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Based on sociological theories, social constructs are defined by Merriam-Webster as “an idea that has been created and accepted by the people in a society.” What this means is that there are aspects of our society that do not necessarily exist naturally, rather they have developed within our society. Essentially, social constructs exist because we collectively agree that they do. 

Some of the most common examples of social constructs include time, money, and gender. However, these ideas aren't one-size-fits-all as some cultures have different versions of these constructs while others might not have them at all. For example, the gender binary as we think of it does not exist in many indigenous cultures, such as the Navajo Nation. While they do have male and female genders, there is also a third gender known as “Two-Spirit.” This is an umbrella term similar to certain nonbinary identities. According to the, We Are Navajo website, Two-Spirit can be thought of as the “blending [of] both men’s and women’s roles.” Also, gender wasn’t always assigned at birth. Sometimes, they would wait until the child was older to see which of the three genders they most closely aligned with. Obviously, this is very different from the way gender is often perceived within our society as gender is thought of as extremely binary.

Part of the issue with gender is that it is often directly associated with sex: those born as the male sex are often raised as the male gender. However, there are differences between the two terms. Gender is used to define the social roles that are often associated with gender identities such as man and woman. On the other hand, sex is biological. It has to do with the chromosomes that we are born with, and then we associate gender with our perceived sex. However, this becomes an issue as sex is ultimately a social construct as well. Typically, biological sex is reduced down to the binary of male or female, yet it is not at all this simple. This idea completely excludes intersex people although they are, according to Amnesty International, about as common as redheads

Since social constructs are just things that we choose to give meaning to, it is easy to think that these things aren’t “real.” However, social constructs are very much so real and have very real consequences within the society that defines them. For example, although money is a social construct as it only holds the value that we choose to give it, it is a real, tangible thing. It is also real in the sense that if we don’t have access to enough of it, we may have a hard time surviving. Time is also a very real idea. To effectively participate in society, then we must learn how to be on time and meet deadlines. Failing to do so often results in real-life consequences.

The idea of social constructs is very complex and philosophical. They impact just about every aspect of our lives — they are a part of why we act the way that we do, and they influence the choices that we make. Social constructs aren’t always a bad thing as we use them to make sense of the world around us. However, they become dangerous when used as tools of oppression. This is when it becomes important to think critically about the norms and values of our society. 

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Tayler Butters

Virginia Tech '23

Tayler is a sophomore majoring in Creative Writing at Virginia Tech. She spends her time reading, listening to podcasts, drinking tea, and spending time with friends.
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