Ambivalence: The Socialization of Women

PART II Woman is made, not born

»What are big boys made of? What are big boys made of?«

Independence, aggression, competitiveness, leadership, task orientation, outward orientation, assertiveness, innovation, self-discipline, stoicism, activity, objectivity, analytic-mindedness, courage, unsentimentally, rationality, confidence, and emotional control.

»What are big girls made of? What are big girls made of?«

Dependence, passivity, fragility, low pain tolerance, nonaggression, non-competitiveness, inner orientation, interpersonal orientation, empathy, sensitivity, nurturance, subjectivity, intuitiveness, yieldingness, receptivity, inability to risk, emotional liability, supportiveness.[1]

These adjectives describe the idealized, simplified stereotypes of normal masculinity and feminity. They also describe real characteristics of boys and girls, men and women. While individual men and women may more resemble the stereotype of the opposite sex, group differences between the sexes bear out these stereotypic portraits. How does American society socialize its members so that most men and women come close to the society's ideal norms?
From infancy children have behavioral tendencies that evoke particular types of responses from parents, older siblings, and anyone else who interacts with the child. Such responses are a function of both individual values— whether the particular person values outgoing extroverted behavior, for example—and widespread social values of acceptable child behavior. Socialization refers to the pressures—rewarding, punishing, ignoring, and anticipating— that push the child toward evoking acceptable responses.
Comparisons between boys and girls in infancy and the earliest childhood years reveal modal differences between the sexes. Boys have higher activity levels, are more physically impulsive, are prone to act out aggression, are genitally sexual earlier, and appear to have cognitive and perceptual skills less well-developed than girls of the same age. Generally speaking, girls are less active physically, display less overt physical aggression, are more sensitive to physical pain, have significantly less genital sexuality, and display greater verbal, perceptual, and cognitive skills than boys.[2]
All impulsive, aggressive children are forced to restrain these tendencies since running away, biting, kicking, publicly masturbating, and other similar behaviors are injurious either to the child and his playmates or the pride of his parents. It is critically important to the development of sex differences that these tendencies are more typical of boys than of girls. In addition, girls' more mature skills, enable them to attend to stimuli, especially from other people, more swiftly and accurately than boys.[3] Girls are better at analyzing and anticipating environmental demands; in addition, they have greater verbal facility. Girls' characteristic behavior tends to disturb parents less than boy's characteristic behavior. The perceptual, cognitive, and verbal skills which for unknown reasons are more characteristic of girls enable them to analyze and anticipate adult demands and to conform their behavior to adult expectations.[4] This all means that if the socialization demands made upon boys and girls were actually the same, girls would be in a better position to cope with the world than are boys.
While these differences in response tendencies would be sufficient to result in group differences between boys and girls, another factor adds to the probability of sex differences. Many characteristic responses are acceptable in girls, ranging from the very feminine through the athletic tomboy. For boys, neither the passive sissy nor the aggressive and physical »bad boy« are acceptable. From around the age of two to two and a half, when children are no longer perceived as infants but as children, more boys than girls experience more prohibitions for a wider range of behavior. In addition, and of special importance, dependent behavior, normal to all young children, is permitted for girls and prohibited for boys. Thus, girls are not encouraged to give up old techniques of relating to adults and using others to define their identity, to manipulate the physical world and to supply their emotional needs.[5]
When people find their ways of coping comfortable and gratifying, they are not motivated to develop new techniques which in the long run might be far more productive. All very young children are dependent on adults for their physical well-being and for the knowledge that they exist and have value. Girls' self-esteem remains dependent upon other people's acceptance and love; they continue to use the skills of others instead of evolving their own. The boy's impulsivity and sexuality are sources of enormous pleasure independent of anyone else's response; these pleasures are central to the early core-self. Negative sanctions from powerful adults against masturbation, exploration, and physical aggression threaten not only the obvious pleasures, but, at heart, self-integrity. Thus, boys are pressured by their own impulses and by society's demands to give up depending predominantly on the response of others for feelings of self-esteem. Adult responses are unpredictable and frequently threatening. Forced to affirm himself because of the loss of older, more stable sources of esteem, the boy begins, before the age of five, to develop a sense of self and criteria of worth which are relatively independent of others' responses. He turns to achievements in the outer and real world and begins to value himself for real achievements in terms of objective criteria.
