Gender Socialization and the Making of Gender in the Indian Context


Sujit Kumar Chattopadhyay

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    all my respected teachers from KG to PG, with deepest gratitude, admiration and devotion;

    my wife Bani Chattopadhyay and daughter Anwesha Chattopadhyay for their love, encouragement and support;

    my father Late Dr Chittaranjan Chattopadhyay, mother Late Saraju Chattopadhyay and elder sister Prabhati Bhattacharya for their blessings, teachings and values that made me what I am today


    my father-in-law Late Amulya Ratan Banerjee and mother-in-law Late Manorama Banerjee for their affection, divine favour and invisible guidance.


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    Preface and Acknowledgements

    I was born and brought up in a village of the state of West Bengal, under the territory of India, during the period when India was fighting for becoming a self-reliant country just after winning the Independence. As a newly free country, India had to fight against all odds—social, political, economic and cultural. The political and the economic fields were entrenched by deep-rooted legacies of the Western, especially the British, influences. The political legacies were completely gender-biased and the laws were basically anti-women. The other organs of the government, that is, the executive and the judiciary were just reflecting the patriarchal gender perception in the name of the State. The social and the cultural fields were also full of superstitions, dogmas and unethical practices. Women were basically viewed with an objectified, fragmented and dehumanized approach. I grew up in the midst of such an atmosphere, with all the misconceptions, confusions and contradictions emerging out of the broader social setting on which I had practically little control.

    Whereas the social setting was full of conservative ideas, the family background in which I grew up was more or less liberal. Gopal Chandra Chattopadhyay, my grandfather, born in 1874, was a renowned doctor of the time. He spent much of his youth in different parts of India and abroad during the years of his professional career. He stayed for quite a long time in Singapore. He received an award from George VI for his contribution in surgery. Philanthropic as he was, concentrated more on intellectual exercise than on the accumulation of wealth. Chitta Ranjan Chattopadhyay, my father, was also a renowned doctor of the time in the rural area where he lived at his choice. He tested his fate in different states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Assam and West Bengal and subsequently was settled in Uchalan, a village under the district of Burdwan. My father was well versed in four languages—English, Bengali, Hindi and Sanskrit. He was also a graduate of the University of Calcutta and received the title ‘Sahityapadhyay’ from the University of Calcutta for writing a dissertation on the poet Kalidasa. Like my grandfather, my father also lived a liberal life concentrating mostly on intellectual exercises. Aditya Ranjan Chatttopadhyay, my uncle and immediately next brother of Chitta Ranjan, was the headmaster of Uchalan High School. He was also a doctor but practised irregularly. Gyan Saran Chattopadhyay, one of my uncles was a student of Meghnad Saha and was the recipient of ‘Premchand Roychand’ scholarship. He also chaired office of the Dean of Science and Engineering in Jadavpur University from where he retired from the Department of Computer Engineering. Gyan Saran travelled throughout the world and was a visiting professor of nearly all the prestigious universities of the world. He represented India in different international seminars of science and engineering. Satya Saran Chattopadhyay, my youngest uncle, retired as professor of commerce from the University of Burdwan. He authored two much-needed books on business management, published by World Press, Calcutta.

    Owing to be brought up in such an enlightened atmosphere, I faced no difficulty in receiving the influences of liberal thinking in my boyhood. As quite open my eyes were, I had the perception of all things in my family—good or bad. The worst thing I experienced in my family was its gender-biased attitude as a result of which, in my opinion, the fate of the daughters of the family was not so good. Starting with my mother I can say that she was the victim of the notion of gender inequality and misogyny. She lost her mother in her infancy. But her father, my grandfather, did not give all the care that a motherless child should get. In spite of my mother's profound aspiration of being educated, her father did not allow her schooling. Whereas her elder brother, my uncle, got every facility for education, as a result of which he obtained a PhD degree in his subject, English literature, and became a professor of Jogmaya Devi Girls’ College, Kolkata. What a miserable depiction of the difference between son and daughter! My grandfather held double MA and was a lawyer. He also composed several novels and authored some research books on the tradition and culture of the district of Bankura where he lived in a municipal town of Sonamukhi. My grandfather did all the arrangements for the education of his son. He himself was highly educated in calculation of his time. But in case of my mother, my grandfather displayed misogyny in respect of his approach to the education of the female child. My mother, in spite of being deprived of all the facilities due to her, became literate through her own efforts and accomplished reading of almost all the novels of Bankimchandra, Rabindranath, Saratchandra, Tarashankar, Bibhutibhusan, Ashapurna Devi and such others. She also read Ramakrishna Kathamrita and books of Achintya Kumar Sengupta written on Ramakrishna. She was quite familiar with the biography of nearly all the sages and hermits of India. In her childhood, she came in close contact with one hermit who was the direct disciple of Swami Bijoy Krishna Goswami, and in her youth she became a disciple of Swami Nigamananda. She also read thoroughly the biographies of the two. She was the most liberal woman I have ever seen. But owing to the suppression imposed by the patriarchal values of her father first and subsequently of her father-in-law's house, especially of her husband, she did not come to reflect the features of modernity that she carried in her implicitly. When I had been forming gender identity of my own and started evaluating the world around me, I found her to be fully socialized in respect of gender norms and practices, gender stereotypes and, especially, gender role. But somehow and somewhere there was a contradiction in my mother's mind, so far as I felt, about what she had been performing and what she actually wanted to be in respect of gender. Perhaps this is the starting point of my confusion about all that is going on in the name of gender. Since my boyhood I perceived that behind the system of becoming masculine and feminine, there is obviously a role of some social and cultural processes which I identified in my matured age as gender socialization.

