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SOCI 2040
Philip Walsh

SOCI-2040 Sociological Theory Lecture, November 14th The Sociological Theory of Charlotte Perkins Gilman Overview and background; theory of economic dependence; theory of sex- distinction; theory of socialization; theory of patriarchy Text Notes: - one of the first to seek to explain how men and women came to have their respective societal roles and why societies developed gender inequalities - Drew from 3 main theoretical perspectives: Darwinism, Marxist Theory (a Marxist emphasis on the economic and political basis for gender inequality) and Symbolic interactionism symbolic interactionist emphasis on how these gender differences are reinforced and institutionalized through the process of socialization) and a sociobiological emphasis on the evolutionary advantages or roots of gender differences o Marxist: Gilman analyzed the political and economic factors that produce and reproduce gender inequality. The division of labour of a traditional family has the wife, as a stay at home mom and the husband as a breadwinner, was an issue because it made women dependent on men. As Marx focused on the evils of capitalism, Gilman did not. But, as Marx saw the worker exploited in a capitalism system I. Gilman’s time and biography  Born 1860, Hartford, CT, USA; childhood; education  1884: Marriage (influence of Stetson); motherhood  1888: Separation; move to California; discovery of Marxism and other socialist utopian thinking  1894: Writings on institutional issues  1898-1935: Widening international recognition as a writer, activist and (later) a sociologist  Major works:  The Yellow Wallpaper (1892)  Women and Economics (1898)  Human Work (1904)  The Man-Made World (1911)  Herland (1915) Social theories of gender: what explains what? Mode of production Social structural explanations Social relations of Family structure Sociiolvolletonlaryations production explanations Parenting / gender roles Childhood socialization Psychological explanations II. Fundamental themes of Gilman’s thought  The natural and social differences between the sexes (sex-distinction)  Biology, history, patriarchy and matriarchy  Economic dependence and women’s subordination  Sex-distinction and socialization  Utopian theory III. Background considerations:  Theories of gender: constructivism v. essentialism o Essentialist: you think there is a biological which underlies the differences between men and woman o Constructivism: the differences between men and women, differences like what one does for work, social roles, how they dress, think, why they have the predispositions they have are constructed, they are artificial, they are the outcome due to the way society is ordered. o Gilman is more closer to essentialist then to constructivist  Influences: Marx, Darwin, Lester P. Ward o Keep in mind her influences, one importantly is Marx, will see this in her talks of economic dependence. Darwin, influenced by his interpretation of theory of evolution. o Gynocentric vs andocntris. Used to describes a culture  WARD. Androcentric, which is heavily masculinized, while gyno is heavily feminist.  ‘Race’ and racism in Gilman’s thought o she opposed racial slavery, laws restricting African American votes, she opposed interracial marriage (racist) her reason about this was inconsistent and muddled. IV. Theory of sex-distinction “Our distinctions of sex are carried to such a degree as to be disadvantageous to our progress as individuals and as a race (the human race). The sexes in our species are differentiated not only enough to perform their primal functions; not only enough to manifest all sufficient secondary sexual characteristics and fulfill their use in giving rise to sufficient sex-attraction; but so much as seriously to interfere with the processes of self-preservation on the one hand; and, more conspicuous, so much as to react unfavorably upon the very processes of race-preservation which they are meant to preserve” (Gilman, Women and Economics) **too much sex, not enough work. People are distracted from the goals of civilization from the idea of sex. It’s visible in the exaggeration of sexual differences.  Primary and secondary sexual characteristics  Looks like a distinction people make between natural and social differences. How people dress, the way they carry themselves, how they dress, etc. Gilman means something like this but it’s different in a way. She includes in the primary (natural) characteristics only the reproductive organs. In Secondary sexual characteristics, breasts in woman, body hair on men, are secondary because they are not crucial to reproduction but have been sexualized: obsession with breasts, myscles, body shape, etc. This exaggeration of sex distinction is unhealthy to Gilman, it promotes a culture thinking about sex constantly. This whole exaggeration of the secondary sex characteristics is driven mainly by men’s interest  This leads to a morbid excess of sex distinction in our culture and societies  It manifests itself differently between men and women, much more in woman than in men. This exaggeration of sex distinctions is part of her critique  Male and female ‘principles’  Men and women are different on the biological level and there are different predispositions. However, these predispositions have been exaggerated. The male principle of sex drive, is much greater than women’s, which is associated with aggression, competition, conflict, which Gilman ties closely to men’s drive.  ‘Normal’ vs. excessive sex-distinction • Male v. female manifestations V. Biology, history, patriarchy and matriarchy  Ward v. Darwin o Darwinian story: all organisms their development is determined by a process of struggle, competition, to pass on their genes to the next generation therefore struggle, conflict, competition, selfishness, are natural and the fittest survive out of that process  Selfish gene hypothesis, important term coined o Ward challenged this Darwin story. He discussed opposition, one organism on another, is as much an important principle in nature as competition.
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