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Race and gender have been considered socially constructed in our society, and despite the efforts that have been put by several human rights groups it, this perception is yet to change.
According to Haslanger (2012: 43), “The term socially constructed, means that the society and culture has created specific roles, and that these roles are what is generally considered ideal or appropriate behavior for a person of that specific race or gender.” This means that the society expects men to behave in a way that is different from the way women do.
There are some activities that women are not supposed to do simply because they are women. Similarly, construction of race is exhibited when one race is expected to behave in a way that is different from other races. For instance, before many of the African nations gained independence, the Blacks were considered as slaves, and the Whites were seen as of superior race.
There might not be a scientific proof that Whites could be superior in any way to the Blacks. However, because the society had developed a perception that Blacks are inferior to the Whites, following a long period of slavery, this perception still remain. Social constriction of gender and race has been seen as the main reason why social segregation based on these two demographical factors are common in our society.
The Problem of Social Construction of Race and Gender
The society has been fighting social construction of gender and race because of the call made by several human rights group for equality in the society. Social construction of race and gender has been seen as an impediment to development, and a reason why some social injustice are still common in our society. It is a scientific fact that men have greater physical strength than women.
However, this should not make women a weaker sex in the social spectrum. Women should not be denied positions of leadership in the society just because they are women. As Ferber (1999) says, the society has discriminated against women for a very long time.
Although women are currently getting liberated, the social construction that existed in the minds of people still linger, and many societies still believe that women are inferior to men, and are treated as such.
Social constructionism theory holds that some demographic groups of people are expected to behave in a given manner within the society (Karambayya 1997). For instance, women would not be expected to assume roles that have largely been associated with men.
Careers in engineering, medicine, law, architect or any other well-paying technical jobs are expected to be a preserve for men. Women should get to such profession as nursing, teaching, and any other less technical unattractive jobs in the society. This is a social injustice.
If women have the capacity to do what men are doing, then gender should not be the reason why she should be denied the opportunity to do that job. Women have proven that they have the capacity to assume roles that were considered as meant for men. In leadership, women have proven that they can excel. Margret Thatcher remains one of the most celebrated prime minister of the United Kingdom.
Other notable women leaders around the world include Indira Gandhi of India, Hilary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice of the United States, and the current German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. These are women who have gone beyond social construction that women are considered a weaker race before men.
Social constriction of race has caused a lot of injustice in this society. As Obach (1999) notes, the United States has witnessed a long period of racial discrimination. When the country gained independence in 1776, the statesmen and women of this country promised that slavery and slave trade will be abolished.
When the country became independent, the Blacks, Whites, Indians, and all other races that were residing in the United States during that time were granted citizenship of this country. However, the perception that the Whites were superior to all other races still remained. The Blacks were considered an inferior race, and there were restricted to some social services.
Ferber (1999) by nineteenth century, there were still some posts written, ‘Whites Only.’ This is a clear indication that the Whites segregated other races, and there were some services that they could not share with the Whites.
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The recent election of a Black president of this nation was seen as a positive move by this society towards racial justice. The society has come to realize that it is important to avoid any prejudice against a section of the society because of their race.
The main problem with social construction of race and gender is that the society has been trying to justify why a given group of people is considered superior to others. This justification has even made the discriminated group believe that they are inferior group. As Obach (1999) puts it, the discriminated group have come to accept their unfortunate condition.
They have come to believe that they below to the inferior race or gender. This makes the fight against all forms of social construction a little more challenging. However, the recent moves by human rights groups have helped change this perception. People have come to accept that human being, regardless of race, gender, or any other demographic differences, are equal, and should therefore, be treated as such.
Browne (2003: 37) defines racism as, “Actions, beliefs or practices, which consider the human beings to be divided into races with shared qualities, traits, or abilities, such as intellect, personality, and morality, and the belief that races can be ranked as inherently superior or inferior to others.”
As described in this definition, racism is a stereotype that holds that some members of the society are superior to others and deserve being treated as such. A good example of racism was witnessed in the United States, where Whites regarded Blacks and other races as being inferior to them.
They treated them as second class citizens who were not expected to use the same facilities as those used by Whites. The Whites had their own schools, hospitals, and other social amenities. The Blacks also had their own social facilities. South Africa also experienced Apartheid rule that was fought and brought to an end by the late Nelson Mandela.
Sexism refers to discrimination prejudice that is based on an individual’s gender (Karambayya 1997). It is the perception that men are superior to women, and should be treated as such. In the current society, sexism still persists in many ways. As Obach (1999) notes, the American society has generally failed to appreciate that it can be led by a woman.
This was not only shown by the failure of Hillary Clinton to win the primaries against Obama in the 2008 race to Whitehouse, but also by the limited number of women who vie for these seats. As was mentioned before, social construction of gender becomes even worse when those who are discriminated against come to accept that they are a weaker group.
The American women have believed that they are inferior to men, and therefore, have avoided vying from the country’s top post. In 2008, Sarah Palin was nominated by the Republican Party to vie alongside the Arizona Senator John McCain as the Vice President of this country.
McCain thought that the society would accept her as a female vice president. However, this was not the case. She failed to appeal to the society due to a number of reasons, top of which was that she was a woman.
Social construction of race and gender has been very common in our society for a very long time. Women have been considered inferior to men, and the Whites, the most superior race.
As demonstrated in the above discussion, social construction in itself is an injustice. Every human being should be treated equally. Gender or race should not be the reason why some members of the society are denied opportunities within the society.
It is wrong to treat others as second class citizens because of their race or gender. Human rights groups have been fighting this vice for a long time now. Although their efforts have transformed the society positively, social construction of race and gender is still common in this society.
Haslanger, Sally. 2012. Resisting Reality: Social Construction and Social Critique. New York: Oxford University Press.
Ferber, Abby. 1999. “The Construction of Race, Gender, and Class in White Supremacist Discourse.” Interdisciplinary Issues On Race, Gender & Class 6(3): 67-89.
Karambayya, Rekha. 1997. “In Shouts and Whispers: Paradoxes Facing Women of Color in Organizations.” Journal of Business Ethics 16(9): 891-897.
Browne, Irene. 2003. “The Intersection of Gender and Race in the Labor Market.” Annual Review of Sociology 29(3): 487-513.
Obach, Brian. 1999. “Demonstrating the Social Construction of Race.” Teaching Sociology 27(3): 252-257.