    It is due to the system of gender socialization, being basically an unequal socialization for men and women, that my elder sisters could not fulfill their dreams like my mother. My eldest sister Saraswati was not given school education beyond Class IV. Another elder sister, Prabhati, the one immediately next to Saraswati, was really talented. In course of passing her time with my grandfather Gopal Chandra, she often expressed her desire of getting trained to mount the horses of my grandfather who had to keep them for visiting patients at distant places. Up to Class IX Prabhati achieved a brilliant result. She had a fair for writing poems and stories with a fine control over language. But she was forced to get married with an illiterate person, and she had to sacrifice all her dreams unfulfilled. In her mid-age, Prabhati completed graduation with honours in political science from a college under the University of Calcutta. This proves her deep love and affinity to education. This also proves that in the name of gender in general and in the name of femininity in particular how much discrimination, oppression and subservience Prabhati had to undergo in a family where nearly all the senior members were enviably educated. Prabhati was perhaps the personified example of the renowned statement of Beauvoir, ‘one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman’. The most puzzling issue for me at my tender age was that all our brothers did not have to face such obstruction for education. We, being the sons, were treated differently in the matter. So again I was confused with all that is going on in the name of gender. Internally, I raised a protest against the system of gender socialization which inspires man and woman to be developed in different ways. This book is perhaps an indirect consequence of my negative experiences of gender socialization in my boyhood.

    Coming to my married life, I again found the negative implication of gender socialization in my wife, Bani, who also had to sacrifice her dreams unfulfilled just because of her gender. In lieu of providing enlightened educational exposure, her paternal family thought it prudent to initiate her in the traits of inferiority, subservience and domesticity. She developed a strong feminine sense which was perceived by her not as spontaneous and natural but as constructed, dictated and imposed. She now admits straightway that if she was given the scope to be socialized in a more liberal and open manner, she perhaps could do a lot of what is exclusively fixed for the male gender. Bani is a gifted singer with a highly melodious voice. She is also a good critic of my works. In terms of my personal experiences about her, I believe that if there was no external intervention, like the process of gender socialization, she might have been more successful with independent attitudes in her life. However, I must mention that it is due to the conservative attitude of my father-in-law that I have got a very good wife at least. Against the background of my experiences about gender, I decided to provide a gender-free atmosphere for my daughter, Anwesha, at least in my family. I never allowed and imposed any artificial method of gender socialization on her. I never taught her to smile, walk and dress this way or that. I am waiting for a perfect human being to emerge from her—not a man or woman.

    In this way, I have experienced many examples of the formation of gender through gender socialization and training of gender stereotypes and gender roles. In my father's family, I found the construction of gender day by day. I witnessed the role of family, peer group, school and media in the formation of gender. Having been hailed from a rural area, I closely visited the influences of the cultural forms such as folk songs, folk tales and rhymes. I also understood that these forms of culture are being used for inculcating the gender messages, gender stereotypes and gender roles of the women. Thus, in short, my past experiences have been my present master. Through a number of books that I have written on gender, I exposed and discussed many an issue. But through this book I have presented the ideological forms of the legitimization of gender inequality and gender discrimination and this ideological form operates through the process of gender socialization. So, this book argues that in order to hit the very complex domain of gender inequality and gender discrimination it is necessary to hit the methods of their legitimization, that is, gender socialization.

    In course of writing this book (a long manuscript), I could not devote any time to my family. So thanks are due to my wife Bani and daughter Anwesha who were patient enough to grant me this relaxation. Bani knocked me almost regularly for limiting the length of the manuscript. Anwesha also inspired me in various ways. I do not want to leave the scope of acknowledging their debts in this regard as I think that in some way or another this book is also a record of the bond of their love and affection.

    Sujit Kumar Chattopadhyay Circus Maidan, Bankura


    Since the UN declaration of 1975 as Women's Year and the period between 1975 and 1985 as Women's Decade, women's problems and issues are getting intellectual attention throughout the world. Gender issues in general and gender inequality and discrimination in particular have been receiving considerable attention from the policy-makers and planners. Thoughtful intellectual analysis of gender issues—its nature, formation on the one hand and social problems, especially of the women emerging out of it, on the other—have become the subject of popular discussion everywhere. The debate regarding the biological nature of gender versus the social and cultural nature of gender has brought the entire issue of gender to the centre of sociological investigation. The advent of feminism as a separate school of thought has linked the issue of gender with the practical life of the women and based on the experiences of the women, feminism has presented the whole intellectual arrangement of discussion. Different approaches such as sociological, functional, psychological, biological and feminist approaches have come to view the concept of gender from theoretical angles. As such the problems of gender inequality, discrimination and violence have also been viewed in terms of gender. But in spite of so many approaches, the primary reason of gender inequality and related problems is not sufficiently clear. This book is an effort of searching the answers to the questions as to why in spite of intellectual enlightenment, women still are to pay the cost of being women and as to what social and cultural factors are responsible for the continuity of the discriminating practices of gender inequality. It has been argued in this book that it is through the gender socialization that gendered norms and practices and discriminating gender messages are being sent to men and women since their childhood as a result of which inequality of sexes arises and continues.

    Since, unlike sex, gender is a social and cultural construct, the process of gender socialization has a great role to play in the shaping of personality. As sex is assigned at birth, gender is assigned at the social and cultural level, and it is never a matter of choice. So far as the history of gender is concerned, it has always been the result of individual urge of co-opting the social and cultural norms and practices and of fulfilling the social expectations thereof on the part of the individual. To a number of sociologists, socialization is the spontaneous process of learning by which individuals, men or women, conform to the basic social norms. As Gillin and Gillin state

    By the term ‘socialization’ we mean the process by which individual develops into a functioning member of the group according to its standard, conforming to its modes, observing its traditions and adjusting himself to the social situations.1

    Socialization when conceived in view of gender perception is called gender socialization. Under socialization programme, society in general is the goal of all discussions but under gender socialization all discussions revolve round the concept of gender in particular. Gender socialization is the continuous process by which men and women are socialized into different sex roles, and accordingly it is ultimately an inequality of socialization of gender. As Giddens has pointed out:

    Through contact with various agencies of socialization, both primary and secondary, children gradually internalize the social norms and expectations which are seen to correspond with their sex.2