On the other hand, neither the girl's characteristic responses nor widespread cultural values force her to give up older, more successful modes of relating and coping. Her sexuality is neither so genital nor so imperative,[6] but, rather, an overall body sensuality, gratified by affection and cuddling. Since girls are less likely to masturbate, run away from home, or bite and draw blood, their lives are relatively free of crisis until puberty. Before that girls do not have to conform to threatening new criteria of acceptability to anywhere near the extent that boys do. When boys are pressured to give up their childish ways it is because those behaviors are perceived as feminine by parents. Boys have to earn their masculinity early. Until puberty, femininity is a verbal label, a given attribute— something that does not have to be earned. This results in a significant delay in the girl's search for identity, development of autonomy, and development of internal criteria for self-esteem. Because they continue to depend on others for self-definition and affirmation and are adept at anticipating other people's demands, girls are conformist. Girls are rewarded by good grades in school, parental love, teacher acceptance, and peer belonging. As a result, girls remain compliant and particularly amenable to molding by the culture.***477.7.***
Longitudinal studies which measure the same people from earliest childhood through adulthood reveal that some characteristics remain stable over the life span in both sex groups, while other traits change.[8] While activity level and the tendency to be extroverted or introverted are rather stable in both sexes, other dimensions like passivity-dependence and aggression may remain stable or change depending on sex. There are significant correlations over the life span for aggression in males and passivity and dependency in females; on the other hand, passivity and dependency in males and aggression in females show no consistency over the life span. These psychological dimensions change or remain constant depending on whether individual inclinations threaten idealized cultural concepts of masculinity and femininity.[9] Aggression in boys is permitted and encouraged and only the form is socialized; dependence and passivity in girls is permitted or encouraged, and only the form is altered. Sex differences in infancy and childhood are enlarged through socialization.
Schools are generally feminine places,[10] institutions where conformity is valued, taught largely by conformist women. The course content, the methods of assessing progress, and the personal conduct required create difficulties for boys who must inhibit impulsivity, curb aggression, and restrain deviance. The reward structure of the school system perpetuates the pattern set by relationships with the parents—boys are further pressured to turn to their peers for acceptance and to develop internal criteria and objective achievements; girls are further urged to continue the non deviant, non innovative, conformist style of  life.
Girls are rewarded with high grades in school, especially in the early years of grammar school. What do girls do especially well in? What are they being asked to master? Grammar, spelling, reading, arithmetic—tasks that depend a great deal upon memorization and demand little independence, assertiveness, analysis, innovativeness, creativity.[11] The dependent, passive girl, cued into the affirming responses of teachers, succeeds and is significantly rewarded in school for her »good« behavior and her competent memorizing skills.
It appears that until puberty academically successful girls evolve a »bisexual« or dual self-concept. Both sexes are rewarded for achievement, especially academic achievement. Girls, as well as boys, are permitted to compete in school or athletics without significant negative repercussions. The girl who is rewarded for these successes evolves a self-concept associated with being able to successfully cope and compete. While there are no negative repercussions and there is a high probability of rewards from parents and teachers as long as her friends are similarly achieving, this girl will also feel normally feminine (although questions of femininity are probably not critically important in self-evaluation of prepubertal girls unless they are markedly deviant). With the onset of the physical changes of puberty, definitions of normalcy and femininity change and come precipitately closer to the stereotype. Now behaviors and qualities that were rewarded, especially successful competing, may be perceived negatively.[12] Femininity also becomes an attribute that has to be earned—this task is made crucially difficult because of the girl's ambivalent feelings toward her body.[13]
The maturation of the girl's reproductive system brings joy and relief, feelings of normalcy, and the awareness of sexuality. Simultaneously, in normal girls the physical changes are accompanied by blood and pain, the expectation of body distortion in pregnancy, the threat of the trauma of birth, and the beginning of sexual desirability. In addition, the physical changes of menstruation are accompanied by significant and predictable emotional cycles sufficiently severe to alter the perception of her body as secure or stable.[14] Simultaneously joyful and fearful, the young adolescent girl must begin to evolve a feminine self-concept that accepts the functions and future responsibilities of her mature body; at the same time these physical changes are cues for alterations in the demands made upon her by the culture.[15] From the very beginning of adolescence girls, as potential heterosexual partners, begin to be punished for conspicuous competing achievement and to be rewarded for heterosexual success. Socialization in adolescence emphasizes the use of the cosmetic exterior of the self to lure men, to secure affection, to succeed in the competition of dating. At the same time the girl is warned not to succeed too much: conspicuous success in competitive dating threatens her friendships with girls. She learns in puberty that she is likely to be punished for significant competition in either of her important spheres.
