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Learning To Identify As Male Or Female

3278 words - 14 pages

Identity is shaped by a number of things that are only partly biological. In fact, who we are and what we perceive ourselves to be is heavily grounded in socialization. From the time a parent knows the gender of their child, colors are picked out for their nurseries and clothing: pink for girls; blue for boys. Then of course, at a later stage, the toys become important: cars for boys; dolls for girls. This does not seem to be an aspect that we necessarily think about, it simply appears to be something that we have always undertaken. If we look critically at this, we undertake to determine our children’s identity before they are conceived. Not only do we wish to make the most masculine or ...view middle of the document...

Mead was concerned with how we formed our sense of identity through the interaction with others (O’Brien, 252). Children, according to Mead, learn to identify themselves and what they do in relation to other people. This process is termed socialization and also incorporates the ‘significant other’ which is usually a primary caregiver. Four stages are identified that include: imitation, play, games with rules and understanding of social conventions. In the final stage of development the child is able to relate to the ‘generalised other’ as opposed to the significant other.
Through the process of socialization, we are exposed to significant others or reference groups which play a vital role in learning to associateourselves with a particular identity. Close association with particular groups leads us to adopt specific values, beliefs, and ideals which are consistent with that group. Caitlin and Jacob both attribute identifying with female and male respectively to relationships with significant others, beginning with their parents in childhood. When reflecting on the first realization of identity, Caitlin notes “This is difficult question to answer, because I don’t remember being specifically defined by people. From the onset I was with my mother more than anything as my father worked away from home. In this sense, I guess I was already defined as female early on. I always helped my mother in the kitchen and the housework, but this was because she was also my friend and companion. I don’t remember a time when I suddenly ‘clicked’ that I am a girl. What I do remember is my mother having a little ‘talk’ with me about pedophiles during an outbreak in the area. In this case she did define me so that I was able to notice when things were not right. She loved me to express myself and I loved dressing in her clothing.” Similarly, Jacob describes his association with the male identity as first learned by his father. “I never had any confusion over who I was, my father was strict about what a man is and this happened from a young age and was present as far back as I can remember.” According to Kimmel, “guys hear the voices of the men in their lives – fathers, coaches, brothers, grandfathers, uncles, prists – to inform their ideas of masculinity” (Kimmel, 47). Males look to prominent males in their lives and females look to prominent females in their lives to determine their subsequent definitions of gender identity.
As we move from childhood, our reference groups begin to change. We no longer associate our significant others with our parents. Our primary reference group now lies within our intimate partners. We shape our identites according to their beliefsand our interactions with them beause their reflected appraisals of us are deeply valued. Jodi O’Brien describes this process when a couple becomes more serious and falls into the stereotypical roles of provider or homemaker. “The partners may become...

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