31.01.2013 SOC265 LECTURE 4
The Social Construction of Gender: “Doing Gender”
R.W. Connell says that what we learn through [child] socialization – we learn gender
competence [as girls/boys] Problems with this theory:
Question: Are there differences between men and women (boys/girls) of the sort that would
explain all the gender differences we see around us [in terms of things that are related to
o Why is it that still in this culture, its only guys who can only ask girls out on a date?
We don’t produce two different kinds of people in this society
o Social inequality has other sources
If you show people [university students] something tragic (may be a picture, story, etc.), ask
them to write down how they’re feeling. Results: girls are more emphatic than guys – more
o Sex of the psychologist conducting the study it affects results
If it is a girl psych, makes girls more emphatic
If boy, either no change or boys more emphatic
o Results if the people don’t think they are being observed (2-way mirror): no gender
There’s no internal personality difference between boys and girls: conclusion.
In a situation where the girls know they’re being observed, you get
differences in the direction of conformity to gender expectations (more
emphatic, etc., because they’re supposed to act like this), and this is
often the case in psych results.
Shift in focus is from types of people and personality to the social
expectation of people – which influences their behaviour.
Girls are pressured to babysit, etc. Girls pressured to take care of their
boyfriends/be more emphatic.
o Argument is that perhaps we are pressuring girls as they grow
up to take care of other people.
And this is not necessarily a result of childhood
socialization/personality. More so a result of
We do not start out different, and this is not why we
end up doing different things. Brain is different between
men and women in adulthood, but not in childhood.
Boys and girls are probably not always being treated differently. (This is
Socialization assumes kids are passive – absorbing everything.
Kids are not passive. They are active learners – they reject messages,
rebel against messages, etc. Sometimes the messages don’t fit, and they
don’t always react the way parents expect them to.
Kids don’t turn out the way parents think they will a lot of the time. 31.01.2013 SOC265 LECTURE 4
Social psychology: our behaviour is influenced by our context. E.g.
friends who “are” confident people; if put in certain situations, they are
not at all confident. People don’t really have stable personality
o Young boys act very differently when they are with different
guys, when they are at home with parents, when they are on a
date. You may see a completely different person in every
o Professional women/trial lawyer: must be merciless. Have to be
aggressive, manipulative, etc. But when back in the
office/personal life can be very nice/warm people.
o Problematic to think about personality traits as stable.
Sense of self not necessarily stable.
o A lot of fluidity: people try on different identities. People have
Teenagers who live in immigrant families, but grew up
in Canada. When they hang out with Canadian friends:
I’m a Canadian. But when they are home, they may
have a very strong ethnic identity.
Multiple Masculinities: this is a society that shapes people to fill
masculine/feminine roles. Problem with that is that there isn’t one way
to be a man or one way to be a woman in this society.
o There are guys who are very successful men, who love poetry,
who don’t play sports, and they got a job that paid pretty well.
o Different kinds of masculinities: Masculinities by R.W. Connell.
He also came up with hegemonic masculinity: refers to
the kind of idea [image/behaviour] that we associate
with people who are very dominant in this society as
men (president, CEOs, etc.)::::Most men don’t have
Point is: this isn’t most men. Nevertheless most men
benefit from that image. There is complicit masculinity:
guys who don’t fit the stereotype but still benefit from
it (benefit of the doubt in interactions). Subordinated
masculinity: suffer from that image – are not in that
image and pay for it. Marginalized masculinities: ethnic
minorities who do fine in the states in terms of gender,
but in terms of other factors they suffer negative
There don’t seem to be sizeable gender differences. 31.01.2013 SOC265 LECTURE 4
o Socialization argument was that we need to stop treating [girls]
differently (e.g. let them learn math, etc.). As a result of these
arguments, the curriculum in Ontario schools was completely
revised: got rid of gender stereotypes (they tried to). They made
teachers treat them the same, encourage them, etc.
Things have gotten better due to this. There are more
opportunities for girls.
But the problem with this strategy for ending social
inequality is that it only addresses the issue of
individuals. You can turn out a zillion very smart girls
with BA’s in sciences, etc. But you haven’t touched the
institutions. The biases of employers stays the same,
culture in the workplace stays the same (e.g. engineers),
haven’t changed the nature of those careers (work 12
hours a day and can’t take time off for e.g. maternity
If you don’t change institutions, the
opportunities are not the same.
Socialization is about individuals: it can change
individuals, but need to look at institutions/way
society is organized.
Role Theory: a theory about social organization. Larger theory was
o They argued that roles (homemaker, mother, breadwinner)
serve functions to maintain society, this is why we have them.
o Institutions like e.g. family exist because of these roles.
Thought of institutions in terms of functionality
o Problem was: cause and effect mixed up. Sun came out just to
warm us up?
o They always emphasized function, and not dysfunction. Ignored
all the ways in which families can be dysfunctional.
Role of mother, role of families, full of contradictions.
Concept of role is a very benign kind of concept,
Feminists: what about the power inherent in that role?
What about the conflicts attached to that role?
o There was a theory of society that went along with socialization
arguments, and it was functionalist, but these arguments didn’t
see contradictions: as a result they couldn’t see change.
60’s and 70’s happened and things changed, role theory
no longer made sense. 31.01.2013 SOC265 LECTURE 4
Doing Gender (C. West & D. Zimmerman) – article often cited
Says that gender is not a characteristic of individuals, it is something we
do. Often called a social construction approach.
Notion that we literally create gender
Their argument is that gender is: “a routine accomplishment embedded
in everyday interaction”: we accomplish gender in everyday
o Managing your behaviour so that you are expressing your
femininity or your masculinity/ or managing your behaviour so
that you are somehow accountable for your behaviour of
E.G. how we dress in the morning. High heels is doing
gender, wearing a short skirt, etc. This is all a
presentation that you are presenting yourself to the
world as anything other than boy.
Another example: conversation.
o Women will often enable conversation,
whereas guys are more likely to
declare/state things and not do that
work in conversations. This only
happens in the contexts when women
are interacting with men or when
women are interacting with authority
figures. Doesn’t happen when women
talks to brother/other women, etc.
Women are acting differently than men
because they are doing gender.
Another example: years ago there was a
common style that came from the US; a way of
talking where girls always ended their sentence
in a question mark. “I like my sociology class?”
o This is saying, I’m just a girl, I’m not
going to say anything with any
authority: therefore not going to
Another example: flight attendants. If
passenger is clearly upset about something and
has to be dealt with, and there are flight
attendants (guys and woman), they will send a
woman to deal with the passenger: she will
smile, speak reassuri