to speak – is the man's responsibility, right?

The role of family labor

The division of family labor is not so rigidly delineated anymore, as there are a plethora of reasons that traditionally socialized gender roles are being challenged. Gender roles in the workplace have significantly changed, although there are areas needing improvement. For one thing, economic needs require women to work outside the home more often. On top of that more women are single and either raising children alone, or are divorced thereafter sometimes seeking alternative lifestyles that might be inclusive of celibacy altogether or a same-sex relationship. In “Sex Differences In Job Attribute Preferences: A Two-Year Cross-National Study” Jiu (2004) hypothesizes that “job attributes” of flexible hours are more important to women as opposed to men who value higher income and opportunity for advancement (p. D2). This is not to say women do not care about financial gain.

Society as a whole

In conclusion, overall it remains true that gender roles are and have been socialized. Care Bears and Hello Kitty paraphernalia are generally preferred and geared to girls, while fast aggressive action toys and race car or sports video games attract more boys in terms of media influence and advertising. Even family division of chores has aspects of feminine and masculine gender-appropriate roles that persist. But things are changing. According to a write-up by Barbara Eliman and Morris Taggart (1991) gender norms have changed in the last 30 years with “unprecedented speed and reach” (Changing Gender Norms section, para 1). The counter influence of Gender Studies courses has been credited with bringing attention to media indoctrination. This writer, coming from a slightly older generation, can clearly recognize clearly delineated patterns of socialization/behavior of gender roles. There are differences men and women exhibit, each bringing something of value to the table. Stay-at-home dads and female aeronautical engineers can peacefully co-exist and appreciate contributions of each other. 


Brasted, M. (2010, February 17). Care Bears vs. Transformers: Gender stereotypes in advertisements.

The Socjournal. Retrieved from http://www.sociology.org/media-studies/care-bears-vs-transformers-gender-stereotypes-in-advertisements/ 

Eliman, B., & Taggart, M. (1991). Changing gender norms. In University of Kansas Psychology researchers article. Retrieved from http://psych.ku.edu/dennisk/PF642/Gender.htm 

Hardin, M., & Greer, J. D. (2009). The influence of gender-role socialization, media use and sports participation on perceptions of gender-appropriate sports. Journal Of Sport Behavior, 32(2), 207-226.

Jiu, C. (2004). SEX DIFFERENCES IN JOB ATTRIBUTE PREFERENCES: A TWO-YEAR CROSS-NATIONAL STUDY. Academy Of Management Proceedings [serial online]. August 2004;: D1-D6. Doi:10.5465/AMBPP.2004.13863019.



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Ultius, Inc. "Societal Reinforcement of Gender Roles." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. March 22, 2014 https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/societal-reinforcement-of-gender-roles.html.

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Ultius, Inc. "Societal Reinforcement of Gender Roles." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. March 22, 2014 https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/societal-reinforcement-of-gender-roles.html.

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