Gender and Racial Socialization

Socialization is the process of internalizing norms and behaviors accepted in a given society plays a significant role in the development of a person’s self-concept. Symbolic interactionist, functionalist, and conflict perspective alike take different approaches to socialization but ultimately agree that an individual only develops a sense of self within the social context (Kendall, 2018). This development of self-concept invariably involves gender and racial socialization. These mainly occur in the early stages of a person’s life, although sometimes they may begin even before said person’s birth and contain messages on the appropriate behavior for males, females, and different racial groups.

Gender socialization covers the norms and practices associated with being male or female in a particular society. In the vast majority of cultures, men and women are expected to fulfill different social roles and partake in different activities (Kendall, 2018). Gender socialization as a process relies on reiterating messages on what is befits males and females according to the accepted social norms and rewards socially appropriate behaviors while discouraging the inappropriate ones (Kendall, 2018). Apart from assigning socially acceptable roles, gender socialization also produces value orientations that serve to reinforce and promote these roles (Strapko et al., 2016).

Boys may be expected to play more roughly, corresponding to their supposedly higher ambitions, and girls may stay out later as corresponding to the higher value they supposedly assign to responsibility (Kendall, 2018). Gender socialization is a lifelong process, but it often starts even before a child is born, as the parents, upon learning of the kid’s biological sex, may but gender-appropriate clothing and toys in advance (Kendall, 2018). Family plays the foremost role in gender socialization, but media, school, and peer groups are important as well.

Racial socialization is the process of self-identification as a member of a specific racial group among those represented in society. As with gender socialization, racial socialization “contains specific messages and practices concerning the nature of our racial and ethnics status” (Kendall, 2018, p. 82). The process involves direct statements assigning specific values to different racial groups and indirect activities that send implicit messages of similar nature. These messages may often create a hierarchy of racial groups and designating some of them as better and more deserving of opportunities and privileges than the others (Kendall, 2018).

As with gender socialization, the family is the primary agent of racial socialization, although peer groups, media, and other factors play their roles as well (Kendall, 2018). Children usually become aware of the importance of race in their social contexts near the age of four, which is when racial socialization begins in earnest (Kendall, 2018). Racial socialization, just like any other type, is a lifelong process, as the people continue to learn and reinforce or modify their notions of acceptable and inappropriate practices throughout their lives.

As one can see, racial and gender socialization are essential components of socialization as a whole and contain the messages on activities and behaviors befitting of unacceptable for males, females, and different racial groups. Gender socialization assigns roles and sets of values to boys and girls alike and may begin even before a child is born due to parental efforts in surrounding him or her with the gender-appropriate entourage. Racial socialization usually begins around the age of four, when the child becomes aware of race, and also contains messages on practices, relationships, and social hierarchy insofar as they relate to racial issues.


Kendall, D. (2018). Sociology in our times: The essentials (11th ed). Cengage Learning.

Strapko, N., Hempel, L., MacIlroy, K., & Smith, K. (2016). Gender differences in environmental concern: Reevaluating gender socialization. Society & National resources: An International Journal, 29(9), 1015-1031.

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