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Laura Gougeon

Power and Imagination

Professor Trimble
March 10, 2016
Gender, Inequality, Discrimination
The theory of social construction was created to develop an understanding of reality and
shared assumptions of the world with other individuals. One of the most controversial socially
constructed topics is gender and gender roles. I will explore how an individual's family is the
first encounter with gender they will have and how that will carry with them throughout their
time in the education system. The physiological developmental process of children enforces an
ingrained idealization of gender from the day they are born through socialization in their society.
The concept is inevitable due to the fact that it dates back for centuries. American society's view
of gender creates the perception of traditionally distinct gender roles through language and social
institutions by conditioned power, which leads to discrimination and inequality.
The masculine, feminine and neutral pronouns were first written about by Protagoras to
define Greek nouns in the fifth century BC, which was the start of the study analyzing the
grammatical gender systems to the real world (Curzan 11). The translation of these pronouns that
were first created from Greek to English are he/him for masculine, she/her for feminine and it for
neutral. The act of Protagoras defining individuals as either feminine or masculine lead to a
people of the society to believe that there was a correlation between the labels and the

individuals/ objects that included specific roles, but he only did it to make the greek language a
more concrete one that was easier to understand (Curzan 12).
In today's society, sex is referred to as the biological status of an individuals identity. The
features that define a person's sex reproductive organs, external genitalia, hormones and other
aspects that an individual is born with. Gender, on the other hand, is a socially constructed theory
that society made to differentiate females and males (Social Constructs). With these gender
categories, gender roles and mannerisms are automatically attached on how boys and girls are
supposed to behave.
When man and woman were created, 200 thousand years ago, they were seen as equals
regardless that they had a different role to play in society, man being the hunters and women
being the gatherers (Acker). The inequality between man and woman came to be when
agriculture was discovered. The best farmers needed to be able to use heavy tools and work with
large animals, so then men had a biologically natural advantage over then women. With the
women's contribution to the economy decreasing, the man is held at a superior view over woman
(Acker). This socialized idea that the man is above the woman continued to be socialized from
generations. In today's society, intelligence and creativity as well as other attributes that can be
seen from both females and males equally, are the important features in an individual to obtain a
job but since the socialized idea that the woman is inferior compared to that man has not changed
in society. This has led to unconscious discrimination and sexism in many aspects of life such as
the business world where the man has a higher wage than a woman even if they are ranked the
same in the business.


In many cultures, gender is included within the structure of the language through various
language systems. Strict semantic system also known as semantic gender is the system of
language where the noun/pronoun defines the gender (Curzan 16). In turn, the gender is able to
determine the meaning of the noun. The noun classes in a grammatical gender system such as the
Romance language speaking countries, including France, Spain and Italy, is not related to
conceptual categories. For example, there is no linguistic rule for why French categorize all
nouns as either feminine or masculine. The only explanation for the European countries that have
a grammatical gender system to categorize nouns as masculine, feminine or neuter is simply for
the fact that they had the power to do that themselves. Formal systems referred to as grammatical
gender is based on the use of large pronouns grouped through formal criteria from either word
structure, morphological, or sound structure, phonological (Curzan 16). The root of the formal
system is not semantic based, but there is still a semantic core that can be traced in the system.
Natural gender is the system in which it is possible to predict the gender through the meaning of
the noun no other external references (Curzan 13). The use of natural gender is seen in the
English language as a semantic system in which pronouns refer to masculine, feminine and
neuter forms that describe features of the object that are not necessarily part of their biological
status. The correspondence of the pronouns can be seen in real world with him referring to the
male human and her relating to the female human. Linguistic gender is the system in which the
classification of nouns and pronouns are reflected through the behavior that accompanies that
particular word (Curzan 13). The use of the linguistic gender system is one of the first key
factors that caused the socialization of gender because by associating behaviors with nouns and
pronouns, it automatically segregated the perception of how females and males are supposed to
behave in society. The different language structures is a prominent reason for the divergence of