    Thus through the internalization of sex role, sex behavior and sexist viewpoint of society, in general, stakeholders are encouraged to develop gender identity—masculinity and femininity—which creates gender differences and ultimately gender inequality in society. So the socialization process which teaches men and women gender identity and differences and which inspires individual to adopt the social role corresponding to their gender through various agencies like family, school and media and through various religious and cultural activities is called gender socialization.3

    There are a number of methods by which an individual adopts the norms and practices of gender socialization, and they are imitation, assimilation and social learning. Through imitation, the boys and girls come to adopt the gender-specific behaviour and traits, and thus they come to conform to the social expectations and rules. The matters of imitation happen in family, school, peer group and the media. That apart the cultural capital of the society also encourages the boys and girls to imitate the gender-specific norms and practices. Assimilation is a more indirect, introvert and voluntary method of co-opting the gender-specific norms and practices. The children, with the formation of the gender identity in course of their physical and mental movement towards maturity, perceive as to what kind of gender-specific behaviour is expected from them and in violation of which how much they have to pay as punishment for deviation to the gender norms, and accordingly they come to assimilate the gender norms and practices through various sources. The social learning is also another method of internalizing the gender norms and practices. Social learning is possible through various channels such as the family, school, peer group, the media and the cultural texts of the society. Through social learning, the concept of gender comes to be implemented as a result of which a boy is inspired to be masculine and a girl is encouraged to be feminine. When a baby is born, he/she remains open to any kind of expression irrespective of gender. But in course of the process of receiving the society's directions for co-opting the gender-specific norms and practices through various agents such as family, peer group, school and media, the baby becomes a gendered person. So there is a close link between the perceptions of gender on the part of the individual and the social expectations and arrangements by which gendered norms and practices come to be enforced in society. This book is a documentation of these social arrangements by which a baby comes to perceive himself/herself ultimately as boy or girl, and subsequently man or woman.

    The intellectual discussion of gender socialization cannot be opened without discussion on gender study and social psychology, which is dealt with in Chapter 1. Chapter 2 of the book deals with the different issues linked to gender: what it is; its nature, formation and effects. Sociologically, it is evident that the issue of gender is not biological like sex. It is a social and cultural construct. But the intellectual debate is still open on the issue as to how much sex is a determining factor in the perception of gender. The intellectual threads of the issue of gender must include the differential treatments given by the society to a male child and a female child during the period of formation of gender. Last, the effects of gendered thinking, gender laws, norms and practices are a great concern for the free development of a boy or a girl. Especially women are to face the effects of gender formation/ construction very badly. The gender ideology of the society, the techniques of gender socialization and the gender norms and practices are modelled upon the values of patriarchy. So, in the long run, all the ideas of gender go against women, and they are to pay the price of being women at every stage of their life.

    Chapter 3 deals with the discussion on gender socialization: its nature and role in the making of gender. Gender socialization is a more focused form than socialization itself. Socialization encourages the spontaneous participation of the individual in the social processes whereas the gender socialization is often directed to the enforcement of the social norms and practices compulsorily and also coercively. It is the gender socialization that slowly and gradually brings men and women in the realm of gender ideology modelled upon the patriarchal values and inspires them to conform to the gender norms and practices set by that ideology. That men and women feel and think differently and that they come to perform different sex roles and that they come to reinforce different sets of gender stereotypes are mostly the result of gender socialization. Gender socialization is chiefly based on the notion of differential treatment of men and women. Thus, the objective of the gender socialization is to enforce the differential socialization for men and women and, accordingly, it is a type of socialization of inequality between men and women. Judged from this angle, it may be said that gender socialization is primarily aimed at undermining the position of women and enforcing the notion of inferiority, subservience and domesticity as the basic stereotypical traits of women. So in order to understand the logical connotation of the problem of gender inequality, the concept of gender socialization is to be dealt with much attention and intellectual openness.

    Chapter 4 deals with the sociocultural dynamics of family and its role in gender socialization. A child is born in a family and subsequently in course of his life that baby as a grown up person dies in the family itself. The family supports the human being financially, physically, mentally and also culturally up to a minimum age of 25 years or more. We, human beings, get our primary identity in respect of name, birth and descent in terms of family. We learn the sexual attachment and detachment in the family; we experience the basic understanding in respect of gender stereotypes especially masculinity or femininity through the image of our parents; we get the source of imitation, assimilation and learning also in the family. Thus, there is enough scope for the family to exert a tremendous influence over the child from many angles, and accordingly the family has emerged as a very strong agent of gender socialization. Its system of nomenclature, its inextricably closed relation with the institution of marriage, its residential system, its possession of property and its system of offering a line of descent has made the family a viable institution of all societies and across all cultures. Thus, with the help of all these convenient aspects, the family has been successful in moulding the basic form of gender perception of its members. So, it is natural that the family has come out successful in causing gender socialization of the male and female members within it. In sociology, the family is generally projected as an agent of conventional socialization. But here, in this book, family has been represented as the primary agent of gender socialization and for the purpose of unfolding the sociocultural dynamics of the family, a system of analysis of its structure and functions is presented. It is evident from the analysis that all the structural and functional uniqueness of the family move towards one single agenda: gender socialization and the shaping and reshaping of gender. Students of sociology, gender studies and culture studies will get enough of new angles of discussion in this chapter.

    Chapter 5 deals with the role of peer group in gender socialization. Peer group is also a primary group influencing the behaviour and attitudes of men and women and thereby claims much attention on the discussion of its role in this regard. But in the books of general sociology, the chapter on the agents of socialization does not give much importance on peer group. Most of the discussions spare some lines or at best a small paragraph to peer group. But this book, first time as a matter of sociological enquiry and investigation, has presented peer group with all its uniqueness and complications. This chapter is the documentation of all the positive and negative aspects of peer group as to how it teaches conformity, how it inspires peers to deviation and how successfully it sends the gender messages to the peers and thereby causes gender socialization.

