Gendered Socialisation by jimmy c. dabhi
Published: Dabhi, Jimmy. 2005, ‘Gendered Socialisation’ in Women’s Link, Vol.11, No.1, January – March, 2005:24-31, New Delhi: A social Action Trust Publication.
Gender discrimination is fostered and perpetuated through socialisation, formal and nonformal education, work and work environment. The bottom-line is power and domination over women.
Gender discrimination is intrinsic to our society. Denial does not help remedy the situation. Acknowledging it is the first step towards combating the evil. It is neither god given, nor human made; it is simply MAN made, in spite of the argument that women are the worst enemies of women themselves.
This paper in its limited scope will briefly examine the processes of socialisation that take place in one’s environment, within family, at educational organisations/institutions, at work place etc. with respect to gender discrimination. It is argued here that beliefs, assumptions, symbols used, attitudes fostered and behaviour encouraged in the socialization processes become instrumental in perpetuating gender discrimination. The paper hints at some guidelines to a broad strategy to address these issues.
Gendered Socialisation - Bias towards Women
We live and work in a mutli-cultural and diverse society with multiple interests. There are interwoven groups, communities which are constantly interacting, exchanging, competing and collaborating for collective and communitarian interests. Women and men may be considered as one of the important categories of people sharing close intimate relationships, collaborating in many ways and competing most violently for some interests (at present women being victims of violence). There are biases and prejudices that various categories of communities and people have towards each other; and so is the case between women and men - some of the prejudices are manifested in stereotypes. These prejudices and stereotypes are passed on through socialization process, a process of learning your culture; and learning your identity and the roles you are expected to play in society.
The prejudices are rooted in religious beliefs and ideologies ; and they tell you who/what is superior and who/what is inferior - “Any discrimination is based on the assumed superiority (along with privileges) of the one against the inferiority of the other. On this is built the edifice of inequality, injustice, oppression. This is of course rationalised on the basis of a nature given (sex, birth, colour, race etc.) and further authenticated, approved, affirmed and asserted through religion and institutional assent” (Ginwalla and Dabhi, 2003:79). Ideologies are discriminating, falsely defining who is and who is not a person (a white man, a high caste is person; others are not), what is good and what is not good (what men, so called high caste do is good); what is possible and what is not (you must imitate their behaviour - so sanskritistion and women behaving like machos but one can never be fully like them, it is not possible so others must remain in their boundary).
Religious ideologies and religion have played havoc in
a big hand in promoting gender discrimination. It is always the poor, children
and women who face the brunt of discrimination and not the top class and top
castes. People like Buddha and Guru Govind fought against some of the
anti-women, anti-poor and anti-human elements in these ideologies and
practices, unfortunately some of the followers of these noble human beings
practice the opposite. Let me cite an example of how evil these ideologies can
be for those who face triple exploitation and discrimination because they are
poor, they are avarna (outcaste) and they are women. The scriptures claim, that
for a ‘low’ caste woman to be sexually used by a ‘high’ caste man is the
equivalent of going on a pilgrimage and bring her a step closer to moksha (see
Franco and Sarvar, 1989). India
Gender stereotypes occur when you apply generic attributes, opinions or roles towards either gender. Gender stereotypes are apparent everywhere in our society, reinforced by film media (see Mukherjee, 2004). Companies display ads and commercials using gender stereotypes. They portray women in house cleaning and child rearing roles to sell household and baby products. They sell beer and cars to men by showing women in revealing outfits, or a sweating man out in the yard working hard on his lawn. These gender stereotypes are used to sell the products to the people they believe would use them most, showing them in “situations” they would most likely be in (see Women’s Issues).
The process of socialization is learning values, norms, language, and behaviour needed to function in a group or society; socialization agents often include mass media, parents, peers, and the school, places of worship, festivals. It is also learning with time how to function in a group or society by assimilating a set of paradigms, rules, procedures, and principles that govern perception, attention, choices, learning, and development. One of these processes promotes bias against women in form of amply using symbols (words and action) and constantly creates new ones to perpetual male domination. Bourdieu the French sociologist, argues that capital underpinning of all forms of power, whether they are material, cultural, social, or symbolic. He suggests, “Individuals and groups draw upon a variety of cultural, social, and symbolic resources in order to maintain and enhance their positions in the social order” (Swartz, 1997:73).
