Gender – Culture and Identity

Lesson objectiveTo explore gender in relation to culture and identity.
Lesson outcomes• Compare gender to gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality, disability and age.
• Assess to what extent gender is still relevant today.
• Explain characteristics of different genders in relation to culture and identity.


Sex and gender are two very different things. Gender refers to how masculine or feminine individuals are and this is a social construct (meaning created by society). Sex is “male and female” – this is biological. Together these impact identity by creating gender roles to which individuals should conform to.

Gender and biology.

Mead researched three tribes in New Guinea and found that gender identities are not linked to sex differences, but are cultural conditions of societies (what societies believe). Mead compares New Guinea’s society to the UK’s and found that many gender roles were reversed and males were feminine and females masculine.

Stereotypes of hegemony.

A stereotype is a generalised view of the typical characteristics. Connell (1995) called this a hegemonic masculinity, but this could also now be extended to be hegemonic femininity. Labels are attributed to these identities depending on to what extent n individual matches them.

Social construction through socialisation

The Family

The family is an important aspect of socialisation, especially in creating an identity. Oakley (1972) identifies four key processes during the primary stages:

  1. Manipulation – Boys are girls adapt their behaviour to match others (conformity).
  2. Canalization – Boys and girls are directed towards hobbies that match their gender e.g. games. Boys will be directed to creativity and outdoors, girls towards makeup and books.
  3. Verbal appellations = Boys and girls are exposed to different language. E.g. boys being called brave and girls sweet.
  4. Differential activity exposure = Usually different rules apply to different genders. Boys will be treated more harsh. Boys tend to mirror their fathers whilst girls mirror their mothers.


Gender socialisation occurs in schools through the hidden curriculum in mainly two ways.

  1. Teachers traditionally have different attitudes for girls and boys. Girls are encouraged into humanities based subjects and boys into science. Boys are also given harsher punishments than girls as there is a greater expectation of negative behaviour.
  2. Girls and boys are encouraged, by family and the system itself to have certain career paths and to choose specific subjects.

Peer Groups

A social hierarchy occurs in school and is measured by conformity. Should an individual not conform to the group’s expectation, bullying occurs.

The Media

The media creates and reinforces stereotypes of genders.

  1. The media highlights the ideal psychical appearance of genders.

2. Women are stereotyped to have certain characteristics e.g. sex objects.

3. Women are seen as being ultra-feminine hegemonies. E.g. very stereotypical female.

Changing female identities

The identity of women has changed and there are now more positive female role models than ever before. E.g. Emma Watson.

Women have overcome many of their stigmatised identities reducing their apparent link to household traditions.

This has led to women having more options in life and are thus able to adopt more identities.

There is a convergence of similarities between masculine and feminine identities. Individuals can now elect these identities depending on the situation. No longer are you one or the other.

This, however, has given rise to a new form of identity called Ladettes. This is where females take on male characteristics. TV programs showcase these traits as being undesirable. 

Changing male Identities

  • There is a crisis of masculinity currently being created in society. Mac an Ghail argue that women are threatening traditional male roles and therefore the stereotypical view of a male being “macho” is disappearing.
  • Males now have a new identity to choose from called “the New Man”. This identity shows men as being more kind and caring.
  • Men have become more objectified in sales and advertising. Males now have to aspire to have the traditional six-pack
  • Male can now pick their identities more than ever before. This has become known as a “mosaic” identity.

Is gender still important?

Yes – Gender is still regarded, potentially, as one of the most important influences in the socialisation process. This generates stereotypical identities that still play a major part in society.

Gender equality is still not achieved yet in society. Women, on average, still earn less than men. Women are also still mostly responsible for keeping the house in order.

Society still looks down on those individuals who do not conform to stereotypes.

The media picks up on the above and assists in portraying how individuals should behave e.g. most cleaning adverts show women as the cleaner and the man as the saviour.

No – There is no such thing as a clear hegemonic identity. Identity surrounding gender has become much more fluid and individuals can now pick and mix their beliefs. This is especially argued by Postmodernists who claim that individuals have much more choice in showcasing who they are. Globalisation has broken down many of the barriers that have allowed patriarchy to exist.

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