The Sociology of gender is a major subfield of sociology. In a layman’s language, the term ‘gender role’ is used in sociology to denote all those things that an individual says or does to reveal himself or herself as having the male or female status. Many sociologists have supported the notion that gender roles are, at best, cultural and personal.
The gender roles determine how individuals should think, speak, dress, behave, and interact with each other within the context of society. According to Kimmel, the socialization process plays a major role in determining our gender roles as males and females (3). The fact that males and females are socialized into different roles from a very early age in many societies is undeniable. It is the purpose of this issue to discuss the concept of gender roles using the sociological perspective of symbolic interaction.
According to Anderson & Taylor, “…symbolic interaction considers immediate social interaction to be the place where society exists” (22). Changing Minds.org argues that individuals in society “act based on symbolic meanings they find within any given situation” (para. 1).
These two descriptions of the symbolic interaction perspective can greatly assist sociologists to understand how gender roles are structured and socialized into individuals by society. The sociological perspective of symbolic interaction presupposes that individuals act towards other people based on the internalized or perceived meaning that the other people have for them.
The perspective further presupposes that meaning is created in the structured interactions that individuals have with others. Further, the perspective acknowledges that self-concepts are developed through a process of continued and sustained interaction with others (Andrew & Taylor).
The above presuppositions are important indicators of how gender roles are formed in society. Many renowned sociologists have fronted the concept that individuals, either male or female, are born without any inclination towards gender characteristics. According to Kimmel, no single case has ever been reported of individuals born with distinct biologically predisposed gender characteristics (3).
However, as these new members continue to grow and comprehend issues of societal concern, they align their actions based on the symbolic meanings that they find within their socialization setting. A girl is socialized into the feminine roles based on the subjective meanings acquired from the society members who inform her world views during the early phases of life. The same applies to masculine roles.
The learning process as contextualized by differential socialization theory reveals that males and females learn their gender roles through observing how other individuals act in society. Consequently, males and females are taught to be different at a very early age through observing what others do (Kimmel 3).
Also, males and females acquire diverse gender roles as they try to follow the examples and standards of behavior set by society. According to symbolic interaction perspective, these individuals modify their meanings of how they should act and behave using a complex interpretive process whereby they first engage in creating their own meaning before checking it with other individuals in their immediate environment (Anderson & Taylor 25). This line of thinking can be used to explain the concepts of gender difference and the roots of gender domination.
From the above discussion, it can be said that individuals gradually acquire the traits, actions, behaviors, personalities, and attitudes that their respective cultures define as masculine or feminine through basing their self-concepts on the nature of interaction with other individuals.
People develop their social structures based on how they socially interact with others. Accordingly, individuals are not born different; they become different through the systems of interaction set by the society (Kimmel 3).
Anderson, M.L., & Howard, F.T. Sociology: Understanding a Diverse Society. London: Cengage Learning. 2005. ISBN: 9780534617165.
Changing Minds.org. Symbolic Interaction Theory. 2009. Web.
Kimmel, M.S. The Gendered Society. New York: Oxford University Press. 2000. ISBN: 9780195125870.