Race and Gender Schemas

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Gender Schemas: Effects on Individuals and Society

A person’s gender schema affects how they treat all other people regardless of age, race, or social position; because we assume that everyone fits into one of two categories: male or female. There are other cultures that do not have a binary gender schema, and allow people to occupy a “third position” combining traits that Americans would see as male or female. It is unfortunate that gender schemas are so restrictive and create expectations and judgments about people’s authentic selves that can damage the psyche (Valian, 208). As a way to navigate the social world, gender schemas can be important, but like schemas for race and social class, they can reinforce hierarchies that restrict a large part of the population. Below, I will talk about my own gender schema, how I view the gender schema of my society, and how it could be changed to better As media becomes an ever more powerful force in shaping the world's perception of itself, an individual's struggle to maintain a unique identity and self-understanding apart from media influence becomes increasingly difficult. Damaging to the idea of the self are the racial, gendered, and class-based stereotypes (always artificial and frequently physically, fiscally, and emotionally unattainable), which are broadly perpetuated and, because of their persistence, are apparently not broadly questioned. The prevalence and power of gender (especially female) stereotypes in the media are addressed in this p

My own gender schema has changed radically from when I was younger. I can remember asking my mother “is that a boy or a girl?” about a person whom my mother identified as a woman, but who had a very square, angular face with large eyes. Later, I learned to incorporate larger scale features (curvy hips or breasts; large shoulder-to-waist ratio) into my schema. Although I was raised as a girl and have always looked female (if not always perfectly feminine), I don’t always “act like a girl” – I am somewhat aggressive when playing sports, I’m not shy about asking questions, and I’m sometimes stoic about my emotions. This reflects my gender schema for males: “typical men” are aggressive in sports, readily ask questions, and do not express emotions. By contrast, “typical females” in my gender schema are concerned with their appearance, are not aggressive on the playing field, tend to be shy if they ask questions, usually assume that they are not in a position of authority, and express their emotions freely. My schematic representation of male and female physical features has relaxed slightly since childhood; plenty of the women I was with in high school were more angular than curvy. Even though I grew up in a fairly enlightened part of the world, men and women still used nonconformity to gender stereotypes/schemas to insult each other across group lines (women insulting men for being too female-like; men insulting women for being too male-like). Also, I was more cautious of people who did not fit my gender schema, because these schemas predict behavioral and cognitive tendencies, however unreliably.

Although our society has changed significantly even in the past 30 years, gender schemas themselves are still very restrictive. It may be the case that fathers have increased their contribution to childrearing time so little because the gender schema for males still dictates that a man spend the best hours of his day at his job (TenenbaumLeaper, 616). Women are expected to conform to people’s gender schemas by liking children and being caring, sympathetic people – all qualities of good mothers. However, it is never clear that every woman you meet wants to be, or is even capable of being, a mother. Many people still retain a gender schema that does not allow for women in positions of power in the workplace. The industrialized nations’ gender schemas “support a sexist society by propagating an ideology of an innate and...
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