    Chapter 6 deals with the role of school in gender socialization. A number of recent sociological studies have revealed that there are ample of materials—cultural and cognitive factors—in the school premise and school systems of education that often serve as a factor of constraint in intellectual development of the students, especially the girl students. The experiences afforded to girls and boys within schools are known to affect gender differentiation both directly, by providing differential skill practice and reinforcement,4 and indirectly, by providing input that leads children to actively socialize themselves along gender-differentiated pathways. In view of the role of school in creating and reinforcing gender differences between boys and girls, it can be said that school serves as a gender barrier, that is, barrier for the development of especially the girl students. Such gender-biased role of the education may be termed as gate-keeping function of the educational system which means that it does not allow the access of all but some to education based on gender. The gender-biased role of elementary education has turned the school as a major agent of gender socialization. Schools participate in the process of gender socialization chiefly through three aspects: formation of gender stereotypes, differential treatment and differential socialization and gender role. Curriculum materials, that is, textbooks often contain gender stereotypic attitudes and behaviour. ‘Children internalize gender stereotypes and prejudices, which in turn guide their own preferences and behaviours.’5 Stereotypes may be described as some fixed beliefs, ideas and notions about gender created by patriarchy and assimilated by the society. ‘In fact stereotypes are representative of a society's collective knowledge of customs, myths, ideas, religions, and sciences’.6 Teachers, classmates and the textbooks directly influence gender differentiation by providing boys and girls with differential treatment and different learning opportunities and feedback. Girls and boys today are receiving separate and unequal educations due to the hidden agenda of curriculum aimed at differential gender socialization that takes place in our schools, and accordingly the system results in differential patterns of the formation of gender identities of students. The school is very much concerned with the gender role distribution in society through which the agenda of gender socialization is implemented. Women in every society are socialized and indoctrinated toward a set of roles and since these roles are different for men and women, they are termed as gender roles. Thus, the school contributes to the process of gender socialization in a variety of ways. Of late, owing to the drastic changes in the rate of female education and female gender role, the role of school as well as the process of gender socialization has undergone a marginal transformation with the keynote remaining the same.

    Chapter 7 deals with the role of the media in gender socialization. Although it is admitted by sociology in particular and social sciences in general that media is the most potent weapon of influencing the attitudes and behaviours of the people, a few of sociology books have offered a scientific and empirical study of the role of media in socialization. This book, combining theoretical discussions with empirical case studies, delineates the possibilities and potentialities of media as an agent of gender socialization with equal emphasis on the complexities and contradictions in it. In a lengthy discussion, the volume has included both the print and the electronic media and has outlined the processes by which media comes to reinforce the gender norms and practices. An emphasis on cyber media as the newest form of media influences and aggression has obviously given the book a separate status. Media is keen on reinforcing the gender biases spontaneously and through social method of the teaching–learning. Thus in a number of ways, the role of media has been considered important in the process of gender socialization. This role has been especially come in the centre of discussion in view of the advent of globalization which has changed the structure, content and the implication of media in recent days and thereby has made the topic much more compelling as well as interesting.

    Chapter 8 deals with the role of religion in gender socialization. ‘It is a matter of theoretical and practical experience that in all societies and all types of culture sex differentiation and discrimination have been present in a variety of forms. It is also a fact that in most of the cases ‘female sex is the direct victim of such differentiation and discrimination.’7 Like all other forms, religion also adds fuel to the running of the system of gender inequality and gender discrimination. Religion is no exception in this regard and in consideration of its many a retrogressive features, it can be said that it serves as the faithful agent of patriarchy, and accordingly it plays an important role in sending the gender messages to the members of the society. Religion and its norms and practices play a very significant role in gender socialization among rural girls who try to find out their future sex roles drawing materials from these norms. Religious vows express the feeling of women and accordingly act for the training of the girl child for taking up a future role as mother, wife, etc. Through vows gender messages are easily transmitted among the women of all ages and thus religious vows act as a medium of gender socialization and the resultant gender inequality. The ritual vow songs teach the girl child to ask the boons of being a good daughter, good wife, good daughter-in-law, good mother and so forth. The ideal of womanhood incorporated in the ritual vows is one of chastity, purity, gentility, tenderness, domesticity and surrender to the male sections. ‘Pati Param Guru’ or the ideal of ‘Potivrata’ is romanticized through the rituals of the vows. Thus, these religious vows play a very powerful ideological role in gender socialization of the girl child in favour of patriarchy.

    Chapter 9 deals with the role of religion in gender socialization through its different myths and concepts. In all religions, especially in Hinduism we get a number of references of concepts like previous birth, rebirth, hell and paradise, concept of atonement and belief in supernatural and these concepts actually serve as the agent of patriarchy since they teach the women to take a particular sex role encouraging women to be submissive, chaste, tolerant and self-effacing. Logical analyses of these concepts of religion have revealed a very close connection between the religion and gender ideology, gender messages and gender socialization. It is also through the religion and the concepts preached by it that the social and psychological setting of the feminine gender is created. How the gender discrimination and gender inequality developed as a system of oppression against the women and how the textual script has been used with a view to objectifying, fragmenting and dehumanizing the women are best explained with the help of these concepts and approaches. This chapter is especially unique in the sense that it examines the theories and concepts of religion from a well-argued viewpoint that will come as enough help for decoding the gender messages inherent in the religion.