Are Women and Men Different or is it a Myth?
What is obvious cannot be denied. Physically and biologically women and men are different. These biological differences are then stretched to assume difference in other aspects of human life and eventually people believe that women and men are different far beyond their physical and biological differences.
For centuries it was believed that the different characteristics women and men exhibited were natural and immutably determined by biological (sex based) differences or divinely ordained. In addition, sex trait stereotypes determined ideas and beliefs about what was masculine and feminine behaviour - women were considered gentle, emotional and patient while men were rational, aggressive and physically stronger (O’Neill, 1992). O’Neill goes on to suggest that sex role stereotypes were based on assumptions about appropriate aptitudes or practices for both the sexes: women were seen as being better at “social work” as nurses or teachers, while men took up technical jobs, such as plumbing, carpentry and engineering. The understanding of the differences has evolved over the years.
Gender today is understood as a social category which refers to lived relationships between women and men; gender relations are those by means of which sexual divisions as definitions of masculinity and femininity are constructed, organised and maintained (Bradley, 1996:19). Gender defines the social relationship between women and men and the way in which this relationship has been socially constructed and institutionalized, through the different roles that women and men play in society (see Thorbek, 1994). These roles are dynamic and are shaped by historical, ideological, economic, religious and cultural determinants.
Putting it differently the distinction between gender and sex is the distinction between socially and culturally created and perceived roles on the one side called gender; and the biological categories of female/male on the other side called sex. Gender  then refers to the attributes, behaviours, personality characteristics, and expectancies associated with a person’s biological sex in a given culture; may be based on biology, may be learned, or may represent a combination of biological and cultural determinant. Gender relations and identities , unlike sex (anatomical) differences are not universal, but vary from culture to culture and sometimes from community to community.
It seems to be a human endeavour of some to grade hieratically what is different - in social status and economic remuneration. Gender discrimination is not about differences but about devaluing human differences - biological and physical.
Gendered Socialisation Begins at Home
“It is a well-established fact that even though more boys are born than girls, the latter are sturdier and should survive infancy better than boys. But not in
here, all natural laws are defied. Girls continue to be killed before they are
born, immediately after birth or through neglect in the first few years of
their lives” (Sharma, 2001). This is a part of the process of socialization –
gendered and cruel. India
Agencies of socialization are structured groups or contexts within which significant processes of socialization occur. These agencies also influence gender socialization, the learning of male versus female roles. Socialisation begins at birth and continues throughout life. Socialisation is deliberate when individuals are told what to do or how to act. Much socialisation is indirect and simply learned by being with other people. The family is a principal agent in socialising a child. It is from their family, that children learn speech, basic health and hygiene, eating habits, beliefs, and a prescribed set of values.
What happens in a family is a reflection of what society expects of its primary unit - the family. Since infants and children are dependent on elders they learn their language, behaviour and attitude. What a family does is to cater to the societal role expectation of female and male formation into woman-man gender roles - “in Indian society, a woman’s place has been primarily confined to the home, and her role is limited to procreation, rearing of children and catering to the needs of menfolk (Tewari, 2004:50). Ideologies play an important function in socialisation, role formation, role relation and role stereotype. Our families are based on patriarchy which literally means ‘rule of the father’. Radical feminists broadened the use of the term to refer to a general structure of male domination in society, as defined by Kate Millet in Sexual Politics: “Our society, like all other historical civilisations, is a patriarchy . The military, industry, technology, universities, science, political office, finances - in short every avenue of power within the society, including the coercive force of the police, is entirely in male hands” (quoted in Bradley, 1996:88).
