Big Question: Free choice and ‘Lean In’

Our environment, including features like the people we are around or the ideas exposed to us, shapes how we make decisions. If our circumstances sway us to prefer certain options, perhaps our choices aren’t the result of free choice.

Lorber explains how this happens in “The Social Construction of Gender.” She points out that gender is pushed on us as early as birth. Based on gender, our parents give us boy or girl names and dress us and talk to us in ways that reinforce gender. Later, gender continues on to shape our values and behaviors. It also shapes our ambitions, influencing our future selves as well.

In Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, Sandberg cites gender as limiting the career plans of women. She brings attention to the values that we cultivate in young girls, like not being bossy. At an early age, we reinforce gender expectations for girls to not become leaders for fear that they will be seen as bossy. In this case, gender as a circumstance has limited girls. This is one example of social circumstances making choices for us.

Lober, J. (2006) The social construction of gender. In E. Disch (Ed.), Reconstructing gender: a multicultural anthology. McGraw.

Sandberg, S. (2013) Lean in: Women, work, and the will to lead. New York: Knopf.

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