It is important to understand the difference between gender and sex. Sex is biologically determined by one reproductive organs. Gender, however, is socially constructed. It is the way in which one acts in relation to the societal expectations of their sex. Our gender identity is the name given to the way in which a person acts in relation to their sex and societies expectations. The main influences on gender identity are the many different agents of socialisation. Socialisation is the process in which we learn the norms and values of the society we live in. Agents of socialisation are people or groups that assist individuals in the socialisations, these are groups such as the family, the media, religion and the workplace. The purpose of this essay in to examine how great an influence on our gender identity the family is and to asses whether it is the most important influence on our gender identity.
There are many reasons the believe that the family is the most important agent of socialisation. The family is a primary agent of socialisation, it is responsible for the basic skill that are learnt to be a functional member society e.g. communication, mobility, right from wrong. One could argue that at a young age the family is the most dominant agent of socialisation and thus has a direct influence on ones gender Identity. Talcott Parsons suggests that the family is the most important agent of socialisation as he argued that the norms and values are learnt first and foremost from the family.
Ann Oakley (1981) argues that children are socialised into their gender roles and hence in their gender identities by the family in four ways. The first of these ways is Manipulation. This consists of parents (or other family members) encouraging behaviour that is seen as the norm for the child's gender and discouraging behaviour that is not considered the norm e.g. congratulating a boy for completing an obstacle course but discouraging a girl from attempting the obstacle course. The second method described by Oakley is Canalisation. This comprises of parents channelling the child's interests into activities that are considered the norm for their gender e.g. encouraging girls to do ballet and encouraging boys to play football. The third of Oakley's methods was Verbal Appellations. This involves giving children nicknames or pet names that are appropriate for their gender e.g. little angel for girls and little monster for boys. The final of Oakley's methods was Different Activities.
This is when parents or family members encourage children to involve themselves in different activities e.g. girls staying inside to help their mothers cook and boys are more likely to be given permission to roam outdoors. These methods identified by Ann Oakley describe how the family can be considered the most important influence on gender identity as it shows that children can be socialised into their gender identity by the family from a young age.
However, there are criticisms of Ann Oakley's theory meaning there are criticism to the possibility that the family is the most important influence on one ones gender identity. Ann Oakley's study doesn't take the importance of secondary socialisation into account. During the course of ones life the influence of the family can decrease, secondary agents of socialisation can become more dominant than primary agents of socialisation. It is possible that secondary agents of socialisation may socialise individuals into a gender identity that different greatly from the gender identity they were socialised into primarily. That can often be the case as as an individual grows up they spend less time with their family and more time with secondary agents of socialisation such as peers and in educational institutes.
Another criticism of Oakley's study is the fact that it was formed in 1981, 25 years ago. There have been many changes to the family during this time such as a near 100% increase in