Gender Socialization at University

Growing up, I along with the majority of my peers were ingrained with gender divisions – fixed cultural and social norms and expectations, surrounding how women should behave, what activities we should take part in and how we should dress. Parents, teachers and peers would apply specific gender roles to almost everything I did. Moreover, throughout my childhood these gender roles were exemplified in my education, extra-curricular activities, and other environments. I will never forget, for example, when I was forced to wear a purple hockey jersey for my competitive hockey team named the “Lady-Wolves”. (And Canadians wonder why women’s hockey has not developed an extensive fan-base like men’s hockey…)

As much as I wish I could say that gender socialization has changed to accept a broader range of personal identities, I am reluctant to say that I have noticed much change throughout my adolescence and early adulthood with respect to gendering. My undergraduate experience thus far has been surrounded with many gender norms and expectations, some of which I would like to highlight below.

By virtue of the nature of my program, Physical and Health Education, I spend a lot of time using the athletic facilities at our university athletic and recreation centre. Being a new “state-of-the-art” fitness facility, it is no wonder that it includes features such as a “Just for Women” fitness room. A gendered gym at first thought seems quite innocent. On a positive side, it encourages women who are not comfortable exercising in a gym where there are men to become physically active. As well, some women for religious reasons, are not permitted to exercise with people of a different gender, thereby, a restricted gym would promote inclusion for different cultures and religions. In the case of the university I attend, my question is why we have a women’s only gym, however no men’s only gym? It would seem that for the same comfort reasons, and perhaps religious, certain populations of men would also be more comfortable exercising in an environment without the presence women? I would argue that having a women’s only gym with the absence of a male-only gym would be a display of androcentrism. Furthermore, what is the option then for individuals whom do not identify themselves within the stereotypical categories of women and men? Are the gyms divided based on your biological sex, or is the division based on the gender that one personally identifies with? Ultimately, I question whether the concept of a women’s only gym is guilty of discrimination.

The women’s only gym not only is different in the gender restrictions it upholds, but the physical equipment within is very different from the equipment you would find throughout the facility in the more gender-inclusive areas. For example, the maximum weight that can be found in the women’s gym is 20 pounds, and most of the weights are pink, purple, or light blue. You can find further gendered equipment with the purple jump ropes and exercise bands. I found the following link on Walmart’s website for Dumbbells, which precisely reflects what the women’s only gym at my university contains:

As you can see, as the weights get bigger, the colour becomes darker and less “fun” and “girly”. Ironically, the exact same weight sizes can be found in the “co-ed” fitness areas, however Dumbbells are entirely iron, lacking any colour, which look similar to this:

I think it is apparent to the majority of students at university that there are gender roles that are enforced on a daily basis. From the gym, to student residences, lectures, advertisements on campus, and something as little as the Booster Juice menu on campus, gendering is unavoidable. I don’t think I stand-alone when I say that gender norms have been created and are being enforced in a university environment, and that we as a society are far from eliminating gender barriers and norms. There is plenty of change that needs to be done at institutions as influential as universities, however, where to start?


2 thoughts on “Gender Socialization at University

  1. The previous post has got me thinking about the gender socialization that exists within a University. Being a first year student, I have started to look for a house to live in for my upper years. I have noticed that every time I am arranging an appointment I am constantly asked, “Are you all females or are there males in your group?” I tell the landlord that we are a group of females and their response is usually positive for females are their preference. There is this gender-polarized view that males are messier, irresponsible and more rambunctious, while a group of females are cleaner, trustworthy and more accountable. Thus, landlords rather have females living under their roofs, but is this really fair to the male groups seeking a place to live? I am not suggesting that us females are really dirty and rowdy, however, I can confidently say that I do not believe all males fit under this label.

    You might be wondering that since I am a female why I am bothering talking about the male stereotypes. I believe that these labels are constantly overlooked and it is important to recognize the gender stereotypes that exist for both females and males. I most defiantly am not pushing aside the female stereotypes; hence I will share with you both sides of the gender socialization that I have witnessed.

    I am currently studying education and it is quite obvious when looking at our faculty that there is an extremely small amount of males. This does not come as a surprise to me because a teacher today is still considered a ‘female’ job. On my residence floor there is one other student studying education, a male. During orientation week, everyone on my floor introduced themselves and said their faculty. Effortlessly, he claimed that he is in education. Later that day, a group of us were hanging out and some floor mates were joking around asking the male student if he just joined education so he can ‘get’ all the girls because only females really want to be teachers. Fortunately, he confidently replied that he is in education because he wants to become a teacher. Unlike this male, many men are put down for wanting careers such as nurses, secretaries or teachers for they are considered female only jobs. This puts a strong barrier within the work force for males and limits their abilities to pursue their ambitions.

