Sociologists and other social scientists generally attribute many of the behavioral differences between genders to socialization. Socialization is the process of transferring norms, values, beliefs, and behaviors to group members. The most intense period of socialization is during childhood, when adults who are members of a particular cultural group instruct young children on how to behave in order to comply with social norms. Gender is included in this process; individuals are taught how to socially behave in accordance with their biological sex. Gender socialization is thus the process of educating and instructing males and females as to the norms, behaviors, values, and beliefs of group membership.
Preparations for gender socialization begin even before the birth of the child. One of the first questions people ask of expectant parents is the sex of the child. This is the beginning of a social categorization process that continues throughout life. Preparations for the birth often take the infant's sex into consideration (e.g., painting the room blue if the child is a boy, pink for a girl). Many of the gender differences just described are attributed to differences in socialization, though it is possible genetic and biological factors play some role. It is important to keep in mind that gender differences are a combination of social and biological forces; sometimes one or the other has a larger influence, but both play a role in dictating behavior.
Gender stereotypes can be a result of gender socialization. Girls and boys are expected to act in certain ways, and these ways are socialized from birth by many parents (and society). For example, girls are expected to be clean and quiet, while boys are messy and loud. As children get older, gender stereotypes become more apparent in styles of dress and choice of leisure activities. Boys and girls who do not conform to gender stereotypes are usually ostracized by same-age peers for being different. This can lead to negative effects, such as lower self-esteem.
In Western contexts, gender socialization operates as a binary, or a concept that is exclusively comprised of two parts. In other words, individuals are socialized into conceiving of their gender as either masculine (male) or feminine (female). Identities are therefore normatively constructed along this single parameter. However, some individuals do not feel that they fall into the gender binary and they choose to question or challenge the male-masculine / female-feminine binary. For example, individuals that identify as "transgender" feel that their gender identity does not match their biological sex Figure 1. Moreover, individuals that identify as "genderqueer," challenge classifications of masculine and feminine. Those that identify as genderqueer adopt a more androgynous gender presentation and, thus, fall outside of the gender binary. These identities demonstrate the fluidity of gender, which is so frequently presented as biological and immutable. Gender fluidity also shows how gender norms are learned and either accepted or rejected by the socialized individual.