Besides patriarchy, religion and
ideology dominate kinship and family
relations and interaction; and inform desired behaviour on the part of women and
men in the family. The religious discourse of karma and dharma applies to both
caste and gender (see Franco and Sarvar, 1989). The Scriptures (Manu-smriti)
distinguished between the twice-born castes (the so called upper castes) on the
one hand and women and shudras (including the ‘avarna’ - the ‘atisudra’) on the
other. Women and shudras were regarded as life-long slaves from birth to death,
with slavery inborn in them. Franco and Sarvar argue that the shudra’s dharma
is to serve the upper castes; the ideal pativrata woman’s dharma is to worship
her husband as god, no matter how cruel, immoral he may be. Carried to its
logical extreme, it is the dharma of the pativrata to be a Sati (original
meaning: a virtuous woman). varna
Formation and socialisation of children at home and in the neighbourhood takes place by imitation, observation, internalization of values, attitudes, behaviour of parents, elders and neighbours through social interaction (also see Chaudhuri, 2004). Let me cite a few commonly occurring events and situations in the context of a family. Relatives and friends visit families and often bring along gifts for children often with gender bias tag of course - a doll for the female child and a cricket bat (thanks to highly paid media propaganda for this expensive sport at the cost of other sports in
) for male
The mother or the grown up female child is expected to bring water and tea when friends and relatives come over to visit. A boy is not expected to do these functions unless female member in the house is not around. Even if females (mother/sister) in the household are engaged in outside paid work like other male members of the family, certain responsibilities invariably cleaning (sweeping, dusting, mopping and washing), caretaking (taking care of the sick, feeding, bathing, cleaning children) fall on the female members of the family. If this is not possible then a maid may be hired but the ‘pati dev’, ‘papa’ and ‘bhaiya’ of the family cannot be expected to do things, which are below man’s (mard) dignity. It does not take long for observant children to learn; if they don’t parents ensure that they do. If children do not fall in line with expected role behaviours the mother is blamed - she does not know how to raise children and train them.
The code of conduct, decorum and safety measures for girls and boys begin to be learnt at home. Little girls cry as often as little boys but as they grow up the behaviour tag changes - the girl is considered very sensitive because she cries and the boy for the same behaviour is called girlish, a step further ‘sissy’. Boys learn not to cry, at least not in public, and also learn that crying is inferior behaviour. Girls cry because they are inferior and not as strong and enduring as men. They learn that being like boys is superior behaviour and aggressive behaviour is something to be imitated to be considered strong.
Boys can be out of the house till late at night - it is okay and often expected. The same behaviour by girls and young women becomes dangerous because there are boys and men out there and may harm these girls and women. The anxiety and fear of the family about their female members is not unreal or unwarranted from what one hears and reads in newspapers but why cage girls and women and not the rogues? Why blame women when men cannot behave themselves. How well behaved are our own family boys and men when they are out of the house may be worth inquiring from other women. Women are discriminated, the discrimination is justified and perpetuated – of course for their safety and for their good.
Bourdieu emphasises the role of symbolic forms and process in the reproduction of social inequality, it holds true of gender discrimination within the family. He argues that the symbolic system simultaneously performs three interrelated but distinct functions: cognitive, communication and social differentiation (Swartz, 1997:83). Children learn through symbolic systems of society such as gestures, role models, symbols used and behaviour observed; and as suggested by the sociologist such systems of symbols do not only provide cognitive and interactive functions but also serve as formative instrument of domination.
Given the kind of socialisation we have been subjected to gender discrimination is not easy to fight because beside other reasons women-men relationships have emotional ties, which are not easy to ignore in the struggle for justice. At the micro level gender discrimination operates at two levels, in the family and in the caste group. In the rural area caste groupings are strong and binding, and therefore, often taking a stand against gender discrimination implies taking a stand against the family and the caste group, which is far from easy (also see Franco and Sarvar, 1989). Unless men at various levels begin to participate in the process the movement becomes difficult and makes for frustration, anger and hopelessness. We have, in practice, overlooked this aspect to a great extent, at a cost.
Education is not Value Free - it Promotes Gender Biases
Education is not value free, on the contrary it is motive and value induced. Our history is witness to such a manipulated use of education to serve vested interests of some in society - religious, economic and political. Its content, processes, the milieu, facilitators (educators/teachers) and receivers (educated/students) are products of a society and its socialisation, and they carry this socialisation baggage while giving and receiving education - formal or otherwise. Thus education influences socialisation and the socialised components of education influence education. The socio-cultural, economic and political milieu influences the education system and those who are involved in it. It is argued, “Discrimination impacts the cognitive, emotive and behavioural aspects of a person. The cognitive factor refers to the frame of mind of a person, a society, what that person/society thinks, assumes, believes and expects of oneself, others and the world at large. For example, the belief that women are inferior or the assumption that the presence of some people is ‘polluting’” (Ginwalla and Dabhi, 2003:78).
