Gender socialization, or the “patterns of behavior taught to children and adults in order to help them learn to behave as acceptable females or males,” begins strikingly early in life (Disch 1). While society as a whole is responsible for carrying out such socialization, many researchers believe that the strongest influence on gender role development seems to occur within the family setting, with parents passing on, both overtly and covertly, their own beliefs about gender (Witt 1). Because parents have the strongest initial influence and control over the early gender socialization their children undergo, they also have the potential to end the cycle of oppressive gender socialization most children experience from birth onward, and eventually perpetuate (again) in their own children. Author Bobbie Harro describes the cycle of socialization as perpetual, a continuous practice in which, as adults, we teach children the same values and beliefs that were ingrained in us as children (Harro 15). Various pieces of literature provide examples of this cycle, demonstrating the power of parents in early gender socialization and the potential they have in altering the traditional views of gender roles for their children. Michael Ryan’s poem “Milk the Mouse” captures the power parents have in enforcing a traditional gender role on their child. The subject of the text, a young child of only four or five, is already undergoing gender socialization at the hand (literally) of the father. While the poem does not explicitly state that the narrator is a boy, it is possible to infer from the events taking place that the narrator is, in fact, male; the father repeats to the child, “Be strong! Be tough!” while causing physical pain to the child, reinforcing characteristics prized and expected from the male gender (Ryan 1). Men are stereotypically dominant, aggressive, fearless, and tough, and the speaker of the poem is expected to embody such traits (Brewer 1). The father in the poem...
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Ryan, Michael. “Milk the Mouse.” God Hunger: Poems. New York: Penguin, 1989. (page 11).
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