    Furthermore, one night a group of girls on my floor were hanging out in a room together. The room was filled with laughter and great food. At one point, some boys came and joined. Immediately, the food stopped disappearing and the room was filled with girls twirling their hair. The actions of the girls instantly switched to fit the expectation of the males. The females acted in a gender expected manner due to the expectation of others. This is something that is reoccurring and happens on a daily basis, for gender is constantly produced in specific situations and context. Girls feels that eating in front of boys will give them an undesired image, hence why the females on my floor stopped eating the second boys entered. Society has brought upon this image that the only look for females is to be skinny and flawless. This influences the expectations of others, affecting females’ actions, for they are trying to keep up with the impossible image thrust upon them.

    Evidently, male and female students at University are faced with gender roles that they are forced to follow. No matter where you go, gender is omnirelevant and it is difficult to say when these norms enforced by society will begin to diminish. We are constantly being socialized into gender roles that can be extremely unsatisfying, however one has no control and unconsciously follows. I agree with the view that we are the product of structures that we have created for ourselves. Meaning, it is up to us to begin the change in order to alter the direction, for we are part of the production. If change begins in an influential institution, such as a University, it has the potential to occur everywhere else but it needs your help.

  2. Anywhere and everywhere we look we are bombarded with media. Whether it is an advertisement for a certain perfume, a truck with an ad for Coca-Cola or a commercial on TV – it is virtually unavoidable. Gender roles are deeply embedded in everyday life. Every aspect of society is somewhat socially constructed. Things we see in the media largely influence us in many ways and shape the way we think and act. These gender roles are genetically wired in our brains and it is extremely difficult to get away from it.
    Popular culture has a tendency to suffocate many people, which ultimately limits their individuality. In addition, advertisements sexually objectify women, which is extremely degrading and gives women this image of who we “should” be and how we “should” behave. These stereotypes seen in the media do not portray an ideal body type women should aspire to be, however it depicts women who are flawless, which is unattainable. The media usually embodies “emphasized femininity” with images of women in advertising. For example, an ad for Dolce and Gabbana was banned due to the highly controversial image, which portrayed a woman and several men – suggesting gang rape. This image definitely emphasizes this idea of a woman conforming to the needs and desires of a man – or in this case men. These types of images were displayed in the video we watched in class – “Killing us Softly” by Jean Kilbourne.
    Here is an article about the Dolce and Gabbana ad that was banned:
    As we live our day-to-day lives, we can see that most we do is impacted by gender socialization. I definitely agree with your argument about the “Just for Women” fitness room in the ARC. Why don’t they have a “Male Only” room as well? I find it extremely puzzling as to why they only do so for females when perhaps there are many males who are extremely self-concious and do not feel comfortable exercising in front of females – and I do not doubt it. University is expected to be a safe environment where individuals can thrive, grow and discover who they truly are, however I feel as though there are still many barriers that do not allow most students to do so. Due to the norms and expectations society brings upon us, there is little room for individuality.
    Furthermore, gender polarization is a notion that we can all relate to. Males are expected to act and display stereotypical gender roles as are females, however for others who do not fit these criteria: male or female – where do they stand? Females are usually portrayed as beautiful, sexy, respectful and males are portrayed as macho, muscular, handsome, dominator Transgenders are seen to be individuals who steer away from cultural norms and values, however this is not the way it should be. Why must everyone fit into the categories of either males or females? The minute I walk into any store I immediately notice that there are different sections for male and female clothing, soap, deoterant, hand sanitizer, toothbrushes – you name it! This is not only apparent in stores, but also in other sectors of society, such as the workforce. One day I got into a taxi with several friends of mine and they were shocked to see a female taxi driver. Here is an interesting piece I read about “The Experience and Expression of Gender among Women Taxi Drivers” ( This article shows the relationship between gender identity and work culture and shows how women are often scrutinized for being taxi drivers, due to “he popular perception that masculine and feminine domain are mutually exclusive, restricted to men and women separately and respectively.” There are enduring stereotypes in almost every aspect of life, which I believe should not be an issue any longer. For instance, “the enduring stereotype of a male nurse.” There was an article that I read (2011) where it stated that the number of male nurses across Canada has doubled in the last 10 years.
    Similarly, I came across an article that reminded me of the “BIC for Women” commercial we saw in class. Molson Coors launched their new beer for women – “Animée Beer,” where they stated how it is “a new product aimed at the elusive woman beer customer. It’s pink! Problem solved.” Why must women drink a different type of beer than men? We see this with everything nowadays and this just shows how we are not able to break the gender role barrier. These gender roles are enforced on a daily basis and I agree that we must rethink the ways in which advertisers market their products. It saddens me to know that these gender roles will never disappear, as it is impossible to imagine a world without gender. As you mentioned in your post, gender divisions are inescapable and they are exemplified through popular culture in many aspects of life, such as university, the work force, the media, advertisements etc…

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