gender perceptions because by correlating a noun with a gender, it creates specific stereotypes
and viewpoints of the different genders. The conditioned power of language in our society has
enforced the language system to stay solitare through the generations, which is a key reason the
gender roles are still in existence today.
The English written language has become the leader of unconscious Sexism. Sexism is a
socialized act of segregating and discriminating females from males. Writers use the noun man
with its corresponding pronouns he/him as a term to identify all humanity but with the lack of
the use of the noun woman and its pronouns she/her it creates a mental picture of just the
man (Halon-Soto 3). The absence of acknowledgment for the female species cause segregation
between male and female which in turn leads to discrimination between the two genders.
Through the use of conditioned power and writers always using using the word man has made
the people of today's society created a mental image that males overpower women in society.
An idea that has been launched to eliminate the problem of the lack of use of feminine
pronouns is creating new pronouns that will intermix the male and female pronouns Se was
substituted for he/she; hes for his/her; and hir for him/her. Another experimental approach
appearing in the literature Miller and Swift, has devised new words which do not denote gender.
Tay replaces he/she; ter replaces his/her; and tem is used instead of him/her (Halon-Soto 4).
A study conducted by psychologist Argentino, Kidd and Bogart amongst junior high school
students for the interest of finding out if the act of changing pronouns will reduce discrimination
and inequality between males and females. A participation pool of 500 junior high school
students was given two different essays to read, the content of the two essays were the same the
only difference was the use of pronouns. The research concluded that the use of pronouns
designed originally for sex, he and she, forms segregated gender perceptions between male and

females (Halon-Soto 28). The repetitive exposure to the new mixed pronouns in the essays did
give a positive result that the students were rating the reading material higher for the fact that
there was less unconscious discrimination amongst the two genders.
The new inclusionary language of the intermixed gender pronouns is slowly being
incorporated into society. This language system is being promoted in the educational system in
an attempt to prevent unconscious discrimination between males and females by transforming
gender to be looked upon as equal. Textbooks are being transformed by being written with the
new inclusionary language system and eliminating the traditional sexist language so that children
will be socialized more equally between males and females (Halon-Soto 28). Reversing the
conditioned power of the language system that has been around for centuries and changing the
pronouns slowly, will allow the ingrained stereotypes of males and females to change which will
essentially reduce the segregated discrimination amongst the two genders.
When an infant is born, the sex of the child is the first feature that is identified. As soon
as the sex is revealed, then the gender is automatically attached with the pronoun he or she.
This occurs because parents would rather take the traditional route of accompanying the
biological sex with the gender associated with it. The parents of the newborn will automatically
use very clear symbols to classify their child in the gender category from the color of clothes the
baby is dressed in to the, pink for a girl and blue for a boy, to the toys that are given to the child
(Social Constructs). As soon as parents force their child to be a specific gender, society has made
very specific perceptions of how a girl/female and a boy/male should behave and act in the
culture that they are raised in. Parents have been socialized to only know the concept of males
and females as genders. This dates back for centuries when the socialization of gender was

greated and the segregation of males and females was prominent for specific job roles essential
for that society in that time era. The conditioned power of the gender roles has stayed the same
even through the evolution of technology and industries.
Sigmund Freud, the developer of psychoanalysis, was the key person to identify that the
family institution is a childs first encounter with gender. His view was based both on the
biological attributes as well as the social factors from the parents (Eckes and Trautner 67). The
mother of an infant provided soft feminine attributes of love and nurture while the father
provided the masculine strength and discipline. As the child grows older, the parents genders
roles become ingrained in the child, which soon allow them to diverge themselves into the
gender that they were assigned to when they entered the world. The process of the parents
assigning the child a gender based on their sex, even though sex and gender are two separate
identities in an individual has come from the conditioned power that has been passed down from
generations that the only acceptable way of viewing individuals in a society is through their
gender. Babys brains are not developed when they are born so it is part of the law that the
parents are able to make consent for decisions of their children. Since babies are forced into a
gender category when they are born, gender perspectives and segregation are unavoidable
without choice in society which makes discrimination inevitable between males and females.
The educational institution is one of the key factors that have socialized gender and
gender roles. In schools, there are two primary sources that influence gender, teachers and
surrounding students. The teaching curriculum that teachers are given to focus their lesson plans
around, are filled with gender stereotypes of behavior for the different genders. This is seen when

teachers differentiate the jobs for boys and girls, such as facilitating a dress up station for girls
and a kid friendly construction site for boys (Eckes and Trautner 66). Teachers unconsciously
differentiate the two genders because they have to work with the materials, from the teaching
curriculum to the toys, provided to them by the school. The act of differentiating the two genders
has been done through conditioned power of the education system to the teachers that that is the
way our society is to view every individual as either a boy or a girl. When a child begins school,
they are placed amongst other children who are the same age but mixed between the two
genders, male and female. With developing brains, children learn primarily through observation
of their social group they are placed in from the way they walk, talk and gesture (Riseman 436).
The socialization of gender through the education institution can cause problems because with
how the developing brains of infants work, they internalize the gender stereotypes and prejudice
from their teachers which forces them to choose a definite gender, segregating the two prominent
gender groups of either male or female (Eckes and Trauter 68). The process of socialization of
gender in the education system forces stereotypes on the two genders for occupations that is seen
as acceptable for females and males in society.
The education system influences the use of gender pronouns by teachers implementing it
in their teaching curriculum and reading materials given to students. The Gender-Schema
Development and Children's Constructive Story Memory was a study conducted by Welch-Ross
& Schmidt to conduct a study that will emphasize the blind segregation of genders in school.
This study was used by observing the process of a child interpret different stories. A group of
participants that included boys and girls from ages 6 to 9 from the working and middle class
were taken in for a study where they read stories of imaginary characters that were open to
interpretation by using varying pronouns for stereotypical masculine, feminine and neutral