Thus, for a long time, even the girls who are competitive, verbally aggressive, and independent can feel normal, but with the onset of puberty girls are faced with their first major crises: they must come to terms with and find pleasure in their physical femininity and develop the proper psychological »femininity.« Since they are still primarily cued to others for feelings of esteem, and largely defined by interpersonal relations, under the stress of their evolving incomplete feminine identity, most girls conform to the new socialization criteria. While girls characteristically achieved in grade school because of rewards for this »good« behavior from others (rather than for achievement's own sake), in adolescence the establishment of successful interpersonal relationships becomes the self-defining, most rewarding, achievement task.[16] When that change in priorities occurs—and it tends to be greatest in the later years of high school, and again in the later years of college—personal qualities, such as independence, aggression, and competitive achievement, that might threaten success in heterosexual relationships are largely given up.
While boys are often afraid of failing, girls are additionally afraid of succeeding.[17] The adolescent girl, her parents, her girl friends, and her boy friends perceive success, as measured by objective, visible achievement as antithetical to femininity. Some girls defer consciously, with tongue in cheek, but the majority, who were never significantly aggressive, active, or independent, internalize the norms and come to value themselves as they are desired by others. The only change from childhood is that the most important source of esteem is no longer the parents but the heterosexual partner.
The overwhelming majority of adolescent girls remain dependent upon others for feelings of affirmation. Unless in early life the girl exhibited the activity, aggression, or sexuality usually displayed by boys, and thereby experienced significant parental prohibitions, there is little likelihood that she will develop independent sources of esteem that refer back to herself. Instead, the loss of love remains for her the gravest source of injury to the self and, predictably, she will not gamble with that critical source of esteem.[18]
In the absence of independent and objective achievements, girls and women know their worth only from others' responses, know their identities only from their relationships as daughters, girl friends, wives, or mothers and, in a literal sense, personalize the world. When we ask female college students what would make them happy or unhappy, when would they consider themselves successful, both undergraduate and graduate students reply: »When I love and am loved; when I contribute to the welfare of others; when I have established a good family life and have happy, normal children; when I know I have created a good, rewarding stable relationship.«[19] During adolescence as in childhood, females continue to esteem themselves insofar as they are esteemed by those with whom they have emotional relationships. For many women this never changes during their entire lifetime.
Girls are socialized to use more oblique forms of aggression than boys, such as the deft use of verbal injury or interpersonal rejection. Their aggression is largely directed toward people whose return anger will not be catastrophic to self-esteem—that is, other females. In their relationships with their fathers and later with their boy friends or husbands, girls do not threaten the important and frequently precarious heterosexual sources of love. Instead, aggression is more safely directed toward other women with whom they covertly compete for love. In relationships between men, aggression is overt and the power relationships are clear; female aggression is covert, the power relationships rarely admitted. With the denial and disguise of anger, a kind of dishonesty, a pervasive uncertainty, necessarily creeps into each of a woman's relationships, creating further anxiety and continued or increased efforts to secure affection.
The absence of objective success in work makes girls invest in, and be unendingly anxious about, their interpersonal worth. Women use interpersonal success as a route to self-esteem since that is how they have defined their major task. If they fail to establish a meaningful, rewarding, unambivalent love relationship, they remain cued into the response of others and suffer from a fragile or vulnerable sense of self. Those who are secure enough, who have evolved an identity and a feeling of worth in love relationships, may gamble and pursue atypical, nontraditional, competitive, masculine achievements.
