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Gender and Sexuality
Defining Male and Female: Sex and Gender
Your sex depends on whether you were born with distinct male or female genitalia and a
genetic program that released either male or female hormones to stimulate the
development of your reproductive system.
Gender comprises the feelings, attitudes, and behaviors associated with being male or
Identification with, or sense of belonging to, a particular sex – biologically,
psychologically, and socially – is known as gender identity.
People adopt a gender role when they behave according to widely shared expectations
about how males or females are supposed to act.
Transgendered: gender identity does not exactly match the sex assigned to them at
Transsexuals identify with the opposite sex from that assigned to them at birth, causing
them to change their appearance or resort to a sex-change operation.
Transgendered people represent a problem for most people only cuz our society does not
recognize the validity of intermediate sexes.
Expectations about sexual behavior are arguably among the most rigid of our gender
norms, yet sexual behavior often departs widely from biological sex and sociological
Sexuality refers to activities that are intended “to lead to erotic arousal and produce
Sexual behavior is guided by a set of sexual scripts that tell us whom we should find
attractive, when and where it is appropriate to be aroused, what is permissible, and how
to behave sexually. These scripts linked to gender roles.
For a long time, sexuality was assumed to be heterosexuality. Even today, many people
assume that individuals should desire only members of the opposite sex. Sociologists
call this assumption compulsory heterosexuality.
The assumption of heterosexuality has negative implications for both lesbians and gays.
They face discrimination, are denied basic civil rights in most countries, and risk abuse,
Adrienne Rich defines compulsory heterosexuality: the ideologically and materially
enforced insistence that women see themselves entirely as the complements of men and
live under male control or risk severe sanctions ranging from social stigma to death.
Sexual Attitudes and Behavior
Men and women differ in terms of the standards they use to justify sexual activity.
Hobart distinguishes the “love standard”, according to which sexual activity is
acceptable as long as both partners are in love, from the “fun standard”, according to
which sexual activity is acceptable as long as both partners want it. He shows in Canada
men and francophones are more likely than women and anglophones to endorse the fun
standard. Also, men are somewhat more concerned than women with sex. Women are
somewhat more concerned than men with love.
American research shows that women are more likely to cite “affection for partner” as
the major reason for their first intercourse experience followed by “curiosity/readiness
for sex”. Men are often mention “curiosity” followed by “affection”.
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Canadians now are more tolerant with premarital sex and unmarried couple living
together, as well with homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
Acceptance of homosexuality is strongly correlated with age, gender, and region.
Estimates of the prevalence of homosexuality depend on how homosexuality is
measured. An estimate based on sexual identity results in a lower percentage than does
an estimate focusing on sexual orientation (the way a person derives sexual pleasure,
including whether desirable partners are of the same or a different sex).
It is more appropriate to conceptualize sexuality as comprising 4 continua: sexual
attraction, sexual desire, sexual behavior, and sexual identity than in terms of a strict
dichotomy btw heterosexuality and homosexuality.
Changing attitudes toward extramarital affairs are part of a more general tendency for
people to have fewer sexual partners. Although there are undoubtedly several reasons for
this tendency, one of the most important is the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
Does sex determine destiny?
Essentialism: perspective that gender is a reflection of naturally evolved dispositions.
Social constructionism: perspective that gender is a reflection of the different social
positions occupied by women and men.
Essentialists first observe male-female differences in sexual scripts, the division of labor
at home and in the workplace, mate selection, sexual aggression, jealousy, promiscuity,
fidelity, and so forth.
Essentialism has many variants, most of which originate in biology and psychology.
Here we briefly consider 3 of the most popular variants: brain studies, sociobiology, and
Male-female differences in brain structure are sometimes said to account for male-
female differences in behavior and achievement.
Use of the right hemisphere of brain becomes dominant in men, which supposedly
allows men to excel in mathematical, artistic, musical, and visual-spatial abilities.
Women use the hemispheres more symmetrically, giving them an edge in feelings,
intuition, language skills, and quick judgments.
Men presumably best at jobs requiring logic and visual-spatial manipulation.
Women presumably best at jobs requiring empathy, intuition, and language skills.
E.O. Wilson argues that the different reproductive status of men and women means they
have had to overcome different adaptive problems and develop different adaptive
strategies. This gave rise to patterns of behavior we now call “masculine” and
“feminine”. Individuals who possessed the characteristics that best resolved these
problems had a better chance of surviving and passing their genes to their offspring.
David Buss, a well-known evolutionary psychologist, argues that 4 adaptive strategies or
“universal features of our evolved selves” govern the relations btw the sexes and
contribute to the preservation of the human species. Men want casual sex, men treat
women as property, men beat or kill women who incite male sexual jealousy, and women
are greedy for money.
Reason for Buss’ theory: women can produce less eggs so less sex, men produce more
sperm so more sex.
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Simon Davis discovered that attractive physical features were the most frequently
mentioned desirable characteristic in a partner for both men and women. But women
more likely to list professional status, employment status, financial considerations,
intelligence, commitment, and emotion. Men more likely to list attractiveness, physique,
Believed that sexuality is the main human instinct. In his view, it motivates human
behavior and accounts for the development of distinct masculine and feminine gender
A boy unconsciously develops a fantasy of sexually possessing his mother, but develops
anxiety that he will be castrated by his father for desiring his mother. To resolve this, the
boy represses his feelings for his mother, which allows him to begin identifying with his
father, and leads to the development of a strong, masculine personality.
A girl recognize penis as the superior counterpart of her own small and inconspicuous
organ, and from that time forward fall a victim to envy for the penis, which lets her
develop the sense of inferiority. She believes the fault is that of her mother and develops
an unconscious sexual desire for her father. Eventually, the girl comes to identify with
her mother knowing that she will never have a penis. This to Freud is a way of
vicariously acquiring her father’s penis. Since women can never completely resolve their
penis envy, their gender identity is normally immature and dependent on men.
A Critique of Essentialism
Essentialist arguments have 6 main problems.
1. Essentialists ignore the historical and cultural variability of gender and sexuality.
2. Essentialists ignore the fact that gender differences are declining rapidly and in some
cases have already disappeared.
3. The research evidence employed by essentialists is often deeply flawed.
4. Essentialists tend to generalize from the average, ignoring variations within gender
5. Essentialists exaggerate the degree to which gender differences are unchangeable.
6. Essentialists offer explanations for gender differences that ignore the role of power.
The main alternative to essentialism. Argues that gender differences are not the product
of biological properties, whether chromosomal, gonadal, or hormonal. Instead, gender
and sexuality are products of social structure and culture.
Culture is composed of shared systems of meaning. It incorporates people’s values and
beliefs. Though many systems of meaning coexist and compete at any one time,
patriarchy, or male domination and belief in its validity, is widely accepted in nearly all
Social structure refers to the way major institutions, such as families, the economy, and
the political system, are organized. In most societies today social structures are
patriarchal in that they reinforce inequalities btw women and men.
Social constructionists stress 3 main sociohistorical changes that led to the development
of gender inequality.
1. Long-distance warfare and conquest: Anthropologists have shown that a high level of
gender equality existed in foraging or hunting-and-gathering societies, the dominant
form of society for 90% of human history. But sometimes btw 4300 and 4200 BCE Old
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