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Government

Although we do not think about it, many of the rites of passage people go through today are based on age norms established by the government. To be defined as an “adult” usually means being 18 years old, the age at which a person becomes legally responsible for themselves. And 65 is the start of “old age” since most people become eligible for senior benefits at that point.

Each time we embark on one of these new categories—senior, adult, taxpayer—we must be socialized into this new role. Seniors must learn the ropes of Medicare, Social Security benefits, and getting a senior discount where they shop. When American males turn 18, they must register with the Selective Service System within 30 days to be entered into a database for possible military service. These government dictates mark the points at which we require socialization into a new category.

Mass media

Mass media refers to the distribution of impersonal information to a wide audience, such as what happens via television, newspapers, radio, and the Internet. With the average person spending over four hours a day in front of the TV (and children averaging even more screen time), media greatly influences social norms (Roberts, Foehr, and Rideout 2005). People learn about objects of material culture (like new technology and transportation options), as well as nonmaterial culture—what is true (beliefs), what is important (values), and what is expected (norms).

Girls and movies

Pink baby clothes and other baby shower gifts are shown here.
Some people are concerned about the way girls today are socialized into a “princess culture.” (Photo courtesy of Emily Stanchfield/flickr)

Pixar is one of the largest producers of children’s movies in the world and has released large box office draws, such as Toy Story , Cars , The Incredibles , and Up . What Pixar has never before produced is a movie with a female lead role. This will change with Pixar’s newest movie Brave , which is due out in 2012. Before Brave , women in Pixar served as supporting characters and love interests. In Up , for example, the only human female character dies within the first 10 minutes of the film. For the millions of girls watching Pixar films, there are few strong characters or roles for them to relate to. If they do not see possible versions of themselves, they may come to view women as secondary to the lives of men.

The animated films of Pixar’s parent company, Disney, have many female lead roles. Disney is well known for films with female leads, such as Snow White , Cinderella , The Little Mermaid , and Mulan . Many of Disney’s movies star a female, and she is nearly always a princess figure. If she is not a princess to begin with, she typically ends the movie by marrying a prince or, in the case of Mulan, a military general. Although not all “princesses” in Disney movies play a passive role in their lives, they typically find themselves needing to be rescued by a man, and the happy ending they all search for includes marriage.

Alongside this prevalence of princesses, many parents are expressing concern about the culture of princesses that Disney has created. Peggy Orenstein addresses this problem in her popular book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter . Orenstein wonders why every little girl is expected to be a “princess” and why pink has become an all-consuming obsession for many young girls. Another mother wondered what she did wrong when her three-year-old daughter refused to do “non-princessy” things, including running and jumping. The effects of this princess culture can have negative consequences for girls throughout life. An early emphasis on beauty and sexiness can lead to eating disorders, low self-esteem, and risky sexual behavior among older girls.

What should we expect from Pixar’s new movie, the first starring a female character? Although Brave features a female lead, she is still a princess. Will this film offer any new type of role model for young girls? (O’Connor 2011; Barnes 2010; Rose 2011).

Summary

Our direct interactions with social groups, like families and peers, teach us how others expect us to behave. Likewise, a society’s formal and informal institutions socialize its population. Schools, workplaces, and the media communicate and reinforce cultural norms and values.

Short answer

Do you think it is important that parents discuss gender roles with their young children, or is gender a topic better left for later? How do parents consider gender norms when buying their children books, movies, and toys? How do you believe they should consider it?

Based on your observations, when are adolescents more likely to listen to their parents or to their peer groups when making decisions? What types of dilemmas lend themselves toward one social agent over another?

Further research

Most societies expect parents to socialize children into gender norms. See the controversy surrounding one Canadian couple’s refusal to do so at (External Link)

References

Associated Press. 2011. “Swedish Dads Swap Work for Child Care.” The Gainesville Sun , October 23. Retrieved January 12, 2012 ( (External Link) ).

Barnes, Brooks. “Pixar Removes Its First Female Director.” The New York Times , December 20. Retrieved August 2, 2011 ( (External Link) ).

Bowles, Samuel and Herbert Gintis. 1976. Schooling in Capitalistic America: Educational Reforms and the Contradictions of Economic Life . New York: Basic Books.

Crampton, Thomas. 2002. “The Ongoing Battle over Japan’s Textbooks.” New York Times , February 12. Retrieved August 2, 2011 ( (External Link) ).

Kohn, Melvin L. 1977. Class and Conformity: A Study in Values . Homewood, IL: Dorsey Press.

National Opinion Research Center. 2007. General Social Surveys, 1972–2006: Cumulative Codebook . Chicago: National Opinion Research Center.

O’Connor, Lydia. 2011. “The Princess Effect: Are Girls Too ‘Tangled’ in Disney’s Fantasy?” Annenberg Digital News , January 26. Retrieved August 2, 2011 ( (External Link) ).

Roberts, Donald F., Ulla G. Foehr, and Victoria Rideout. 2005. “Parents, Children, and Media: A Kaiser Family Foundation Survey.” The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Retrieved February 14, 2012 ( (External Link) ).

Rose, Steve. 2011. “Studio Ghibli: Leave the Boys Behind.” The Guardian , July 14. Retrieved August 2, 2011. ( (External Link) ).

“South Koreans Sever Fingers in Anti-Japan Protest.” 2001. The Telegraph . Retrieved January 31, 2012 ( (External Link) ).

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2010. “Number of Jobs Held, Labor Market Activity, and Earnings Growth Among the Youngest Baby Boomers.” September 10. Retrieved January 31, 2012 ( (External Link) ).

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. 2004. “Average Length of School Year and Average Length of School Day, by Selected Characteristics: United States, 2003-04.” Private School Universe Survey (PSS) . Retrieved July 30, 2011 ( (External Link) ).

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Source:  OpenStax, Introduction to sociology for the university of oklahoma. OpenStax CNX. Jan 11, 2013 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11482/1.1
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