According to Erik Erikson, the most important task in adolescence is the establishment of a sense of identity. This is more difficult for girls than for boys. Because her sexuality is internal, inaccessible, and diffuse, because she feels ambivalent toward the functions of her mature reproductive system, because she is not punished for her impulsivity, because she is encouraged to remain dependent, a girl's search for her feminine identity is both complex and delayed. To add to her problems, she is aware both of the culture's preference for masculine achievements and of the fact that there is no longer a single certain route for achieving successful femininity. The problem grows even more complex, ever more subtle.
In these affluent times middle-class girls are apparently not punished simply for being girls. They are not prohibited from going to college, seeking school office, or achieving honors. Marriage and maternity are held out as wonderful goals, not necessarily as inhibiting dead ends. Although girls are rewarded for conformity, dependence, passivity, and competence, they are not clearly punished for the reverse. Until adolescence the idea of equal capacity, opportunity, and life style is held out to them. But sometime in adolescence the message becomes clear that one had better not do too well, that competition is aggressive and unfeminine, that deviating threatens the heterosexual relationship.[20] Masculinity is clearly defined and earned through individual competitive achievement. For the girl overt freedoms, combined with cultural ambiguity, result in an unclear image of femininity. As a result of vagueness about how to become feminine or even what is feminine, the girl responds to the single clear directive — she withdraws from what is clearly masculine. In high school and increasingly in college, girls cease clearly masculine pursuits and perceive the establishment of interpersonal goals as the most salient route to identity.[21] This results in a maximization of interpersonal skills, an interpersonal view of the world, a withdrawal from the development of independence, activity, ability, and competition, and the absence of a professional work commitment.
The personality qualities that evolve as characteristic of the sexes function so as to enhance the probability of succeeding in the traditional sex roles. Whether you are male or female, if you have traditionally masculine personality qualities—objectivity rather than subjectivity, aggression rather than passivity, the motive to achieve rather than a fear of success, courage rather than conformity, and professional commitment, ambition, and drive [22] you are more likely to succeed in masculine roles. Socialization enhances initial tendencies; consequently, relatively few women have these qualities.
Thus, the essence of the problem of role conflict lies in the fact that up until now very few women have succeeded in traditionally masculine roles, not only because of disparagement and prejudice, but largely because women have not been fundamentally equipped and determined to succeed. Some women's tragedy is their desire to succeed in competitive achievement and their contempt for the traditional role for which they are better equipped.
It is probably not accidental, therefore, that women dominate professions that utilize skills of nurturance, empathy, and competence, where aggressiveness and competitiveness are largely dysfunctional.[23] These professions, notably teaching, nursing, and secretarial work, are low in pay and status. The routes to occupational success for women are either atypical and hazardous or typical, safe, and low in the occupational hierarchy. (It is interesting to note that in the USSR where over 70 percent of the physicians are women, medicine is a low-status occupation.)
In spite of an egalitarian ideal in which the roles and contributions of the sexes are declared to be equal and complementary, both men and women esteem masculine qualities and achievements. Too many women evaluate their bodies, personality qualities, and roles as second-rate. When male criteria are the norms against which female performance, qualities, or goals are measured, then women are not equal. It is not only that the culture values masculine productivity more than feminine productivity.
The essence of the derogation lies in the evolution of the masculine as the yardstick against which everything is measured. Since the sexes are different, women are defined as not-men and that means not good, inferior. It is important to understand that women in this culture, as members of the culture, have internalized these self-destructive values.[24]
What we have described is ambivalence, not conflict. Conflict is the simultaneous desire to achieve a stable and rewarding heterosexual relationship (and the rest of the female's traditional responsibilities and satisfactions) and to participate fully in competitive achievement and succeed. Conflict, in this sense, is understandable as a vying between traditional and nontraditional roles, between affirmative and achievement motives. (Most women resolve this potential difficulty by defining affiliation as achievement.) Ambivalence is clearly seen in the simultaneous enjoyment of one's feminine identity, qualities, goals, and achievements and the perception of them as less important, meaningful, or satisfying than those of men. Girls envy boys; boys do not envy girls.
