In today’s society, it is easy to spot someone blaming themselves for the occurrence of their personal life problems. For example, a single-mother may blame herself for not being able to support her children well due to a shortage of money and unavailability to find a decent job. Another could be a newly wed couple having daily arguments that may lead to their divorce, or women who are facing difficulties perceiving their housekeeping responsibilities and wanting to become something more than just a homemaker. These various private tensions may seem very personal. These dilemmas are all related to a bigger world called society and this is known as the sociological imagination. Sociological imagination suggests that people look at their own personal troubles as social issues and, in general try to connect their own individual encounters with the workings of society. The personal problems are closely related to societal issues such as unemployment, marriage, war and even the city life where the private troubles and the public issues become clearly apparent. With the understanding of the sociological imagination, I began to notice the daily choices I make, the classes I attend, the way I was raised by my parents, the group of people I choose to hang out with, the things I like to converse about with others are all somehow affected by public issues and what society tends to make us believe is right. There are many areas in my life where I feel that I am greatly affected by various sociological theories such as events dealing with gender and sexuality, family and culture, ethnicity and race, and social class and work.
Even though our country supports equality in gender, differences still exist. This issue of gender and sexuality of our society has had one of the biggest impacts in my life since I was raised with five brothers. Since birth, I was immediately perceived by my parents as my gender role of girl and daughter. My brothers were given action figures, cars, and guns to play with. I was given the traditional girl toys Barbies, baby dolls and kitchen sets. Of course, I enjoyed my traditional girl toys but it might have been nice to have a choice and be able to have the same toys as my brothers to play with. I eventually concluded that I should be satisfied with whatever toys were given to me by my parents. I believe that toys contribute to the gender socialization with the help of parents who tend to treat boys and girls differently since their births. Because Barbie is likely one of the most identifiable symbols of femininity in the world, parents feel the need to expose it to their daughters at an early age. It is obvious that there are different social positions assumed by women and men. Even in our youth individuals tend to conform to the gender role, which is more closely related to our particular gender identity. After numerous incidents where I was denied the opportunity to play with “boy toys” and to play sports such as football, I soon began to conform to my female role, as a daughter and sister. Through encountering social interactions and experiencing social learning of gender, I learned what was believed or understood as the correct thing to do. I suppose that gender is not solely created biologically; rather, it is also felt and learned through the experiences within the society. In addition, the cultural factors influencing the structural factors in gender can also be experienced through the society. I believe that having brothers helped influence me more in recognizing my gender identity. The guidance of my parents helped me to conform to the socially accepted ways of the female gender. Learning about the ways that social beliefs affect personal lives, helped me to understand how social interactions assist in gender identification.
Another sociological theory that has affected my way of thinking was social issues dealing with family and culture. I grew up in a traditional Puerto Rican family here in the United States. My family helped to shape my views and behaviors culturally. My grandfather told me many stories about how he was discriminated against. While he angrily expressed his feelings about Caucasian people, as a child I could feel myself slowly believing in my grandfather’s beliefs. I believe now that I was experiencing anticipatory socialization, I was taking on the norms, and behaviors of a role to which one aspires but does not yet occupy. Another way of viewing my actions is that I was rejecting self-socialization and making my family an aspect of primary socialization. Due to my experience with my grandfather and his influence, I avoided Caucasian people. I began believing that culture was limiting the options I had. My familial or societal experiences issued me my beliefs as if I had no control over my own beliefs on culture and society. Due to the anticipatory socialization with my grandfather, I still have problems developing my individual beliefs alone. Society still plays a big role in the choices I make. Social influences can be uncontrollable and sometimes people use social influences to form their socially understood beliefs. This experience helped me to realize that society does indeed play a main role in developing my cultural and traditional family views and values.
