Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Gender socialization causes women to feel inadequate


Have you ever wondered why you were too afraid to do something you wanted because you were nervous about what people would think? Girls can’t cut their hair short, or they’ll get a thousand sly comments about their sexual identity. Boys can’t cry during movies, or they’ll be ridiculed by their friends about being too girly and emotional. A common reason for this struggle that men and women everywhere experience is gender socialization.

Gender socialization is the constant influx of influences that we experience from the moment we’re born that governs the way we’re supposed to think and conduct ourselves based on our sex. It’s the reason girls are dressed in pink and encouraged to play with dolls, and the reason boys are discouraged from dressing up as princesses for Halloween and pressured instead to wrestle and play with trucks. Gender socialization is the source of throwaway phrases like “Boys will be boys” and “Don’t be such a girl.” A UNICEF article about early gender socialization says, “Boys are told not to cry, not to fear, not to be forgiving and instead to be assertive, and strong. Girls on the other hand are asked not to be demanding, to be forgiving and accommodating and ‘ladylike.’”

Gender socialization persists for our entire lives. It determines how we dress, the careers we aspire to, the chores we’re assigned and the social expectations that cause us embarrassment and anxiety when we deviate from them. Gender socialization also determines the relationships between boys and girls, and men and women. Boys are socialized to be dominant, tough and bigger and better than the rest. But girls are socialized to be dainty, polite and subtle. This poses a bigger problem than meets the eye.

The problem is that boys are socialized to dominate girls. Because they are constantly exposed to comments like, “Man up” and “Don’t be a girl,” society has automatically placed women in a subordinate position – men don’t want to be women. In fact, they avoid engaging in any behavior that would appear womanly. And conversely, this ensures that women, the “weaker sex,” can rarely gain positions of genuine power, influence or authority because they can never surpass the most powerful societal entity: a man.

Women are therefore socialized to feel inadequate. Because they are pressured to feel weaker, they are also pressured to fulfill that role by altering their bodies and minds. This is one of several reasons women may develop eating disorders and become obsessed with image. Society has socialized women to believe the most powerful thing they can be is beautiful.

Gender socialization is far more dangerous for women than it is for men because for women, it emphasizes a denial of self. Women must always be improving physically, constantly altering their bodies to be more beautiful. Two ways society informs women that they are inadequate are through eating habits and appearance.

Many women have felt guilt when contemplating their food cravings. The fact that we are meant to deny ourselves something we want is obscene. And not just for a week or a couple of years – for our whole lives. Girls as young as elementary and middle school are judged harshly for craving a couple of slices of pizza or a big bowl of ice cream. “Think of what it will do to your figure,” mothers and magazines say. Every second of every day, girls are taught to deny themselves the things that would make them happy. One slip up in the strict regimen of self-deprivation is seen as a disappointment.

In her article titled “Eating: A Manifesto,” Krista Burton of the online girls’ empowerment magazine RookieMag discusses this issue with exasperation. She says, “(Do) you ever, ever hear dudes say ‘I just want a little bite’ or ‘This is so bad, you guys, but I totally ate a whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s last night’? No! Because it’s OK for men to eat! … Boys are allowed to grow into men, but ‘attractive’ women in our culture are expected to stay at pretty much an eternal pre-adolescent weight.”

This socialization runs so deep even women will demean other women for eating. As much as women feel pressure from men to be competently attractive, women feel pressure from other women to compete in the beauty race. Women are so socialized to feel guilty for indulging themselves that we feel the need to keep, as Burton says, “rationalizing our ‘bad behavior’ … with statements like ‘I’ve been really good lately,” or “I’m gonna need to walk this off later.”

In addition to demonizing eating habits girls are often told from a very young age that their bare face is offensive to the general public. Girls are demeaned and stared at if they step out of their house without a fully made-up face, or at the very least, some eyeliner. Women who go to school or work or even to meet friends without any makeup are questioned almost comically, getting barraged with questions and comments like, “Are you sick?”, “You look awful” and “Rough night?” Women who don’t wear makeup are viewed as lazy, often prude-ish and lacking in personality or vigor.

So why aren’t men subjected to the same standard? Because they are (and we are) socialized to believe that the faults in their skin are natural and have no cause for improvement. Women are socialized to believe that anything less than perfectly groomed hair, a flawless complexion, rosy lips and smooth legs is unnatural.

We’re tired of being put down for our cravings and naked faces. We’re tired of being viewed as lacking in self-discipline and self-respect. We’re tired of being told that it is unattractive to believe that our bodies are beautiful without having to deprive or alter ourselves. We’re tired of the fact that gender socialization allows men to feel powerful and commanding just the way they are, while women are forced into unrealistic molds in order to gain respect from others and even from themselves.

Elise Martorano is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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  • J

    JAnnieDJan 25, 2016 at 9:22 am

    Women and Men are hard on other Women to feed their intolerant egos. It is displayed early in teens for instance in High School where the populars vs the regulars. If your a gal and you don’t fit in this will later be a problem in your Adult years. Society is very hard on good people especially women whom simply want to live in a peaceful World. We need to educate each other and stop hating others through every day silly antics.

  • T

    TaraAug 24, 2015 at 12:06 am

    I agree with a lot of what you said, but I disagree that women are expected to wear makeup. I don’t wear makeup, and no one ever says I look bad. People are not used to seeing me wear makeup thus they don’t even think about it. now I bet if people were accustomed to seeing me wear it, then they would comment when I did not have it on (which is understandable and as I would be different than normal). I can count on one hand the number of people who actually thought it meant I was boring or prudish, lol. I’m not saying this mentality doesn’t exist, but it’s just not as common if you’re leading people to believe. also, with the epidemic of obesity, women are wise to worry about what they eat and men would do themselves a favor by following our example and being more health conscientious and mindful of what goes into our bodies… nobody should be eating a pint of ice cream per day unless maybe they are 6’4″ and a lean 220, it’s their birthday, or it’s some other rare special occasion. That portion size is too large for most people of both sexes to have on a daily basis. Most people who do this type of thing on a regular basis SHOULD feel uneasy about it because it’s indicative of an unhealthy lifestyle and emotional eating.

  • C

    CatrinaMar 13, 2015 at 5:12 pm

    Do you have a list of references for this article?

  • J

    JenniferJun 29, 2014 at 11:06 am

    This is a great introduction to the basis of socialization of girls/women in terms of expecting them to behave a certain way, however, there is no mention of the implied contract that goes along with this socialization. Girls/women are expected to stay in pretty state and behave a certain way with an end-goal in mind: find a man.

    The basic premise of this goal lies in the implied state that women cannot survive without a man and that they therefore must contort themselves into doing whatever they have to do in order to find one. While men are seen as capable of surviving, women are seen and trained as dependent. Instead of allowing and encouraging women to be self-sufficient, we label any woman that is not with a man or does not want one as spinsters, mentally ill, anti-social, etc. This plays out in financial arenas (in which women are supposed to depend on men for money), in employment areas (in which women do not need as much salary as men because they are supposed to be supported by their men), and in academia (in which women are consistently denied tenure because men are the authorities of a subject).

    We need to move beyond noticing gender socialization in our own society and recognize that it is a greater global issue that is perpetuated by all societies, and that it is the source of a lot of evils in the world including sexual and not-so-random violence and ongoing poverty in families. Until women can take it upon themselves to realize that they are complete just by themselves and until men see their roles as something other than a dictator over women’s lives, we will continue to have these problems.