The culture generally rewards masculine endeavors and those males who succeed—who acquire money, power, and status, who enjoy an easy and free sexuality, who acquire and produce things, who achieve in competition, who produce, who innovate and create. By these criteria, women have not produced equally. The contributions that most women make in the enhancement and stabilization of relationships, their competence and self-discipline, their creation of life are less esteemed by men and women alike. It is disturbing to review the extent to which women perceive their responsibilities, goals, their very capacities, as inferior to males; it is similarly distressing to perceive how widespread this self-destructive self-concept is. Society values masculinity; when it is achieved it is rewarded. Society does not value femininity as highly; when it is achieved it is not as highly rewarded.
Today we have a peculiar situation in which sex-role stereotypes persist and are internalized by adults and children, yet the labor force includes thirty-one million working women and the college population is almost half women.[25] The stereotype persists because there is always cultural lag, because few women achieve markedly responsible or powerful positions, and because the overwhelming majority of working women perceive themselves as working in order to benefit the family.[26] In general, working women do not see work as an extension of egocentric interests or as the fulfillment of achievement ambitions, but as another place in which more traditional motives are gratified.
Perhaps the percentage of the female population who have had at least some college and who have achieved and been rewarded in the educational system faces the most difficult problems. Some part of this population has evolved — normally and not as a compensatory function — self-concepts and motives that take for granted the value of marriage and maternity, but also include individuality, creativity, independence, and successful competitive achievement. These characteristics become criteria by which the excellence of the self is measured. It is obvious that these characteristics are not highly functional within the traditional role, and moreover, cannot truly be achieved within the traditional female role. There would be no conflict if competitive achievement were the only aspect of these women's self-concept, but it is not. Characteristically, normal girls simultaneously put priority upon successful heterosexual relationships, which lead to the establishment of the nuclear family and traditional responsibilities.[28] Most girls effect a compromise, recognizing the hierarchy of their motivations and the appropriateness of their heterosexual desires. They tend to marry, work for a few years, and then start having babies. Inexperienced and unprepared, they tell themselves that the traditional role is creative and fulfilling. But creativity and fulfillment are hard to distinguish under the unending and repetitive responsibilities of diapers, dishes, and dusting. They tell themselves that when the children enter school they will reenter the labor force or the university. For these women, who have internalized the unequal evaluation of roles, who have developed needs to achieve, who have been rewarded because of their achievements, the traditional role is inadequate because it cannot gratify those non-nurturant, non-supportive, nondependent, non-passive aspects of the self.
Very few young women understand the very real limits upon achieving imposed by maternity, because they traditionally have had little experience with traditional role responsibilities before they marry. Typically, girls do not ask why there are so few female role models around who succeed in work while they have young children. While children are a real achievement, a source of joy and fulfillment, they are also time-consuming and energy-depleting, a major source of responsibility and anxiety. In today's child-centered milieu, with the decline of the extended family and the dearth of adequate child-care facilities, the responsibility for childbearing falls directly on the mother alone.
Success in the traditional tasks is the usual means by which girls achieve feelings of esteem about themselves, confidence, and identity.[29] In general they have continued, even as adults, to esteem themselves as they are valued by others; that source of esteem is interpersonal, best earned within the noncompetitive, nonaggressive traditional role. Without independent, objective competitive achievements, confidence is best secured within the traditional role—in spite of the priority given to masculine achievements. Whether or not the woman is achievement-oriented, her years of major childbearing responsibilities result in a decline in old work skills, a loss of confidence that she can work, a fear of failing within a competitive milieu that she has left. In other words, not only have specific techniques been lost or new data become unfamiliar, withdrawal from a competitive-achievement situation for a significant length of time creates the conviction that she is not able.
The very characteristics that make a woman most successful in family roles — the capacity to take pleasure in family-centered, repetitive activities, to sustain and support members of the family rather than pursuing her own goals, to enhance relationships through boundary less empathy—these are all antithetical to success in the bounded, manipulative, competitive, rational, and egocentric world of work.[30] Because they are not highly motivated and because they are uncertain about what is normal or desirable, many women do not work. Even those who do continue to feel psychologically responsible for the maintenance of the family and are unwilling to jeopardize family relationships. Most work at jobs that contribute to family vacations, college fees, or the general family budget.[31] Even women who pursue a career or profession, rather than merely holding a meaningless job, assume the responsibility for two major, demanding roles. Rather than make this commitment, many women professionalize their voluntary or club activities, bringing qualities of aggression, competitiveness, and organizing skills to these »safer« activities.