My racial identity became clear as I was considered part of a minor racial group in my class full of Caucasian people. At first, I was surprised by the enormous variety of races that existed. The first day I went to school, I realized I was the only Hispanic in the class .I felt out of place as if I did not belong there. However, later during the day, I was moved to an ESL class where I met at least seven Hispanic people. Soon, I started to feel that I was part of a distinct ethnic group and I would feel more accepted when I am with other people of my ethnic group. According to Brym and Lie, ethnic group is composed of people who perceived cultural markers are deemed socially significant. It is true that ethnic groups differ from one another in terms of language, religion, customs, values, and ancestors, but these are not the only causes of differences in races, but much of the social-structural differences typically underlie cultural differences. I felt more comfortable being with other Hispanics because I thought they shared similar ideas as me, but another reason was that while I was in the classroom filled with mostly Caucasian people, I felt as if they were saying, “What is she doing here? She’s not one of us.” Somehow, I felt like an outcast among the fluent English speakers and thought even my teacher looked down on me because I could not speak the language. However, after couple of years, I started to make Caucasian friends and slowly began to experience a shift in my racial identity. Even before I knew it, I was shaping and reshaping my ethnic identity through the experiences I was encountering with different groups of people. According to Brym and Lie, assimilation is the process by which a minority group blends into the majority population and eventually disappears as a distinct group. I believe that through goodwill, I was allowed to fuse socially and culturally into an American culture. Unlike the years before, I now believe that racial identity was not forced upon me; rather I shaped it throughout the years through my own experiences with different race people.
Following the changes in my attitude toward different groups of people, I started to become more aware of my current social standings living with my parents. I believe that social inequality still has big consequences for the way we live which sketches out the pattern of social inequality in the United States and globally. The meaning of social stratification, the way society is organized in layers or strata, we start to identify issues that need to be resolved before we can achieve a more adequate understanding of social stratification, one of the fundamentally important aspects of social life. Wealth is not just how much money you have or how expensive of things you can afford to buy; rather it is something that you own. It may be many different things. For example, my parents’ wealth helped to purchase a house of their own, a new Mercedes and to pay for two kids’ college tuitions. I agree with the fact that wealth even improves your health because you can afford to engage in leisure pursuits, turn off stress, consume high-quality food and all this will lead you to live a healthier and longer life than someone who lacks these advantages. My dad, who has lost his mother when he was only six years old, has lived under difficult conditions. His father did not have a job, he had five siblings who now had no mother to cook for them or take care of them. They lived in poor conditioned house where rain would go right through the roof of the house leading to another night of wet floor to be bucketed out. Not until my dad started to work on his own, he was not able to achieve any social status with his family living in such poverty. Now he works as a financial manager for a prosperous company and earns a high income annually. Since your income is what you earn in a given period, there is less income inequality in the distribution of wealth. People of social stratification usually divide populations into categories of unequal size that differ in their lifestyle. In addition, there is a relationship between wealth and culture as one defines class such as the “cultural capital” which is widely shared high status cultural signals that really cannot be counted due to its invisibility. I realized after hearing my dad’s life story of working his way up in his social and economic status that it is possible for people to move up and down following economy. In order to do this however, our society needs to promote marriage, decent paying jobs, and raise the minimum wage. I sometimes wonder how my parents would react if I brought someone home to introduce him as my future husband but his social standing is dramatically lower than my family’s. I believe that my parents would try to convince me to contemplate my decision. Since marrying him would not allow me, the privileges I am used to. It is easier to relate to an individual who has been as privileged as I have and shares my social standing. Even at school, there are certain social events that only people who can afford to buy the tickets can attend. Those who are not able to afford such things are not allowed to attend the event. This shows how the society makes social stratification seem almost natural and bound to happen. Our society promotes the differences in social classes and is telling us to accept it the way it is.
I believe that if I had not been aware of these sociological theories, I would not have been able to understand how society relates to my daily choice makings and beliefs I have developed throughout the years. I always thought that my personal problems were only affected by my private issues and did not think that sociological issues could be such a big of an impact. In many areas such as gender and sexuality, family and culture, race and ethnicity, and social class and stratification were all the causes and results of various personal problems I had throughout my life. Once I began to learn these sociological concepts, I was able to relate them more to my life and started to question how society can be changed. People must realize and accept that little actions can change the society, which can bring dramatic changes to their daily lives. We have to stop thinking that society is merely a big institution that we as “little people” cannot really do anything to bring about a change. We have to realize that we may be created and controlled by the social world, but at the same time, we create the society. As I raise my children, I am going to try to raise them as individuals rather than a boy and a girl. As I meet people of different races, I am not only going to limit myself to Hispanics, rather I will try to get off from my comfort zone and be part of different groups of people. These things may not be easy as it sounds because of beliefs that society has already formed in my head, however, I am going to try to stay open-minded, and that society can indeed change if we all become aware of each of our own sociological imaginations.