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Culture, Gender, and Identity -- Who Are We?

Culture, Gender, and Identity -- Who Are We?

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand that a person's sense of self is created in part through identification with various groups

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Culture, Gender, & Identity - Who Are We?

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We've been talking about culture and how it influences each one of us. Well, I'm Marlene. And today, I'd like to look at personal identity, that sense of self, how we define ourselves.

It does come from culture, comes from gender, it comes from a variety of factors. I've listed a few of them here-- personal experience, where we come from, travel, even the era we grew up in. So do we grow up on a farm, in a city, did we grew up in poverty, in wealth, all of this is going to have a bearing on how we define ourselves. Or if we've traveled away from where we grew up or not. And even the era.

We've all grew up in the 9/11. Everybody remembers 9/11 and where they were. And there were people who remember Pearl Harbor when that was bombed. There aren't a lot of them left, but that was a experience that shaped them and bonded them into a group.

Or you've heard talk, perhaps, of "the Greatest Generation," those who grew up during World War II or the Depression. People who grew up during the '60s and went through civil rights, of the women's movement, Vietnam. That era is a bond in a way that people have come to see the world and maybe identified themselves. Their identity was shaped during the era they grew up in. So think about that. What era is shaping you?

Then also the groups that we belong to. That could be worship groups, social groups, political groups, if we're involved politically, or, perhaps, there's a pause we believe in. So we identify with the group and its purpose, and the people who are in that group.

Which leads me down here to relationships. The relationships in our life, not only the people in the groups, but in our families, the larger community. And then, of course, cultural role and gender. Very important to our sense of identity.

So we all wear a variety of hats. What are the roles that you play? It comes from at work you play a role, at home you play a role.

Are you a parent? Are you a spouse? You're someone's child. You're someone in the community.

We identify ourselves and who we are in great part through these roles that we play. And gender plays a role. We have ideas about what it means to be masculine or feminine, male or female, and even ideas about the roles that we play based on gender.

So how deeply we hold these beliefs, what our various roles are, and how we identify with those, all of this goes into shaping our sense of identity. Now, our sense of identity really influences the way we behave in conflict. So considering all these factors-- and there are more than what I've listed here-- that go into making up our identity, we may develop a sense that we have power or not. We may feel like we are in control of our destiny, that we can shape things in our world. Or we may take a more fatalist approach and feel as though the cards are stacked against us.

So if we're feeling powerless, then our approach to conflict, whatever it is, whether it's personal or, perhaps, it's in a group that's feeling powerless, the tendency may be to retaliate-- violence. And we've certainly seen this in riots.

Or if we're feeling like we have a sense of power, we can shape the world. We can change things. We may become a social activist. We may engage in dialogue with others because we feel we have a chance to make a difference. So that's one way that identity and our experiences that have gone into shaping our personal sense of identity will influences us in conflict.

Another example would be do we feel that we identify more with our rights as an individual or do we feel more as though it's important to sustain relationships? If we feel like I've got to get out there and scrap for myself, it's a dog-eat-dog world, then we may take a more competitive way of dealing with conflict, my needs, even if I have to sacrifice your needs. Or if it's really important to sustain relationships, we may collaborate, we may engage in dialogue as a way of approaching conflict.

So relationships themselves, how important have relationships been in our life? Do we have a sense of self that allows us to be assertive and speak up? Or perhaps we feel as though we need to be accommodating. And certainly gender roles could be at influence here.

Many women may feel that they want to nurture others or accommodate others. Some men may feel what they want to be competitive. These roles influence us. They certainly don't speak for every individual, but they certainly do influence to some degree our sense of self.

So the sense of self, when it is threatened, can also lead to conflict. For example, if you have a role that you're identifying with strongly in terms of your sense of identity itself or the world, if you lose your job or you feel threatened that somebody else may get a promotion, someone that you think is less than deserving of yourself and you lose prestige, this loss of world and prestige can lead to conflict. And how you deal with that conflict-- will you blame institution or a person? Is it an us versus them? Or will your experiences, your sense of self prepare you to engage in, perhaps, a more collaborative approach that you do have a sense of power, you can work through this, you can make a change.

So these are the variables in terms of how we approach conflict that come back to our sense of identity. That sense of identity, of course, comes through culture, it comes through gender, it comes through any variety of factors, some of which that I've listed here. So I've enjoyed being part of this lesson with you today. And I look forward to next time.

Terms to Know

A person's sense of self; the way an individual defines himself.