Women tend not to participate in roles, or seek goals that threaten their important affiliative relationships because in those relationships they find most of their feelings of esteem and identity. This perpetuates psychological dependency which may be functional in the relationships but injurious to the self-concept of those who have internalized the values of the culture. Undeniably, it is destructive to feelings of esteem to know that you are capable and to be aware that you are not utilizing much of your potential.[32] The question of whether nontraditional success jeopardizes feelings of femininity has not yet been answered. Most women today would not be willing to achieve a greater success than their husbands. In this tradition-bound, sex-stereotyped culture, even though millions of women are employed, old values are internalized and serve as criteria for self-evaluation.
Neither men nor women entering marriage expect the sexes to share equally in privileges and responsibilities. Very few couples could honestly accept the wife's having the major economic responsibility for the family while the husband deferred to the demands of her work. Few individuals could reverse roles without feeling that he is not »masculine,« and she is not »feminine.«[33] Masculinity and femininity are aspects of the self that are clearly tied to roles—which role, how typical or deviant, how well accomplished, the extent of the commitment.
Yet a new reality is emerging today, for this is an era of changing norms. Although the unidimensional stereotype still persists and remains partially viable, it is also simplistic and inaccurate. Both men and women are rejecting the old role allocations which are exaggerated and costly because they push men and women into limited slots solely on the basis of sex. But an era of change results in new uncertainties and the need to evolve new clear criteria of masculinity and femininity, which can be earned and can offer feelings of self-esteem to both sexes.
The socialization model is no longer clear; in its pure form it exists primarily in media, less in life. Since almost half of American women work, the percentage rising with the rising level of education, it is clear that, at least for educated middle-class women, the simplistic stereotype is no longer valid. Similarly we find that more men are rejecting success as the sole source of esteem or masculinity. The male turning toward his family reflects his need not to be bound or limited by a unidimensional role model. For both sexes this is a period of change in which both old and new values coexist, though the visible norms derive from the old model. Today's college students seem to be more aware than the generation that preceded them of the consequences of role choice; they seem to be evolving a goal in which men are more nurturant than they were, while females are freer to participate professionally without endangering the male's esteem.
Both the work and the housewife roles are romanticized, since romanticism is enhanced when reality does not intrude. Women glorify work when and because they do not participate in it. Role conflict for women is largely a feeling of having been arbitrarily shut out from where the action is—a reaction to a romanticized concept of work and a reaction against the reality of the repetitive world of child care. Frustration is freely available to today's woman: if she participates fully in some professional capacity she runs the risk of being atypical and non feminine. If she does not achieve the traditional role she is likely to feel unfulfilled as a person, as a woman. If she undertakes both roles, she is likely to be uncertain about whether she is doing either very well. If she undertakes only the traditional role she is likely to feel frustrated as an able individual. Most difficult of all, the norms of what is acceptable, desirable, or preferable are no longer clear. As a result, it is more difficult to achieve a feminine (or masculine) identity, to achieve self-esteem because one is not certain when one has succeeded. When norms are no longer clear, then not only the »masculine« achieving woman but also the non working traditionally »feminine« woman can feel anxious about her normalcy, her fulfillment. Many women try to cope with their anxiety by exaggerating, by conforming to stereotyped role images. When one is anxious or uncertain about one's femininity, a viable technique for quelling those anxious feelings is an exaggerated conformity, a larger-than-life commitment to Kinder, Küche, Kirche. In this way a woman creates images, sending out clarified and exaggerated cues to others. Thus, the message is clear and she can be more certain that the feedback will assure her of her femininity.
It is easy to be aware of the discrepancy between the stereotyped norm and the reality. People are not simple. Whenever one sees a total investment or role adoption in its stereotyped, unidimensional form, one suspects a flight from uncertainty about masculinity or femininity. During a period of transition one can expect to see increasing numbers of women quelling anxiety by fleeing into a unidimensional, stereotyped femininity. As new norms gain clarity and force, more flexible roles, personalities, and behaviors will evolve. Role freedom is a burden when choice is available but criteria are unclear; under these circumstances it is very difficult to know whether one has achieved womanhood or has dangerously jeopardized it.