Social constructs are things that we take for granted, but which are, in fact, inherently unnatural. They shape the society in which we live, but we also shape them in the ways in which we think. The social construct theory tells us that humans create social constructs in an attempt to not only make sense of the world around us. but also to control it.
So, what are some social constructs?
- Virginity. Virginity is a social construct; its roots come from biblical texts and are predominantly tied to women. Throughout history and even in the present, a woman said to not be a virgin is seen as “damaged goods”. This construct has been used to objectify women and to supress them sexually.
- Gender. The social construct of gender is one which is currently being addressed. The term “gender” was created in order to distinguish biological sex and socialized aspects, such as femininity and masculinity. In fact, some people even believe sex to be a social construct in which doctors have just decided that men have x and y chromosomes, whilst women have two x chromosomes. Gender embodies traits which are expected of a man or a woman. Although some of these traits are inherent and biological (e.g. historically men would have higher testosterone levels than women, which naturally would increase muscle growth, thus making them more attractive leaders than women) we must recognise that these traits do not define a person or their gender.
- Ageing. Whilst aging itself is a natural and biological process, the ideas of what it means to be “young” or “old” are social constructs. Commonly, the construct of what it means to be “old” is reflected by that country’s average life expectancy. If you are 30 in the UK you are considered to be “young”, as the average life expectancy in this country is 80 years old. However, to be 30 in an LEDC, where figures in 2017 say the average life expectancy is 47, you may, instead, be considered “old”.
A common question which coincides with the creation and existence of social constructionism focuses on whether or not the creation of these constructs is detrimental to society. However, the answer to this question is more complicated than a simple yes or no. Society as we know it is almost entirely built around these constructs, so if we just lost them it would be interesting to see how the human race would adapt. It is important to note that social constructs are not all bad, as long as there is the room to evolve. They also shouldn’t be used as a way to restrict or oppress anyone. As different societies conform to different standards, it is important to be empathetic to all.
In summary, society is always evolving and it will hopefully continue to change for the better in the future. For now, it is imperative to live with an open mind and to be accepting of new ideas.