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ender can be best defined as the psychical appearance, characteristics and roles of which both men and women exert in society. According to (“Understanding Gender Article”), “Gender is an important consideration in development. It is a way of looking at how social norms and power structures impact on the lives and opportunities available to different groups of men and women”. Today, in communities all over the world gender identity plays a significant role as it differentiates each living being. As simple as gender may appear, gender is often used all over the world to determine who plays what role in society and how they will be treated.
Years ago gender identity was simply distinguish by actions only men and women were allowed to exhibit. Additionally, over the past few years’ gender has shift and has become the topic which carries a number of different meanings and interpretations among our nations. Correspondingly, individuals now determine how they choose to be defined within Caribbean societies, as factors such as socialisation and situations can shape such decisions.
Consequently, gender allows individuals to confidently express and identify themselves among others. Therefore, this essay will undertake the task of extensively explaining gender identity using a social interactionist perspective, to highlight the importance of gender identity as a source of social meaning and power gender in contemporary Caribbean societies.
Gender Socialization and Identity Theory states that “research on gender or gender socialization in literature on identity theory often examines how internalized socialization processes are maintained by a control mechanism which compares internalized standards (i.
e., for appropriate gender behaviour) to perceptions of others (i.e., how others react and respond to behaviour) and, through emotion, regulates interaction between individuals”. Interactionists believe that individuals create their social world through interacting with others. During the process of interaction, individuals consciously relate to each other through the use of symbols, for a good example, ‘language and similarities’. The ongoing process of interactions, mean that individuals are constantly adjusting to each other as they keep interacting and reinterpreting each others’ actions. Interactionists claim that it is through this behavioural process that individuals create their own social world. Gender is not the same in all cultures, wherefore; symbolic interactionism looks at gender from the perspective of what people do. Therefore gender roles, looks at how society defines how women and men should think and behave. In the process of supporting what the theory of symbolic interactionism stands for, one should take note of the work of George Herbert Mead (1863-1931). John Dewey refers to Mead as, “a seminal mind of the very first order” Dewey 1932 XL. Mead has been considered by many as the father of symbolic interactionism in sociology and social psychology. With this being said, Mead produced an original theory of the development of the self through communication. Interesting enough, is the fact that Mead is best known for his work on the nature of self and inter-subjectivity. Mead’s most famous work was said to be, “mind, self and society”, from the view of a social behaviourist. Mead’s argument is that if we were to simply take the roles of others, we would never develop selves or self- consciousness. So for Mead, the development of the self is significantly tied to the development of language. Hence a vocal gesture according to Mead can be thought of as a word or a phrase. With this being applied to everyday life, words have an impact on human behaviour, as Mead points out. His work as an outstanding interactionist supports and suggests that if we were simply to take the roles of others, we would never develop selves or self-consciousness.
Gender identity plays a substantial role in society, as it allows individuals to be addressed in the correct manner and to be associated with particular attributes which are affiliated with their gender. Consequently, core status is also a primary dimension of identity, institutional participation, life chances and socialization. However, as gender identity is referred to as a form of socialisation, this form of socialisation begins within the home, also as “family is the first agent of socialization” (Gender, Sex, and Sexuality Article”). Socialisation is the process in which individuals are taught norms, values and beliefs. For centuries, gender has been taught to individuals, as it passes through the households of each generation which taught individuals how to socialise with groups in which they have similarities. This sense of socialisation occurs at the very baby stages, where parents sensitise roles or traits that their unborn babies should have when they are born. Also, the methods, rewards and punishments which should be used, in order to instil the correct behaviours these children should exhibit in relation to their gender. Parents often tend to associate certain colours and toys with different sex, for example, blue as a representation for boys and pink as a representation for girls. Children then become familiar with the specific objects they receive for play, the type of play they are allowed to be involved in and the colours in which they should gravitate towards. Therefore, at a very young age, children are taught their sex and what behaviours are expected from them before heading into pre-school, which is also known as gender role. This allows them to determine how they should behave, how they should dress, which groups they belong to and which public spaces they are allowed to use. In the opinion of (Carter and Michael J. “Gender Socialization and Identity Theory”) “research on gender in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood consider different stages that are unique to human development”. This perspective is then further reinforced, as infants move from preoperational to concrete operational stages, where between the ages of seven to eleven years old children obtain a better understanding of their gender roles and identity. Formal operational is the final stage in which adults, both male and female would have formalised the correct ways in which they should conduct themselves in society, based on the norms and beliefs in which they were raised upon. Additionally, at these stages men are taught manly traits such as being good with their hands, hardworking, breadwinners and having leadership traits which would help with the role of being the man of a household. On the other hand, women are taught household chores such as being able to cook, clean, wash, and how to be the woman of a household. Nevertheless, even though gender roles are changing, gender identity is still being socialised within homes, wherefore, it can be identified as a reoccurring life cycle which helps persons to identify themselves in society. According to Mead (1964), “self interaction tend to define situations, and an individual’s identity emerges from the process of social experience, and the activity that develops in the given individual, as a result of his relations to the process as a whole and the individual within that process”. For example, a single parent, whether male or female, raising a child or children within a household will have to play the roles of both sexes as this one parent will have to cater from both perspectives in which men and women have in society. However, in the process of raising a child or children, the single parent will need to provide their child /children with the necessary knowledge and socialisation they need to understand their identity in society. Yet, gender identity not only tells who a person is based on societal norms, but can also be shaped in terms of certain situations, for example, the single parenting as previously mentioned. Correspondingly, we see individuals identifying themselves according to how they were socialised and based on the situation at hand. However, in society, it is all about status and image, and it is at this stage in which gender identity plays an important role. The importance of gender identity prevails where; people are able to clearly define who they are within social settings, whether they be male or female.
