Culture shock is a lack of psychological and physical agreement experienced by someone when they move to a new cultural environment. It is a feeling of personal disorientation, initial crisis of understanding and adaption, someone experiences when suddenly confronted with an unfamiliar way of life, value system, attitudes and behavior. Culture shock is momentary psychological and physical dissonance experienced when you from familiar to unfamiliar cultural environment.
Culture shock could be intra-national or international. At intra-national level, you could get into a different community within the same country and find a way of life strange to you. This happens in Nigeria even within states. With over 240 ethnic groups, culture shock is virtually a common occurrence for a traveler. At international level, people experience culture shock when they move from one country to another. If you travel from Ghana to Japan for the first time you may not adapt quickly due to attempt to gradually shake off culture shock experiences. Some people who travel from the developing societies to the developed nations could experience culture shock in terms of adaptation to way of life due to sophistication of the society. So culture shock can be viewed from various angles – politics, education, religion, economy, the mass media, among others, depending on your interest.
Our interest here is gender and culture shock, especially as it relates to communication. First of all, what is gender? Gender is the socio-culturally determined roles of males and females in any society. This is different from sexuality which is biological state of being male or female. While gender is the socially perceived state of being male or female, sexuality is the biological state of being male or female. Gender is basically, socially constructed roles expected of a man or woman in any society. So gender refers to either of the two sexes (male or female) particularly in relation to socially constructed roles and relations between males and females. Basically, gender means socially constructed roles and relationships between and among men and women in a given society. Gender roles could vary according to society. Men could be regarded as bread winners in a specific society especially in the developing world, where as in the developed society that role is not restricted to men.
In what ways can someone experience culture shock from a gender-based perspective? One the basic culture shock experiences that could exist in the gendered environment is the accommodation of gender non-binaries (the in-betweens) in certain societies, particularly in the Western world. If you travel from Africa where the society gives no room for openly expressing behavior as an in-between, to the Western world where the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community is living a free life, you might experience initial culture shocks. You find gays and lesbians getting married, walking freely in the streets, pasturing churches, and appearing o television shows, if you’re not enlightened on LGBT issues you may experience some form of psychological disorientation. You switch on the television set you see transsexuals being interviewed on popular TV shows, something rarely seen on any TV channel in your country.
Culture shock from a gender perspective could be experienced when you encounter a matriarchal society, especially coming from a patriarchal background or, in extreme cases, from a society misogyny (inexplicable hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women and girls) persists. While misogyny is expression of hatred or contempt for women, misandry it the reverse – expression of hatred, contempt, or prejudice for men or boys. If you find yourself in opposite environments you may experience culture shock. For instance, if you exist in a patriarchal society and suddenly find yourself among Meghalaya communities in India where women practically run the show, it will take you some time to shake off the shock.
With reference to traditional communication in some African countries for instance, when women perform certain functions it could send a wrong signal in terms of misinterpreted or misunderstood messages. A woman is not expected to break the cola nut, whether a man is around or not. A woman is not expected to climb certain trees, or even be seen as bread winner of the family in certain ‘extreme’ environments. These days you find women taking up chieftaincy titles but they are not to become traditional rulers in most parts of Africa. Where such exists it could be a culture shock to many.
In Nigeria for instance, and some other African societies, the mass media do not want their audience to experience culture shock so they ensure their programme contents reflect the gender binary nature of the society. Of course, you don’t expect less in nations where there is a law banning homosexuality (in public places). The film industry in such nations reflect a gender binary society (which recognizes the male and female genders only), not a gender non-binary society (which recognizes both straight people and the LGBT community). Gay and Lesbian movies may not thrive in Nollywood for instance, as they would in Hollywood movies. You have major box office high grossing movies in Hollywood accommodating the LGBT community through major roles even in non-gay themed movies, something you would not try in Nollywood movies you would want to be successful hits.
Culture shock is a recurring feature in gender and communication discussion, especially when viewing this topic from the perspectives of what obtains in the developing and developed societies.