Before taking this Sociology class, I did not realize how much my life experiences and life chances are greatly influenced by many complex sociological factors. I realize now that using my sociological imagination allows me to connect my personal experiences, behaviors, and attitudes to the larger social structure. Some of the sociological themes that manifest in my life are how gender role socialization, resocialization, and social inequalities have played a role in contributing to my sociological autobiography.
According to Ferris & Stein (2014), gender role socialization is the process in which a person becomes masculine or feminine. Branching from the constructionist views on gender, what is considered feminine or masculine are socially constructed labels linked to behaviors based on the social context in which a person lives encompassing their society, its culture, and time period. By possessing a sociological imagination, an individual can understand that gender differences are not solely defined by inherent feminine or masculine behaviors or traits. My primary agent of socialization is my family that played a major part in my gender role socialization. Chris Cooley’s looking-glass self theory suggests that self concept develops from “how we imagine others perceive us and the feelings of ourselves based on the perceived judgments of others” (Ferris & Stein, 2014.)
Parents can act as a reflection to their children where their appraisals can contribute to their child’s sense of self. As a child, my parents enjoyed dressing me up in fancy dresses with most of my wardrobe comprising of the color pink, which in American culture, is a color usually associated as an appropriate color for girls. My parent’s positive reactions reinforced in me even as an adult, that dressing up in certain colors and styles are favorable and that others will perceive me as a “pretty girl.” Interactionist theories argue that gender norms are reinforced through face-to-face interactions. From a very young age, I learned and internalized gendered behaviors from my parents and siblings through social learning. American society encourages gender-stereotyped behaviors for females and males as accepted norms.
My gender influenced the type of games I grew up playing and the friends I was allowed to have. All the toys I received growing up were gender-stereotyped toys for girls such as Barbie dolls and princess-themed products. As the oldest sibling with two younger brothers, from an early age, I was not allowed to play with boys outside my family nor were my brothers allowed to play “roughly” with me because I was a girl. I believe because of social learning, I am able to understand why I have come it to find it difficult to watch when my son gets tackled in football or being open to the idea of my daughter participating in this sport, indicative of how pervasive gender is in my family life and American society in general (Ferris & Stein, 2014.)
Another important sociological theme is resocialization. Resocialization is the process of transitioning in life with the replacement of new cultural knowledge that discourage previous social norms and values. I can relate this theme to such as my experience transitioning to the role and status of a mother and wife. The ideal culture of America suggests that the course of life should follow along the lines of graduating high school, go to college to obtain a degree, get married, and have children, respectively. The ideal culture of America greatly influenced my parents to instill in me to pursue such a similar timeline of milestones to earn the achieved status of mother and wife. It is also during these years, my peers played a major role as an agent of socialization because I wanted to fit in and follow the norms and values in order to reach these statuses and roles. Prior to marriage, I had conformed to my social in-group by aligning my social calendar with theirs and doing similar hobbies such as going to the dance night clubs, all in order to avoid negative sanctions.
Based on a functionalist’s view, conformity is important for the smooth functioning of society to promote social cohesion and solidarity where everyone works together with shared norms and values. However, once I became someone’s wife, I had to conform to a whole set of new norms and values which included aligning my schedule with my husbands, setting up joint bank accounts, adopting my husband’s last name, being monogamous with only my husband “til death do us part,” and trying to start a family. I could not continue following my previous in-group’s behaviors and attitudes in order to be the ideal wife in America’s culture. Based on a functionalist view, American contemporary society supports that marriage is the foundation of a family and an important social institution to the smooth functioning of society.
In addition, transitioning to the role and status of a mother was yet another layer to my self identity. Upon finding out I was pregnant, I realized I had to replace even more beliefs and behaviors in order to prepare myself and my husband to be ideal parents of American culture. My self development is the total sum of my individual interactions with society and vice versa, which brings to thought who “I” am. Based on the sociological view of dramaturgy, I realized that I am questioning who “I” really am, since in a way, I act as an actor as my behaviors and mannerisms can vary depending on the social situation to please the generalized other. I understand that I had to be resocialized and act according given the social context as I took on the role and status of mother and wife. I also believe that impression management assisted me to adapt and learn the many aspects of our individual self within a society.
There are many social inequalities that addresses the stratification within a society impacting who gets what, and how and why they do. Some of the social factors that are typically linked to social inequalities are social class and race. These social factors have played an influential role in my life. First of all, my social class has contributed to shaping my sociological autobiography. According the Ferris & Stein’s (2014) U.S. Social Class Ladder, I grew up in a family that would be considered “middle class,” and even later in life, I am still in the middle class. This supports the postmodernism perspective on social reproduction according to sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (Ferris & Stein, 2014) which explains that social class typically passes down from one generation to the nest and remains relatively stable.
Although, I did benefit as an adult because I added value to my cultural capital gained from my parents by surpassing my parents educational achievements. I was able to obtain a four year college degree and earn a stable low-level management position at my current employment. This concepts makes me wonder if this postmodernist perspective may help explain why some of my coworkers who are at a much lower level hierarchy at work are unable to experience social class mobility. Moreover, race is a social construct proven to not be genetic based, but racism still exists. Race differs from ethnicity because according to Ferris & Stein (2014), it is a “socially defined category based on real or perceived biological differences between groups of people.” The social phenomenon of white privilege has made it more advantageous or favorable to being white, which affects everyone.
Therefore, racial inequality is a prevailing social concept that offers people different access to opportunities and resources. I am a product of miscegenation, because my race is a mixture of Lebanese, English, and Pakistani ancestry. During my childhood years, I attended a private all girl Catholic school where more than 90% of the students were white. It wasn’t until a school event in the 3rd grade when my parents came to school with me, did I realize how my parents and my own “biological” differences affected my embodied identity. Apparently, my classmates had assumed I was white because I had many “white” features such as brown hair, fair skin and light eyes, but they realized that my parents did not look more “white” like me.
My parents had a darker skin tone, dark hair, and deep brown eyes. Some students were initially confused and shocked when I told them my race (after they asked), and after that incident, a rumor spread that I was adopted just because I did not look enough like my parents. This made me feel out of place and isolated, realizing that the way I look impacted how I am perceived by others. This experience fits the symbolic interactionist perspective, where this approach believes that race is a part of identity that is created through interactions on a micro-level. I unintentionally experienced racial passing, where my physical appearances had made others believe I was “white.” However, the social context in which we live is not based solely on either of these social factors but rather our life chances are one of intersectionality, where multiple and complicated social factors all affect our lived experiences at once.
As you can see, there are many sociological themes including gender role socialization, resocialization, and social inequalities that have played a significant role in my own life. I can appreciate that my sociological imagination has allowed me to connect my personal experiences, behaviors, and attitudes to the larger social structure. Although my Sociology class comes to an end, I will continue to incorporate a sociological imagination to understand how complex social factors have influenced my life experiences and contribute to shaping my sociological autobiography.
Ferris, K., & Stein, J. (2014). The real world: An introduction to sociology (4th ed.). New York: W.W. Norton & Co.