Gender can be referred to as an extremely contested concept in modern day society; where recognition of the analytical independence, on the concepts of assessing the existing perspective on sex and gender are important. In contemporary Caribbean societies, gender relations can be seen as a double paradox. The root of this contemporary paradoxical situation lies within colonialism as the region’s diversity of ethnicity, class, language and religion. Throughout various Caribbean islands, gender has managed to gain power in many societies, where gender now depends on the perception an individual has towards his/her sex. Years ago, nations were taught that certain sexes must exhibit certain traits or partake in certain activities which were interrelated with their gender. However, recently people have been using their beliefs and interpretations to determine their gender identity. Eving Golfman’s theoretical perspective emphasised the importance of control in social interactions. It describes the attempt to attain information, and control the perspective of one’s own image, by controlling the behaviour of the other participants. Correspondingly, in societies with respect to patriarchal laws and legally permitted gender discrimination, men’s formal and institutionalised power has decreased within Western societies. In previous times, males were mainly seen as dominating high positions within the work force, as women would undertake basic operations within the office setting. Due to the fact that man was seen as being the best option for controlling any entity which called for leadership, according to the power and bravery in which was associated with the sex.
Power differences vary when the study of gender is contested. Since Kanter’s (1977) pioneering work on tokenism focus on women’s proportional representation in the workplace and how the lack of representation affects their work experiences. In the findings of this organisational research, gender showed that women in higher positions were unrepresented even though there was a balance of both male and female in lower positions. As stated by researchers, organizations consist of 48% more women than men; nevertheless, women were always entitled to receiving lower incomes and less complex positions than men. However, men dominated many things within the organization, such as planning what procedures the company should undertake, leading subordinates, controlling subordinates and resources, and organising who does what. Correspondingly, today attributes within the workplace are now fluctuating as both genders are now being treated the same, and accepted for positions and roles based on qualifications and experience, rather than based on perceptions affiliated with the sex. Findings also showed that there was an increase in performance pressure, isolation from social and professional networks, and stereotyped roles encapsulated for women. However, gender identity has managed to evolve in Caribbean societies as; women are now becoming prime ministers, (for example, our Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley who is now the first woman to hold such position in Barbados) presidents, judges and leaders in today’s societies. With respect to the power in which gender has gained in society, men are now allowed to undertake job roles such as; chefs, hair stylist, makeup artist, fashion designers, and much more. These are all job roles in which women are expected to perform in society, as they are all associated with a woman’s agenda. On the other hand, women are allowed to have jobs such as; project managers, security guards, farmers, exterior home designers and much more even though these are said to be roles in which men are associated with. Living in the past based on ideologies and perceptions made by our ancestors which were once norms are now changing, as every human has a right to society based on how he/she feels. Gender identity no longer defines a person based on traits and attributes which were once said to be connected to sex, but it has managed to gain its power in Caribbean societies, by allowing individuals to determine who they are, who they will become in society and what roles they will undertake.
Conclusively, gender identity withholds a substantial contribution within Caribbean societies as individuals interact and liaise among many groups, which is also recognised as socialization. Correspondingly, socialization is the way in which individuals are taught norms, values and beliefs. With reference to socialization in the Caribbean, children are taught at home in several ways on the actions in which they are expected to partake in which are interrelated with their gender. Additionally, Caribbean societies are also well known for having particular norms, values and beliefs when considering gender, for instance; males are expected to provide while women are expected to take care of the household. Consequently, gender identity underlines a significant level of importance as it is the way through which individuals freely identify themselves among others, and also seek groups in which these have similarities with. According to Mead (1964), “self interaction tend to define situations, and an individual’s identity emerges from the process of social experience, and the activity that develops in the given individual, as a result of his relations to the process as a whole and the individual within that process”. However, even though individuals may have been raised on certain norms and beliefs, certain situations may also shape gender identity. Additionally, ideologies which have been passed on down by our ancestors are now fluctuating, as men were chosen to be dominate sex over everything in societies. Today, both sexes are entitled to freely differentiate themselves in society, determine what roles they will pursue, and attain equal treatment and access to every possible element in society.
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