    It is argued in this book that gender socialization thus implemented through various agents and religious norms and practices is primarily responsible for making differential gender of men and women. Gender messages sent through gender socialization actually come to enforce the patriarchal values in the society. Since gender socialization is basically aimed at creating and enforcing inequality of sexes and since it is prone to give this inequality a social form and justification, it is very much necessary to delineate the role of those social organizations and institutions by which gender socialization comes to operate. Side by side understanding the role of religion is also important in order to unfold the social, cultural and ideological bases of gender socialization. One of the powerful reasons why gender inequalities have existed for centuries is its inner dynamism, including its ideological legitimization in religion. It is therefore argued here that any external intervention to change this very complex domain of social relationship based on discrimination must base itself on the prior knowledge of the complexities of how gender inequalities survive and are legitimized in society. So understanding the nature of religion is very much important for also understanding the nature of gender socialization. Religion is not only a metaphysical matter to the people but also a means of expressing their thoughts, beliefs, understanding about all kinds of things over the centuries. Different forms of religion and the norms and practices preached by them have represented so many retrogressive features that have been considered by the sociologists as detrimental to development especially of the women. Religion and all its techniques have taken a male-biased approach to support the patriarchy which, like all societies, prefers sons over daughters and devalues the women ideologically and culturally, and insist them to represent the virtue of self-effacement and self-sacrifice exclusively in the interest of the male gender. In this way, through defending the patriarchal intention of degrading the position of women religion has produced gender inequality through its various norms and practices, and this inequality is perhaps the most pervasive form of social inequality in society. So the interesting relationship between gender inequality and various social institutions and religion calls for a thorough empirical and analytical probing which has not been done so far academically and it is the central object of this study. A serious social scientific study of interrelationship between agents of gender socialization and the process of gender socialization is absent in the existing studies of sociology. No serious attempt has been made so far in studying as to how various institutions such as family, school, peer group, media and religion can be used as an ideological tool for the making of gender and also for degrading the status of the women. This study is an attempt to fill the gap.

    The observations, analyses and conclusions reached in this study are based on in-depth studies, surveys and field works done by many organizations. Additionally, this study also consults the existing documentation of the discourses on socialization. We have also taken the help of other books on feminism and feminist issues with a view to enriching and understanding the gender aspect of the socialization process which is commonly viewed as gender socialization. Differences are the result of two separate socialization processes of the two sexes. Through the use of a variety of techniques of socialization such as imitation, role-modelling and normative attitude, children's behaviour is channelized to take a particular shape and form. The differential treatment is meted out by a variety of social agents such as family, peer group, school and media and also by religion. The end product is a package of personality traits attributed to women and men, what psychologists label as femininity and masculinity. Understanding ‘gender’ is the key to the study of gender socialization through the above-mentioned agents over the years. These agents have been teaching gender roles for men and women in compliance with the social norms and expectations corresponding to their sexes. Sociologists today share the view that gender inequalities result because men and women are socialized into different roles. So the process of gender socialization is primarily responsible for providing a functional, logistic and ideological support to the gender inequalities and discriminating gender norms and practices in all countries and across all cultures. The roles women play in society and the images we have of them have developed not simply from the exigencies of biology and social situations but are rather deeply rooted in social arrangements and culture and religion. Due to the lasting appeal of the agents like family, peer group, school, media and religion, it has been considered by the patriarchy as important medium of injecting its teaching. The influence of these agents is enormous in forming sex role behaviours. Each culture has a set of institutional structures and practice to teach sex roles. Individuals learn to be male or female by learning effective means of communication and social behaviours that are required for their respective gender.

    In the field of gender socialization, religion is mainly used for sex role stereotyping and construction of gender. Girls are taught to be religious since their childhood. So messages of gender are inculcated early in their life and since then girls are socialized and acculturated toward a set of roles fixed by vow-rhymes such as Sibabrata, Punyipukur, Itu, Tush-tushuli, Mangalchandi and so on,8 and sex role and gender socialization thus have been implemented intentionally. So the religion and its norms and practices and the concepts preached by it have constantly inspired the women to achieve feminine signs (mayeli lakshan), both physical and mental, which will ensure gender roles by the female. Corresponding to the gender roles it is desirable for the Indian women to be docile, domestic, generous, innocent, polite, religious and submissive. On the other hand, males are inspired by different institutions of the society to achieve the masculine features (purushali lakshan) such as aggression, dominance, authoritarian attitude, economic independence, etc. In this way, ‘sex role stereotyping and construction of gender’ serves as a powerful patriarchal ideological foundation of gender inequality which subsequently expresses itself through some attitudes and customs. Therefore, without challenging the process of gender socialization, the movement against gender inequality is bound to face a setback.


    1 John Lewis Gillin and John Philip Gillin, Cultural Sociology (New York, NY: The Macmillan Company, 1948), 11–17.

    2 Anthony Giddens, Sociology, 4th ed. (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2001), 108.

    3 Sujit Kumar Chattopadhyay, Fighting Gender Inequality: A Tribute to Nirbhaya (Kolkata: K. P. Bagchi & Company, 2015), 12.

    4 C. Leaper and R. S. Bigler, “Gender,” in Social Development: Relationships in Infancy, Childhood, and Adolescence, eds M. K. Underwood and L. H. Rosen (New York, NY: Guildford Press, 2011).

    5 J. E. O. Blakemore, S. A. Berenbaum, and L. S. Liben, Gender Development (New York, NY: Taylor & Francis, 2009).

    6 C. N. Macrae, C. Stangor, and M. Hewstone, Stereotypes and Stereotyping (New York, NY: The Guilford Press, 1996).

    7 Sujit Kumar Chattopadhyay, Gender Inequality, Popular Culture and Resistance in Bankura District (New Delhi: Primus, 2016), 19.

    8 The meaning and brief introduction of these forms of vows are given in the glossary.

  • Conclusion

    The field of gender study today is the most popular to the scholars of sociology and feminism. Since Mary Wollstonecraft's path-breaking analysis in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, gender studies especially women's studies has drawn considerable attention of the intellectuals and reformers. Subsequently Simone de Beauvoir's epoch-making book The Second Sex has brought the gender interpretation in the centre of all feminist discussions. The renowned statement made by Beauvoir, ‘One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman’ supplied the basic clue to the formation of gender especially feminine gender. Beauvoir remarked, ‘it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature, intermediate between male and eunuch, which is described as feminine….’1 This is probably the first logically argued viewpoint of the gender formation by which the difference between the sex and gender was highlighted on the one hand, and on the other, the tradition of viewing gender as social and cultural construct was made popular and was applied to social sciences in course of time by the sociologists and the feminists. With the advent of feminism as a separate discipline and with its growing popularity among the researchers and the reformers, gender studies has emerged as an autonomous subject with thought provoking viewpoints incorporating women in the centre of discussion for the analysis of the women's issues. But locating gender in the socialization process and presenting gender socialization as the potent social, cultural, psychological and ideological technique of legitimizing and inculcating the patriarchal values is the most unique feature of the book, Gender Socialization and the Making of Gender in the Indian Context.