activities and occupations (Conkright, Flannagan, and Dykes 483). The results from this study
showed nonspecific nature of generic pronouns and the differences of gender interpreted from
the conscious mind from the reading materials obligatory in schools. To try and minimize
segregation between females and males the study concluded that the pronouns for characters in
school textbooks changed If this is done continuously throughout a textbook, further, there is
equal chance of each gender specific pronoun being paired with same-sex and opposite-sex
activities. Thus, alternating he and she might both indicate gender no specificity and also indicate
to the reader that the activity (or occupation) is appropriate for both boys and girls (Conkright,
Flannagan, and Dykes 497). By changing the curriculum that is given to teachers to instruct their
students with, with material that does not incorporate pronouns will create an equal image of the
two genders which in turn will diminish segregated discrimination between males and females.
The socialization created in the education system that has evolved from the conditioned power of
labeling girls and boys into separate categories, forces students of both genders to feel obligated
to stay in the gender that they were assigned to by society and by eliminating the use of pronouns
in school, students will be able to have the freedom to explore and decide which gender they
want to belong to.
Gender has created segregation and inequality amongst females and males in every
society and culture to some extent. Studies have shown that if men and women are doing the
same job or completing the same task they are spatially segregated for the sole purpose to
differentiate genders. This is demonstrated in large business corporations where the same job
has a different title such as executive secretary for males and administrative assistant for females
in the large business corporation (Lorber 58). The divergence of gender in a small issue as a job

title creates the distinction between males and females regardless if it creates a positive or
negative impact. The discrimination between females and males is seen throughout the military
branches as well Women recruits in the U,S. Marine Corps are required to wear makeup-at a
minimum, lipstick and eye shadow-and they have to take classes in makeup, hair care, poise, and
etiquette. This feminization is part of a deliberate policy of making them clearly distinguishable
from men Marines. Women are volunteering to serve and protect their country while risking
their life at the same time, yet they are being forced to divide themselves from the men.
Segregated gender perspectives is seen throughout all parts of society from government based to
private sectors and large corporations which proves how unavoidable the social construct of
gender is.
The clear distinction in gender perceptions and roles is a socially constructed concept
created through the process of socialization and language systems that has been enforced through
conditioned power. The family institution is the beginning process of the development of gender
in an individual then becomes further segregated through the educational system. There is no
possibility of eliminating the concept of gender or the gender roles that accompany it, but there is
an opportunity in diminishing the discrimination and inequalities that coexist with this idea. If
the educational system changes the curriculum that teachers must use in classrooms to one that
portrays an equality between the male and female genders, students would create less of a
divergence amongst themselves. Without the stereotypes of gender and gender roles, the
inequality and discrimination between the two genders would decrease for there would not be as
large of a gap between the two.

Works Cited
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Bigler, Rebecca, Amy Roberson Hayes, and Veronica Hamilton. "The Role of Schools in
the Early Socialization of Gender Differences." Encyclopedia on Early Early Childhood
Development. N.p., Dec. 2013. Web.
Conkright, Lea, Dorthy Flannagan, and James Dykes. "Sex Roles." Effects of Pronoun
Type and Gender Role Consistency on Children's Recall and Interpretation of Stories
43.7 (200): 481-97. Ll and Interpretation of Stories. Web. 03 Mar. 2016.
Curzan, Anne. Gender Shifts in the History of English. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP,
2003. Print.

Halon-Soto, Debbie. Alternatives to Using Masculine Pronouns When Referring to the

Species. Diss. California State U, Sacramento, 1976. N.p.: n.p., n.d. ERIC Institute of
Education Sciences. Web.
Lorber, Judith, and Susan A. Farrell. The Social Construction of Gender. Newbury Park,
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Risman, Barbara J. Gender As A Social Structure: Theory Wrestling With Activism.
North Carolina University. Sage Publications, Inc., 2004.

"Social Constructs." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 2008. 16 Feb. 2016.
Trautner, Hanns and Thomas Eckes. "Theories of Gender Socialization." The
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