The Sociologically Imagined Self – Sociology Essay
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
shortage of money and unavailability to find a decent job. Another could be a newly-wed couple having daily arguments which may lead to their divorce or a case of where women are facing difficulties perceiving their housekeeping responsibilities as a mother wanting to become something more than just a housewife. These various private tensions may seem very personal, yet according to sociologist C. Wright Mills, 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 and women are rising up to be treated same as men, there still exist differences in sexuality in our society. This issue of gender and sexuality of our society has had one of the biggest impacts in my life since I was raised with my twin brother Alex. When I saw light of the world, I was immediately assumed the role of a daughter and a girl to my parents. My brother was given tanks, robots and Lego to play with, while I was given Barbie dolls, mini-baking sets and etc. I loved playing with dolls, but there was always that little thought in back of mind that I wanted to play with whatever my brother got to play with as well. However, I soon realized that boys’ toys weren’t for me and 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. According to this, there are obviously different social positions assumed by women and men because even at a young age, one adopts a gender role closely related to gender identity which is
“your identification with, or sense of belonging to, a particular sex-biologically, psychologically, and socially” (288). After numerous incidents where I was denied to play with my brother’s toys or to play guys’ sports such as baseball, I was slowly beginning to understand my role as a female, a daughter and a sister through everyday social interactions and social learning of gender which I believed was the correct thing to do. I suppose that gender is not just created biologically; rather, it is also felt and learned through the moments one experiences within the society. Also, the cultural factors influencing the structural factors in gender can also be experienced through the society. I believe that having a twin brother has influenced me even more in recognizing my gender identity. With strict distinction drawn by my parents and those around me, I was taught that playing with Barbie dolls was the socially accepted thing to do. If I had not learned about how social beliefs affect personal lives, I wouldn’t have even thought about questioning what would have happened if I had no clear social interactions or learning to help me identify my gender.
Another sociological theory that has affected my way of thinking was social issues dealing with family and culture. I grew up in a traditional Korean family before I moved here in United States and those were the times when my views and my behaviors were shaped by my parents and grandparents. My grandfather used to tell me many stories about when Korea was a colony of Japan and Japanese people stole, rooted, and ruined the lives of innocent Korean people. While he angrily expressed his feelings toward Japanese people, I, as a child, could feel myself slowly believing in my grandfather’s beliefs. I think that as a child I was going through an anticipatory socialization where I was taking on the norms and behaviors of a role to which one aspires but does not yet occupy. It could also be said that I was completely rejecting self socialization and was making my family an aspect of my primary socialization. Due to this, while I was growing up, I tended to avoid Japanese people. I started to feel that the culture was limiting the “choices” at my disposal. Due to this experience as a child, I realized that I had almost no control over my beliefs and most were issued to me by my family, culture and society and still do not have control over these things. Because my grandfather was basically socializing me when I was a child, I still have problems developing my individual beliefs alone. Even to this day, society plays such a big role in my making of choices everyday and social influences can be most of times, uncontrollable; however, sometimes one could use those social influences to one’s own advantage to form the 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.
As I continued to live in America, my racial identity became clearer as I was considered to be 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 Asian in the class and soon fell silent feeling maybe I wasn’t supposed to be there, I simply did not belong in there. However, later during the day, I was moved to an ESL class where I met at least seven Korean 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 Koreans because I thought they shared similar ideas as me, but another reason was because 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 years of living in America, 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. Consequently, I would meet new people and they would ask where I am from and I find myself answering, “Chicago,” whereas couple years ago I used to respond with “Seoul, South Korea.” 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 group of people, I started to become more aware of my current social standings living with my parents. I believe that social inequality still have 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 (195). Wealth is not just how much money you have or how expensive of things you can afford to buy; rather it’s 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 called Molex Co. 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. Also, 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 can’t 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 he’s social standing is dramatically lower than my family’s. I believe that my parents would try to convince me to rethink because by marrying him I will not be able to enjoy the privileges I got to enjoy living with my family. Even now, I realized that I usually hang out with those who’s standing on a similar social status as me because I can relate to them more when talking about things rather than with people who never got to do things that I was privileged to due to 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” can’t 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 Koreans and other Asians, 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.