    Human society is the result of historical evolution of the institutions, ideas and practices. It is generally argued that man and woman, being the central characters of this society, had influenced the evolution process on the one hand, and on the other, they themselves were influenced by the evolution process of the society. But due to specific social, economic and historical situations the power of influencing the evolution of norms, ideas and practices was deposited and vested in the hands of male gender that protected the gender interest of the male folk by manipulating the evolutionary processes against the interests of the female gender. In course of this process the women were ousted from the economic sector especially agriculture, in particular and all possible sources of power in society, in general. This incident has been described by Engels as ‘the historic defeat of the female sex’. Thus judged from the gender angle it can be said that the subsequent lopsided development of women was the result of male effort of making the course of evolution gender biased and of taking a misogynist approach in order to reap all the benefits of evolution exclusively for the male gender. But the fact is that the matter of ousting the women from power and seizing the power by male gender was never spontaneous and natural. It was the result of a deliberate operation of male-centric authority system which is popularly termed as ‘patriarchy’.

    Patriarchy makes this operation possible through very many social institutions and religious and cultural norms and practices which will undermine the position of the women on the one hand, and on the other, will strengthen the command of the male authority. In order to reinforce these norms and practices in favour of male, various institutions and organizations (which are presented as agents of gender socialization in this book) were used for providing ideological support to this process. So unfolding the proper role of these institutions and organizations is very important for understanding the process of gender inequality and gender discrimination in general and gender socialization in particular. Perhaps the objective and the unique role of these institutions and organizations is aimed at convincing women that the discriminatory gender treatment they are getting is perfectly natural as far as their biological and psychological nature is concerned. Agents such as family, peer group, school, media and religion have also come to justify gender inequality by forwarding the necessity of functionalist stratification. ‘Functionalism is the doctrine that social institutions and practices can be understood in terms of the functions they carry out in sustaining the larger social system.’2 This theory is presented by Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore (1945) as the theory of functional stratification. To them, stratification is always a functional necessity in any society and importance of any individual or group must be proportionate to the roles they perform. Subsequently this theory was also applied to the field of gender-based stratification. It is argued that there are differences between male and female in respect of their biological and psychological traits and it is such difference based on which the social role of each gender is determined. Thus, it is seen, ‘The regulation of social system, from the functional point of view, has resulted in strengthening the domination of man over woman in all societies and across all culture’.3 Talcott Parsons (1902–79) was a renowned preceptor of functionalist theory. To him, family directly works on the basis of sexual division of labour where women perform their role of childbearing, childrearing and providing mental and spiritual support to their words. Another functionalist perspective of childrearing has been presented by John Bowlby who argued, ‘The mother is crucial to the primary socialization of the children’.4 In fact, sexual division of labour is different from the general view of division of labour. It is argued, ‘Sexual Division of Labour is a division of work not between equals but between superiors and inferiors (and) A relation which is imposed on women by social pressure’.5 In this way, biological and physiological differences create a difference in social role acquisition of male and female, highlight the gender role and resultantly gender inequality emerges as the retrogressive feature of the society. The intervention of different agents in the field of making of gender through gender socialization make the entire operation of all these agenda of patriarchy very easy and smooth. In this way, different agents, that is, these social and cultural institutions, organizations, religious norms and practices continuously provide an ideological support to the gender ideology modelled upon patriarchy through gender socialization and accordingly legitimize their functions.