Observations based on the examination of content of a few sample textbooks (of Standards I and III) used in some of the schools of Ahmedabad reveal the biases of the writers themselves and thus society itself, e.g., the exercise asking for an introduction of the student asks about the name of the father. The mother has been obliterated from the exercise, and the process of marginalisation of women has been subtly introduced (Ginwalla and Dabhi, 2003:83). These authors have further observed that the textbooks, without exception, are full of gender role stereotypes - the text reads “This is our kitchen, mother cooks here”, “My Daddy is big and strong. he sees to our needs. Mummy. looks after us. She does all the work at home”, “some mothers go out to work. they earn money to help the family”. Such images in these textbooks invariably portray teacher and nurse as women, woman along with the girl child fetching water, man sitting on the cot while the woman is shown standing.
On the one hand studies and experiences suggest education helps emancipation of women (Drèze, and Sen, 1998; HDR, 2003). However, the data suggests exclusion of female from education, the literacy rate for women worldwide is 71.4 per cent, compared with 83.7 per cent for men. Of the 960 million illiterate adults, two-thirds are women. Gender inequity continues to remain a serious problem in
Although female literacy in India India
at 54% is much higher than female literacy in Afghanistan,
Pakistan or Bangladesh, it trails male literacy in (76%) by
over 20 percentage points (Source:
http:// india_resource.tripod.com/census.html). The literacy rate of
females among the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes is below the national
average. Experience suggests that the educationally poor women are more
susceptible to gender based inequality, social discrimination and economic
On the other hand some people are convinced that education alone can bring about gender justice. As suggested change does not take place mechanically, or in a vacuum, it requires appropriate climate. The teaching and learning that occurs in school is of dual nature - the explicit, what is in the curriculum and the other one what students learn, other than academic contents, from what they do or are expected to do in school, both have gender overtone. Education can be an option for change but for that we need to critically examine, correct and keep a critical watch over the contents, context (milieu), process and the agent of change. It is, therefore, suggested that culture and social changes such as displacement, transfer of knowledge, conflict, have implication for adolescent girl’s lives, the education they get and the work they do (UNESCO, 2004).
Work – Divisive and Gendered
Most of the adults spend almost one-third of their working lifetime in organised or unorganised sectors. Women often spend more time at workplace than men because of their social (single, divorced, abandoned) and economic status (economically poor, bonded labourer, she being the only source of income as the husband/partner is alcoholic, sick) - the study suggests there are 40 million bonded labourers of which many are children and women (National Human Rights Commission, 2004). 96 per cent of children who work and sleep on the streets are migrants about half of them are girls aged between 8 and 14 (WCAR). They do not only spend more time at work (in and outside house) but their in-house work is not recognised and work out of the house is less paid than men - even today agricultural labourers in many areas work for such a small amount as Rs.15/- or 25/- or two to three kg of rice per day, well below the minimum wage prescribed in their State and women are paid less than men (Human Rights Watch, 1999), in spite of the State being directed to securing for men and women equally the right to an adequate means of livelihood [Article 39 (a)]; and equal pay for equal work for both men and women [Article 39 (d)]. Work places are important social units where socialisation takes place through human interaction, exchange of ideas, knowledge, feelings, and more so through organisation and work culture.
In most low-income households, ‘women’s work’ includes not only reproductive work (the childbearing and rearing responsibilities) required to guarantee the maintenance and reproduction of the labour force but also productive work, often as secondary income earners. In addition, women are involved in community managing work undertaken at a local community level in both urban and rural contexts. Because the triple role of women is not recognized the fact that women, unlike men, are severely constrained by the burden of simultaneously balancing these roles of reproductive, productive, and community managing work is ignored (Moser, 1989), in addition, only productive work is recognized as work.
Work place culture is influenced by people who dominate and control the market economy of the place and this in return influences people who work there, of course to the employer’s advantage. Thus the work place culture and human interaction are results of socialisation as much as they are instruments of socialisation of people who work within these places. Formal work places such as local, national and international organisations/institutions play a vital role in influencing people who work there. As much as organisations fulfil individual needs (e.g. livelihood, need for affiliation, achievement, need for power) they also exert influence on individuals so that they behave in such a way to maximise goals of the organisation. Often, there is a price to pay for meeting these needs - the membership forms organisation and social identity of the individual beginning with putting on behaviour and language the organisation requires. You might never have worn a tie in your life but join some organisation and the next day you will find yourself wearing a tie in the middle of Indian summer. Often organizations dictate gendered roles as they chase their profit goals and discrimination against women (for details see Ginwalla, 1991).
