One important aspect of socialization is learning gender roles. Gender roles are cultural expectations for how boys and girls should behave.
Not all societies have the same expectations for boys and girls. Some cultures encourage strict adherence to traditional gender roles while other societies have more flexibility in their expectations. In the United States, children begin learning gender roles as early as infancy. This is due to the fact that most parents have different expectations for their children based on whether or not they are boys or girls. When children cry, for instance, research has found that parents respond to females more quickly than males. Parents are also more likely to protect girls and play rough with boys. Boys are expected to be tough and less emotional while girls are taught that emotional expressiveness is not only acceptable but expected.
The types of toys that children play with also differ between boys and girls. Boys are encouraged to play with toys that encourage instrumental roles (goal-oriented, decision making, leadership skills). Action figures, cars, Legos, computer games, and sports equipment are usually acceptable toys for boys to play with. Girls are given toys that encourage expressive roles (nurturing, caretaking, emotional attentiveness, appearance oriented). They are usually given dolls, easy bake ovens, jewelry boxes, and dress-up games. Considering the role gender socialization plays, it is difficult to determine whether our behaviors and skills are biologically predetermined or learned.
As children get older, their peers begin to have more of an influence on gender socialization. Boys are made fun of and called names if they cry or show too much emotion. Although the pressure to conform for girls is not as strict, they are also encouraged to behave gender appropriately. In our society, however, it is more acceptable for a girl to be a tomboy than it is for a boy to be a tom girl. This is due to a gender bias in our society which favors masculine behavior over femininity. When we begin to interact with peers, we learn that gender is a very important part of society.
Socialization is something that does not end after childhood, but continues throughout our adult lives. We continue to learn new roles as we transition from one stage of life to another. Although the family is the primary agent of socialization, there are many other influences that we may encounter. Some other important socialization agents include: the media, religion, school, sports and peers.