    The problem with regard to the study of the agents of gender socialization is that these agents are not static. Rather they are very much dynamic so far as the impact of technological inventions and globalization are concerned. The structure of family and its functions have widely changed. Family, in the age of globalization, is not exclusively run by rule and authority. With the increasing entry of the women in labour market and with the access of many entertainment gadgets, the family has been a multilayered unit within a single primary structure. So the nature of gender socialization is also bound to be changed within the family. The peer groups are not all the same as before. With the increasing education and the dismantling of the earlier structure of the family, the nature and influence of peer groups has also changed. This change must have an implication in respect of gender socialization. With the rise of free and compulsory education as an agenda of almost all the governments of the world, the social environment of the school has undergone a wide change. The school curriculum is continuously updated; the teachers are more oriented and the students are more focused than what was 50 years ago. So it is quite natural that the role of school in gender socialization will also be different. The biggest invention of the century probably lies in cyber media. The use of internet and mobile phone has drastically changed not only the outer relationship but also the mental configuration of the people. Cyber space has been a medium of free opinions and exchange of views and thereby the gender restrictions have liquidated to a considerable extent. The system of cyber chatting through many social networking sites has minimized the conventional gender distance between male and female. The so-called social and cultural norms of patriarchy are not fully workable here in the cyber media. So the nature of gender socialization in the age of internet is to be evaluated and analysed with a new outlook. With the rise of internet and mobile phones, the role of conventional print and electronic media has also changed. It is noticeable that whereas the role of internet in gender socialization has been viewed as more liberal and progressive, the role of print and electronic media have been more conservative and perhaps misogynist. Internet based social media participates in forming public opinion on different issues, especially on gender-related issues, in an open manner. Of course, some opinions are misogynist but most of the opinions, regarding gender, tend to be rational. The reason of progressive-ness of internet and social media perhaps lies in the relative autonomy of social media. On the contrary, the chief reason of the growing misogynist role of the mass media is that it is primarily dependent on the revenues of the advertisements which are aimed at manipulating the physical beauty of the women and exposing it through advertisements in order to attract the clients (both male and female) towards the use of the products of the advertisements. That apart the media houses are led by the capitalist entrepreneurs, and in general, capitalism favours patriarchy in the sense that it does not take the risk of going against the patriarchal arrangement of the social setting because that means challenging the status quo and a major alteration of the social relationships and social and financial arrangements which will surely disturb the interest of the capitalism at least temporarily. Above all, in a rural society traditional portrayal of women, gender stereotypes and the gender role distribution in the traditional sense have a strong appeal to the common folk. So when the chief motto is to earn revenue then it is considered prudent and safe by the media houses to depict women in traditional sense and to allow the print and the electronic media to play the role of gender socialization along the line of gender ideology modelled upon the patriarchy. The role of religion in gender socialization also analyses the dynamic relation between social reality and religion by which it is argued that religion always encourages the existing social structure to be protected. In fact, after assimilating the codes of religion through various norms and practices, women, since their early childhood, come to possess a reconstruction of ideas on the one hand and on the other, they come to internalize the reconstruction of gender. But in the postmodern age, the nature of religiousness, the religiosity and the attitudes towards religion have also undergone changes as a result of globalization, industrialization and modernization. Plenty of literatures are being regularly published in all corners of the world challenging the dictates of religious texts and gospels of the preceptors as well. Due to the formidability of ‘information boom’, it has been possible for all to access any data questioning the logic of these religious texts, myths and gospels. The influence of democratization preaching openness, transparency and rule of law in general all over the world and also the impact of secularism in particular have changed the mindset on the one hand and on the other, encouraged people of all sections to question the authority of religion and its relevance in modern period. Especially the marginalized women, who are the direct victims of superstitions and dogmas of religion throughout the world, have started raising their voices against religious texts and myths. According to Foucault, ‘Where there is power, there is resistance’.6 Resultantly, the authority of religion is going to be liquidated day by day. So, with all such changes in the nature and functions of different social institutions and religious norms and practices, gender socialization and its appeal must be changed a lot. However, all these complications and changes in the role of these agents such as the family, peer group, school, media, religion and ritual myths, not being the subject matter of the book, have not been addressed and analysed in detail although the hints of these changes may be received in the book. All of them may be the matters of further research.

    In spite of the existence of the two sexes—man and woman— there is no denying the fact that there are other genders that are going to be equally dominating and meaningful today throughout the world. They are homosexuals, lesbians, eunuchs, cross dressers, transgender, and gender queers. Their numbers are growing faster. A day may come when they will outnumber the people living under the myth of two sexes. So it is very much pertinent to question as to how and in what way they will go through the process of gender socialization which is modelled upon the myth of two sexes. The persons, living out of the myth of two sexes (male and female), do not have the same experiences of family, peer group, school and the media as are conventionally received by the so called normal children within the category of male and female. So the questions as to what type of socialization they need, how their gender identity will be developed and in what way they will come to interact with the formal agents of gender socialization are also matters of further research.

    At the end of the discussion contained in this book, it is found that in all countries and across all cultures gender socialization results in undermining the position of women by inculcating many stereotypical traits that come roughly under three chief stereotypically determined and specific indicators—inferiority, subservience and domesticity. ‘Inferiority … is based on the very common myth of the superior male intellect, that is, the idea that men are better species than women.’7 Inferiority points out the physical weakness of woman and argues that it is due to their physical weakness that women could not participate in hunting in prehistoric age. Subsequent confinement of women at home and their engagement with motherhood and home management are the result of their physical weakness mainly due to which they were ousted from the broader world of public works. Accordingly, the interaction of women with outer world has been restricted and such alienation of women with the outer world has resulted in a gross erosion of intelligence as a result of which women have been un-smart, passive, mute and self-effacing. Differential gender socialization has played a significant role in preaching and inculcating this concept of inferiority among women through different agents such as family, peer group, school, media, religion and ritual myths. The concept of subservience claims that it is due to the inferiority of women in comparison to men that women should remain under strict control of men.

    As soon as women refuse to pretend to be submissive and dependent, … they lose the benefits of femininity. The women are punished for refusing men's protection, for female assertiveness represents a challenge to male authority and control and any woman, who shows assertive qualities, is defined as abnormal female.8

    The notion of abnormal female has a biological implication in the sense that such women are beyond the conventional format and they do not possess the biologically appropriate feminine qualities. If they are to be included in the socially approved format of ‘femininity’, they will have to go through the procedure of gender socialization implemented by various agents such as family, peer group, etc., and the objective of such gender socialization is to present a domesticated model of feminine gender. The notion of domesticity argues, ‘Marriage is the proper state for a woman.… It is also true that man's desire of property rights over women has pushed them in stereotype of domesticity.… The domestic stereotype defines women as sexual object and male property….’9 The concept of domesticity has placed women in a ‘separate biological category’ which is very much significant in legitimizing gender inequality. ‘Thus the stereotypes about women's inferior abilities, subservient qualities and domestic needs form part of a gender ideology which makes sharp distinction between the social constructs of masculinity and femininity.’10 Thus, the social construction of male and female gender, the initiation of maleness and femaleness and encouraging the persons of both sexes to adopt the gender specific social role are the agenda of gender socialization mediated and implemented by different agents like family, peer group, school, media, religion and ritual myths. The gender inequality that we experience in our day to day life is actually the product of the process of gender socialization and the seed is transplanted in the nature and function of very many primary and secondary groups, social and mass media and institutions and rituals. Charity begins at home. So, if we are to combat gender inequality in a systematic manner we must start our war against gender inequality from within the most known and popular groups, organizations and institutions.