Theories and critique of Karl Marx and Max Webber still hold relevance to our work place; labour and organisation as they alienate and discriminate women (see Fincham and Rhodes, 1992). Labour and division of labour in almost all sectors - agriculture, industry (machine, chemical, knowledge, information, transport, navigation, aviation, etc), service, defence, education, health, finance, etc is gendered. Barring a few, most believe in and practice this gendered work division - there are many academicians, intellectuals, rationalists, bureaucrats, union leaders and so called civil society stalwarts who do not subscribe to gendered work division and discrimination but their rhetoric is limited to seminars, workshops, conferences they address and articles and books they write, beyond that they are no different from the rest of us. Even advanced universalized technologies meant for betterment of human society are used not to control the population, but only one segment of the population (Sharma, 2004). There is a certain kind of hard and laborious work done only by men while there is yet another kind of work equally or more hard and laborious to be done by women because they are women.
In addition, for many women factors relating to their social identity such as caste, religion, colour, language, ethnicity and region become “differences that make a difference”. These factors can create problems that are unique to particular groups of women or they disproportionately affect some women as compared to others in their movement, relation and choice of employment.
There are assumptions, strong beliefs and stereotypes attached to the kind of work designed, allocated and the way it is carried out. The biological reality is that women bear children and may like to breastfeed children initially; therefore, the conclusion is that women have god given talent for child rearing and caring. Stretch the conclusion further, a myth is created (of course to men’s advantage) that all nurturing and caring related work is better done by women than men. All believe and behave accordingly including women - some of them very happily- a result of strong internalisation of gender ideology.
The kind of work women do is inferior compared to the work men do because women are inferior human beings compared to men - people believe it and act likewise. Therefore, you may find that if a child is sick they may take her/him to a lady doctor (myth – women are good at nurturing and caring) but if a surgery is required they may look for a male doctor (tough job).
Data (WCAR) suggests that the gender gap in earning persists, with women employed in industry and services typically earning 78 per cent of what men earn in the same sector. Remuneration is acknowledgement of the value attached to the work and value of the person who does it. Neither women nor their work is held in high esteem. Women’s share of decision-making positions reached 30 per cent in only 28 countries in the 1990s. Additionally, of 1.3 billion people living in poverty, 70 per cent are women. It is argued that economic independence provides better opportunity to women to challenge the dominant onslaught of men especially in the family relations and work relations. Those who control money and power whether World Bank, a country, an employer, or father/brother/husband are in dominating position to dictate thinking and behaviour of their subordinates, dependents, whether country, employee or a family member.
Data suggests that there was an increase in job seekers (registered with Employment Exchange) among women between 1998 and 2002 (Sinha, 2004). In the absence of a job these women job seekers do not have much choice and economic necessities compel them to accept work condition and work culture which may not always be gender sensitive and thus extracting silent consent and resignation to gender bias.
Total Job Seekers
Women age group
(Source: Sinha, 2004)
Work place and work culture as much as they are gendered are instruments of socialisation and promote social discrimination and gender discrimination is one of them.
Challenges to Gender Justice
Gender injustice is not women’s problem as often thought; it is a human made human problem, and therefore, must be addressed by human beings. ‘Females’ are the worst victims of gender injustice; this victimization becomes severe because victims have asserted their rights to equality and dignity. Any assertion for rights by an individual, group or community is met by violence. Violence is often the last resort that oppressors use to suppress any protest, it is at this point that courage, collaboration and resilience are required by victims and supporting groups.
The human development and human rights perspectives have brought women in the public domain more effectively than before. The civil society has become more vigilant about gender justice in public as well as in the family domain. This is not to argue that the civil society is unified and all actors in it are gender insensitive. There is a paradigm shift in understanding of gender and development; from ‘development for women’ to ‘women in development’, to ‘development and women’ and then to ‘gender and development ; realising that women and men are equal partners in development of society in private and public domain.
