Women Studies 1
Night to His Day: The Social Construction of Gender
Gender is such a familiar part of daily life that it usually takes a deliberate
disruption of our expectations of how women and men are supposed to act to
pay attention to how it is produced.
Gender signs and signals are so uncomfortable until we have successful
placed the other person in a gender status; otherwise, we feel socially
Transvestite- a person who dresses in opposite gender clothes
Transsexual- a person who has had sex-change surgery.
Transvestite and transsexuals constructs their gender status by dressing,
speaking, walking, gesturing in the ways prescribed for women and men and
so does any normal person.
Gender construction starts with assignment to a sex category on the basis of
what the genitalia look like at birth.
A sex category becomes a gender status through naming, dress, and the use
of other gender markers.
Sex doesn’t come into play again until puberty, but by that time, sexual
feelings and desires and practices have been shaped by gendered norms and
As a social institution, gender is one of the major ways that human beings
organize their lives. One way of choosing people for the different tasks of
society is on the basics of their talents, motivations, and competence ascribed
membership in a category of people.
The process of gendering and its outcome are legitimated by religion, law,
science, and the society’s entire set of values.
Gender as Process, Stratification, and structure.
As a social institution, gender is a process of creating distinguishable social
statuses for the assignment of rights and responsibilities.
As a process, gender creates the social differences that define woman and
man. Members of a social group neither make up gender as they go along nor
exactly replicate in rote fashion what was done before.
As a part of a stratification system, gender ranks men above women of the
same race and class. Women and men could be different but equal.
Fro society’s point of view, one gender is usually the touchstone, the normal,
the dominant, and the other is different, deviant and subordinate.
In a gender stratified society, what men do is usually valued more highly than
what women do because men do it, even when their activities are very
similar or the same.
Societies vary in the extent of the inequality in social status of their women
and men members, but where there is inequality, the status woman is usually
held in lesser esteem than the status man. Men and women members if the favoured groups command more power,
more prestige and more property than the members of the disfavoured
As a structure, gender drives work in the home and in economic production,
legitimates those in authority, and organized sexuality and emotional life.
The Paradox of Human Nature
The paradox of human nature is that it is always a manifestation of cultural
meanings, social relationships, and power politics.
Gendered people emerge not from physical or sexual orientations but from
the exigencies of the social order, mostly from the need for a reliable division
of the work of food production.
The moral imperatives of religion and cultural representations guard the
boundary lines among genders and ensure that what is demanded, what is
permitted, and what is tabooed for the people in each gender is well known
and followed by most.
The Sexual Politics of Interpersonal Behaviour
Social interaction is the battlefield on which the daily war between the
sexes is fought.
Social interaction serves as the locus of the most common means of social
control employed against women.
Verbal, nonverbal and environmental cues aid this enforcement of one’s
Formal education emphasized the verbal message but teaches us little
about the nonverbal one.
Female subjects are more responsive to nonverbal cues than male subjects.
The world of everyday experience
When a woman is introduced to others or fills out s written form, the first
thing she must do is divulge her marital status, acknowledging the social rule
that the most important information about her is her legal relationship to a
Advertisements from a large part of our visual world, and their subtle
messages suggest that the way the genders are shown in them is the usual
and appropriate arrangement.
6 themes involving gender distinctions in advertising pictures:
o relative size: symbolizing the greater importance of men
o feminine touch: not fully grasping
o function ranking: with males directing the action
o The family: in which fathers are linked with boys and mothers with
girls Women Studies 3
o The ritualization of subordination: in which women, by lower
spatial position, a broken body line, smiles and clowning, display
o Licensed withdrawal: in which women are relatively less oriented to
the situation and dependent on men.
Asymmetry in social reaction
Environmental cues set the stage on which the power relationships of the
genders are acted out and the assigned status of each gender is reinforced.
Way in which status affects interpersonal behaviour:
o Between status equals we may expect to find interaction guided by
o Between subordinate and superordinate we may expect to find
asymmetrical relations, the superordinate having the right to exercise
certain familiarities in which the subordinate is not allowed to
Rules of demeanour, like rules of deference, can be symmetrical, typical
of equals, or asymmetrical, typical of equals:
o Doctors had the right to saunter into the nurses’ station, lounge on the
stations, laugh at jokes with the nurses’; other ranks participated in
this informal interaction with doctors but only after the doctors
A status variable that illustrates rules of symmetry and asymmetry is the use
of terms of address, widely studied by Brown and others.
According to Brown, the pattern evident in the use of forms of address
applies to a very wide range of interpersonal behaviour and invariably has
two other components: (1) whatever form is used by a superior in situations
of status inequality can be used reciprocally by intimates, and whatever form
is used by an inferior is the socially prescribed usage for non-intimates. Thus
friends use first names with each other, whereas strangers use titles and last
names. (2) Initiation or increase of intimacy is the right of the superior
Demeanour, posture and dress
Men are allowed such privileges as swearing and sitting in undignified
positions, but women are denied them.
It’s often considered unladylike for a woman to use her body too forcefully,
to sprawl, to stand with her legs widely spread, to sit with her feet up.
Many of these positions are ones of strength and dominance.
Symbols and gestures used by males tend to be those of power a