    In this way, this book is the documentation of the processes of gender socialization of the boys and the girls through a number of formal agents such as family, peer group, school and media. This book also documents role of religion and different mythical concepts related to it through which people of the rural background especially the girls and the women come to be socialized in respect of gender stereotypes, gender roles and gender norms and practices. The book argues that if the ideological techniques of gender socialization are not properly understood, the struggle against gender inequality is bound to be futile. It is also argued that if the complex domain of gender socialization can be changed with a more moderate and progressive approach, then it is possible to create and seek a better world for women. If the traditional social, cultural and religious arrangements are restructured with a view to achieve gender equity then it is possible to allow the development of women in a more free and voluntary manner. Very often it is seen that most of the books on gender studies and cultural sociology do not give due emphasis on the issue of gender socialization as the most important source of enforcing gender inequality, gender stereotypes and gender role distribution in all societies and across all cultures. This book is a much-needed effort to fill the gap. By taking the gender socialization as a total subject, this book actually focuses on the exhaustiveness and complexities of the system of operation of the ideology of patriarchy and thus gives a clue also to the ways of coming out of this situation. It is argued here that if the social and cultural institutions, organizations and religious practices are restructured with a gender-free outlook then perhaps we will not have to lament as Beauvoir remarked, ‘one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman…’. This book is a step forward towards the formation of a new concept about gender and gender-related norms and practices.

    1 de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, 295.

    2 Andrew Heywood, Key Concepts in Politics (Chennai, India: Palgrave, 2005), 89.

    3 Chattopadhyay, Gender Inequality, 32.

    4 Giddens, Sociology, 114.

    5 Nirmala Banerjee, “Sexual Division of Labour,” in Indian Women: Myth and Reality, ed. Jasodhara Bagchi (Hyderabad: Sangam Books, 1997), 75–76. (bracket mine)

    6 Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1 (New York, NY: Vintage, 1980), 5.

    7 Liddle and Joshi, Daughters of Independence, 177–80.

    8 Ibid, 183–84.

    9 Ibid.

    10 Ibid.



    Imagined as the first male in Christianity.

    Agni Purana

    One of the Puranas.

    Bahubali Rajneeti

    The politics of the muscleman.


    A district town of Bihar and a T.V. serial by this name.

    Bhagbata Purana

    One of the Puranas.

    Bikash Society

    N.G.O. working in the District of Bankura, West Bengal.


    The same as Purdah or the veil hiding the whole body of the Muslim women.


    The supreme entity in Hinduism.


    The place of public meeting in villages of ancient India.


    Record keeper in Yama's court.


    Father of Rama, the hero in the epic Ramayana.


    A vow composed of 10 sacred hymns, observed in Bengal.


    A custom of getting a girl married with God in Ancient India, especially operative in South India.




    Ancient law books of Hinduism.


    Indian Television.


    The wife of Panchapandava, i.e., five hero brothers in the epic Mahabharata.


    The goddess of India celebrated for heroic act of killing Mahisasura, the symbol of destruction.


    A form of dress in Islam that covers the entire body of Muslim women.


    Means honour in Islam.


    Imagined as goddess and worshipped by married and unmarried women on each Sunday of Agrahayan, i.e., November–December.


    Imagined as first female in Christianity.


    A town in the District of Burdwan, West Bengal.


    Mother of Rama.


    The scripture of Islam.


    A district town of West Bengal.


    Wife of Pandu and mother of ‘Panchapandava’.


    Brother of Rama.


    The goddess of wealth.


    Epic of India.


    Imagined as the popular goddess of the folk society of Bengal. They worship on each Tuesday of May–June (Jaistha) and chant rhymes.


    Sacred hymns.


    The ancient sage and law-giver of India.


    Ancient law book depicted by Manu.


    Concept of hell in Hinduism.

    Pati Param Guru

    Husband is the absolute Lord.


    The woman who is loyal to her husband.


    The feminine form of the supreme God, i.e., Brahma.




    A type of hell in Hinduism.


    A vow observed by the unmarried girls of Bengal. They dig about one square feet pond in their courtyard and fill it with water and plant a basil and worship that pond and tree for gaining virtue. The vow is observed in April–May of each year.


    Sacred scriptures of India in post-Vedic period.


    A black gown by which Muslim women hide their face in public.


    The masculine form of supreme God.


    The epic of India.


    King of ancient ‘Lanka’, who kidnapped Sita.


    A mythological lady who made her husband alive just by the virtue of chastity.


    Means chaste; but a Hindu wife burnt in the funeral pyre of her husband was also termed as Sati. The custom was abolished by law in 1829 by struggling effort of Rammohan Roy, the pioneer of Indian Renaissance.


    The husband of Sabitri, the chaste woman.


    A kind of female vow.


    The original force of creation in Hinduism.


    The goddess of reproduction in Hinduism.


    A vow offered to the Lord Shiva, the Hindu god.


    The wife of Rama, the hero of the epic Ramayana.


    Ancient law books of Hinduism.


    The form of personal law about divorce in Islam.


    The goddess of crop and worshiped by the women of Bengal during December–January.


    A town of Uttar Pradesh in India.


    The sacred scripture of the Hindus.


    The rites of sacred fire.


    The god of death under Hinduism.


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    About the Author

    Sujit Kumar Chattopadhyay is former Chairman, West Bengal Regional School Service Commission (Western Region), Bankura. Prior to this, he was Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Political Science, Bankura Zilla Saradamani Mahila Mahavidyapith, West Bengal. He has done PhD on ‘Gender Inequality, Popular Culture and Resistance: A Case Study of the District of Bankura’, under the guidance of Professor Harihar Bhattacharyya from the University of Burdwan, West Bengal, in 2006. His published works include the books Revisiting Vivekananda: From Revival to Renaissance (2015), Gender Inequality, Popular Culture and Resistance in Bankura District (2016), Fighting Gender Inequality: A Tribute to Nirbhaya (2015), Samajchitre Loksahitya (2017), Loksahitye Narir Sthan (2017) and the edited volume Politics of Discrimination and Problem of Democratic Governance: Issues, Experiences and Challenges (2009). He is also the author of an anthology of poems in Bengali and some texts on gender and folklore. He has many published papers to his credit.

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