In Sociology we learn that all of reality is socially constructed.
From the moment our parents find out our gender, our paths are set by societal beliefs. When you find out you’re having a boy, society recommends painting his room blue, buying him sports paraphernalia, trucks, cars, etc… In the case of a girl, however, paint her room pink, buy her princess paraphernalia, barbies, dolls, etc… But how do we come to arrive at these stereotypes? Do we know the boy will grow up to love sports and cars? Do we know that the girl will grow up to love barbies and desire to be a princess?
This is most-certainly not something we develop overnight, but something that’s etched into us by the community/communities that surrounds us. The American culture is a very heteronormative culture; where we classify our society on the basis that there are only two sexes: male and female. Based off of scientific research, however, there are actually three sexes: male, female and those born with male and female parts: ‘intersex’. Although intersexual children are rare (approximately 4% of all live-births world-wide) the number is increasing as the world becomes better-informed.
So what do we do in these cases? What do we buy for someone that’s going to have an intersexual child? In our society? Nothing. Why? Because our society doesn’t condone that type of sex. We’re heteronormative. In our society you are either male or female. If you’re born with both, you’re either an abomination or you require surgery. In some cultures around the world, however, they will argue that there are up-to 5 different genders.
So how does our society respond to this belief? The easy answer would be through ethnocentrism – if you’re from the American culture/society. Ethnocentrism, simply means to view other societies through your own societies’ standards. Of course, when and/or if we do this, the other society is automatically considered wrong, uneducated or primitive.
But what is normal?
Who is to say that your definition of normal is the same as mine, or that my definition of normal is the world’s definition of normal?
This is where it begins. This is where we begin to understand the possibility that the world around us has been socially constructed. That ‘normal’ is a perception we develop based off the interaction, responses, reactions, reprimands, condolences, punishments, and overall social behaviors of the individuals, groups, organizations and institutions around us.
Why is the sky blue, for instance? Who came to this definition? Who decided that the color blue would be blue? If every teacher, scientist, scholar and professor taught us from the beginning, that the sky was green; would we argue with them and tell them they were wrong? Let’s be realistic. If the entire world around us, was to state the definitive color of the sky was green – we would also begin to agree that the sky was green; because that’s what we’ve been taught. That’s what our parents were taught, their parents’ parents, and so-on and so-forth. In this instance, our willingness to follow the ‘world’ around us binds us to certain beliefs and standards.
Take for instance, Pride. How does one become proud? Is it purely based on an individuals’ identity? From a Sociological standpoint, it’s not. In our society, we like to believe that everything we say, do, or think is based on our individualism and nothing else can affect that.
I agree that pride is a certain way someone views them-self, but how did that person come to that image? The same goes with those with poor self-esteem issues. Learning occurs through the process of socialization. The beginning steps of learning occurs through language, then our interactions with family, school, religion and all of the other layers around our lives.
Imagine yourself in a competition: you’ve just won something and someone you greatly admire and respect pats you on the back and tells you good job; how does that make you feel? Overwhelmingly good I would presume, but why?
Over the span of our lives we learn to create values and standards based off-of the reaction(s) of others. Say for example, everyone else is a mirror that we interacted with. They praise us, we become happy, and we see our own reactions in that mirror. Now picture yourself as the mirror, praising yourself. The perspective has changed, but you can relate to the very same feeling.
In life, we can relate to the responses and reactions of others by putting ourselves into their shoes. If I thought I did a terrible job, but people came up to me telling me otherwise; I would come to the assumption that they were only telling me that to make me feel better, because I can imagine myself doing the same thing. It is not necessarily because I don’t believe them, but what I feel – is a direct reflection of what I think they think of me.
In all honesty, it doesn’t matter what they think of the subject. The only real thing that matters is the subject’s own perception of what they think. This process of identifying or relating to one’s self, however, is all developed through the process of hundreds, if-not thousands of social interactions we have had with others.
Sociology is a truly fascinating subject to me. If this doesn’t leave you with more questions than answers, then I apologize, as that was part of my goal. I highly recommend studying this subject for at least a term if you desire to learn about people, groups, organizations, cultures and various aspects of society. What have you got to lose? ;]