Being social creatures, people of all ages are expected to effectively collaborate with others and manage to strike the right balance between their personal needs and social requirements. Taking into consideration that many individuals face personal problems related to their interactions with the world, they need access to effective tools and theories for self-help and analysis. With that in mind, sociology or the study of relationships in human society seems to be as important for social progress as natural sciences.
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In this essay, I would like to express my vision of the everyday uses of sociology by applying some of the most popular theoretical concepts to my past and current experience. In particular, I focus on the role of gender socialization and ageism in my life and the experience of people I know well.
Gender Socialization and Related Issues
As they grow older, children are expected to soak up the information about social norms as a sponge and learn to demonstrate the appropriate reactions to other people’s actions. This process is called socialization, and it involves the development of self-awareness, which is sometimes related to significant problems. In the first ten years of my life, the process of becoming aware of my personality and separating from my older relatives was not related to significant problems. However, prior to becoming a school student, I used to fully associate myself with some of my family members, and it could be difficult for me to realize my own psychological needs.
One more aspect of becoming a full-fledged member of society is gender socialization. It involves learning about the behavioral differences that men and women are supposed to demonstrate. Exposure to other people’s expectations related to the child’s sex and appropriate behaviors is impossible to avoid. My experience and the cases of my female friends show that gender socialization can sometimes be harmful.
My experience with gender socialization may need to be analyzed with the help of theories that aim at describing the phenomenon. According to the theory of gender socialization discussed by Suar and Gochhayat (2016), human society tends to overemphasize the importance of differences between men and women. It results in the attempts to introduce two standards of behavior, two value systems, and two sets of obligations for different sexes.
This statement is supported by my experience since I grew up in a society where traditional gender roles that presented women as the preservers of the hearth were respected and supported. Unlike women and girls, boys and men were encouraged to develop such skills and traits like physical strength, strategic thinking, and visual-spacial intelligence.
Continuing on gender socialization, it seems to me that these “natural” differences were created with the help of various stereotypes, including those related to children’s toy preferences. For instance, as a female child, I was expected to prefer soft toys, dolls, and toy kitchens to toy trains, construction sets, or logic toys. Actually, my preferences were quite different from those forced choices, but children are often unable to oppose the norms supported by society since they respect subordination and believe in their teachers. In my kindergarten, the majority of boys and girls used to play with “appropriate” toys, and my willingness to participate in boys’ games could be misunderstood.
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A few years later, I witnessed numerous consequences of gender socialization at school. In my class, all girls tried to be thin and pretty, whereas boys wanted to be perceived as strong and brave, and both could be bullied or shamed for meeting the criteria for the opposite sex. Some students, including me, realized that the use of those standardized expectations was harmful to both sexes. However, due to children’s and teenagers’ social conformity, those beliefs could not be critically analyzed.
Aging and Age-Related Prejudice
The process of aging and specific problems interconnected with life stages are widely studied in sociology to better understand the role of age in interpersonal communication and group processes. Aging is inextricably connected with changes in self-image; older and younger people are perceived differently, and it can often lead to depression. As a young person, I do not perceive my age in a negative way, but the examples of my older female relatives and acquaintances indicate that becoming older is detrimental to self-esteem.
In reference to women, youth is often equated with attractiveness and beauty, which causes numerous problems with self-perception. The unwillingness to accept the existence of physical changes can take different forms. For instance, one of my relatives in her late forties is compulsive about anti-aging procedures. Unfortunately, there are many women who act similarly because they have been told that young and beautiful women are more valuable.
One more aspect of age-related prejudice that I would like to discuss is ageism towards youth. As is stated by Robertson (2017) in his article, the evidence of negative attitudes toward aging is substantial and almost sixty-five percent of older adults experience ageism. Although ageist stereotypes against older people are more common, there are numerous assumptions about teenagers that present the latter as too compulsive, oversensitive, and lacking critical thinking.
As for my personal experience, I know that ageist biases can be used to limit teenagers’ participation in the discussion of some topics. Being a teenager, I sometimes participated in school contests, and from time to time, it was necessary to collaborate with older students to prepare projects. It often happened that I was full of new and fresh ideas, but the feeling of being ignorant and less knowledgeable about some concepts bothered me. It was not stated explicitly that I was too young to discuss certain things, but my peers’ ideas seemed to be perceived more critically.
In my opinion, prejudiced attitudes against teenagers become especially evident when it comes to mental health issues. It is known that the signs of mental illnesses can be perceived seriously in older adults and even exaggerated (Robertson, 2017).
On the contrary, being young is often equated with the absence of serious life issues, and this is why some problems such as teen depression can be underestimated. Being a school student, I did not have such problems myself. However, two of my friends who seemed to be depressed were sometimes regarded as selfish children who wanted to differentiate themselves from the crowd and get special treatment. This example indicates that ageism against young people exists, probably due to a lack of knowledge about their psychological constitution.
In the end, there are numerous ways to apply sociological concepts to analyze one’s life experience and look deeper into the causes of interpersonal and self-esteem problems. According to my conclusions, gender socialization can sometimes pose a threat to children’s development, encouraging them to accept the stereotypical “rules” for the representatives of their biological sex. My learnings also indicate that aging in women is often related to ideas that lower self-esteem, whereas prejudice against teenagers can be manifested in the underestimation of their cognitive abilities and mental health issues.
Robertson, G. (2017). Ageing and ageism: The impact of stereotypical attitudes on personal health and well-being outcomes and possible personal compensation strategies. Self & Society, 45(2), 149-159.
Suar, D., & Gochhayat, J. (2016). Influence of biological sex and gender roles on ethicality. Journal of Business Ethics, 134(2), 199-208.