Change facilitators on the one hand must keep in mind that women are not a homogenous social group and their needs will differ according to their relative ages as well as their different activities, resources and responsibilities. On the other hand, the argument that women’s interests are different from men is not all that valid as it is well observed that “Women’s specific interests are a reflection of their living conditions (such as intense cohabitation with young children). Men would have the same interests if they shared the same living conditions (Public Service International).” A need assessment should therefore take into account this social and personal heterogeneity.
The challenges, therefore, are: first, women and men must jointly accept responsibility and work towards change in gender relations. The need, therefore, to sensitise both men and women. Second, is to understand and realise that no one sensitises no one; people chose to be sensitised. Third, therefore creating an environment and culture - in the family and neighbourhood, in places where education takes place including schools, colleges, institutions; and places of work.
Sensitisation is incomplete if it does not address the whole person and all human faculties. The process of sensitisation therefore requires that the cognitive, the emotive and the motor faculties; and senses are put to use. Gender sensitisation for that matter any programme on addressing social injustices requires awareness building leading to change in mind-set. The awareness programme, therefore, needs to aim at people’s belief system and rationality. There is some truth in the saying that people behave as they think and what they believe. Genocide led by Hitler and his followers, the recent attempt in Gujarat by Sangh Parivar (Hindu fascists) and the oppressive regime of Taliban seemed to have had mastered the skills but for wrong ends. Civil society can put to use the same skills for right ends.
Emotive is yet another faculty to be put to use for the purpose. People who are convinced but not do not feel strongly about what they are convinced about do not easily act. Therefore, along with the change of mind set it is important that people also begin to feel differently as emotional intensity influences behaviour. For example, a brother or a husband may like to share household work with his sister or wife, which is considered only women’s work. The man may experience two intense feelings - that of love and embarrassment. He may want to share the work because there is a strong feeling of love on one hand and on the other hand he may shy away because there is an intense feeling of embarrassment for what others may say. Therefore, it may help to facilitate processes whereby human emotions are examined, their causes analysed and these emotions get channelled for more gender just behaviour and actions.
Finally to promote and create environment where people are motivated to behave and act gender sensitively is important. It is said that all behaviour is goal oriented and a person’s needs, working in conjunction with emotions and other psychological functions, acts as motives that dictate actions or behaviour (Hicks and Gullet, 1976). It is argued that clarity of goal motivates people to act. Working for and creating a just and human family, neighbourhood and society becomes a goal of families, educational institutions and work place; people therein will most likely be motivated to behave and act accordingly. Therefore, providing motivation, opportunities to act differently and acknowledging and rewarding gender just behaviour may go a long way in arresting gender discrimination.
Such comprehensive and multifaceted efforts inclusive of socio-psychological, educational and economic well-being at home and outside especially at the place of education and work may expedite social processes leading to more gender just society. We have stated briefly the influence of religion and religious ideologies in the family, education and work place. If not guarded they can do more harm than good to women and men. One can debate that religion can be liberating and a motivating force for ‘good action’, there is no reason to refute this theory but human experience in the world including India must teach us some hard truths and see for ourselves what we have done in the name of religion. In the given circumstance respecting the secular fabric of our country is one of the noble acts we can perform. Women in particular must guard against gender stereotypes found in religious institutions and in religious teaching because these are the areas where women have been kept out of decision-making for centuries and these bodies and systems are strongly guarded and dominated by men - in the name of god.
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: International Conference on
 Ideologies are a creation of human minds and these ideologies in return govern human minds and societies. Caste, gender and religion are some of these ideologies. These ideologies operate on the basic assumption that there are some who because of their birth (caste ideology), sex (gender ideology) and ‘faith’ (religious ideology) are superior while others are lesser human beings they are polluting and are the secondary class citizens (also see Dabhi, 2004)
 See Richard Alumbaugh, Professor of Psychology at
at the website; http://atheism.about.com/library/glossary/general/blded-gender.htm Central Washington University
 Gender Identity refers to the sex with which individuals associate themselves and they vary from country to country and culture to culture.
 Gender and Development stresses on the need for women to organize themselves for a more effective political voice. It recognizes that patriarchy operates within and across classes to oppress women. Focus on strengthening women’s legal rights, including the reform of inheritance and land laws. It talks in terms of upsetting the existing power relations in society between men and women. GAD rejects the public/private dichotomy.