Chapter 11 – Sex and Gender
Issues of Sex and Gender
A. Gender stratification refers to males’and females’unequal access to power, prestige, and
B. Although sex and gender are often used interchangeably, they are distinct terms.
• Sex refers to the biological characteristics that distinguish males from females.
• Primary sex characteristics consist of a vagina or penis and other organs related to
reproduction. Secondary sex characteristics are those physical distinctions
between males and females not directly related to reproduction, such as males’
development of more muscles and a lower voice after puberty and women’s
development of broader hips and larger breasts after puberty.
• Gender refers to the social characteristics that a society considers proper for its
males and females. Although human beings are born male and female, they learn
how to be masculine and feminine.
• Since gender is a culturally-learned behavior (not innate), expectations associated
with gender vary from society to society.
• The sociological significance of gender is that it is a device by which society
controls it members.
• Most sociologists believe that social factors, not biology, account for gender
differences in behavior, such as male aggressiveness and female nurturing.Afew
sociologists, however, believe that biological differences account for these
differences in behavior.
Nature or Nurture?
• Sociologist Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, supporting the dominant sociological position linking
gender differences in behavior to social factors, points out the following:
o Are-examination of the anthropological record shows greater equality between
the sexes in the past than commonly thought, demonstrating that hunting and
gathering societies existed in which women are not subordinate to men.
o The types of work that men and women do in each society are determined by
social arrangements, not biology.
• Sociologist Stephen ………………
o In all societies, past and present, the highest statuses are associated with men, and
men overwhelmingly dominate the highest political positions.
o Men dominate societies because they are more willing “to sacrifice the rewards of
other motivations, the desire or affection, health, family life, safety, and
relaxation, vacation, and the like, in order to attain dominance and status.
o Exceptional individuals, such as highly achieving and dominant women, do refute
“the physiological roots of behavior.”
• Some sociologists, while not abandoning “nurture,” acknowledge that biological factors
are involved in some human behavior other than reproduction and childbearing. o SociologistAlice Rossi, for example, suggests that women are better prepared
biologically for “mothering” than men; they are more sensitive to the infant’s soft
skin and to their nonverbal communications.
o Rossi stresses that the issue is not necessarily either biology or culture; rather, it is
that nature provides biological predispositions, which are then overlaid with
• Case histories provide some support for the preposition that differences in male and
female behavior are attributable to both culture and biology.
o Supporting earlier studies on the relationship between male testosterone and
aggression, a health study of Vietnam veterans found that men who have higher
levels of testosterone are more aggressive and have more social problems as a
o Although this tends to support the biological position for gender differences in
behavior, researchers also found that, in addition to testosterone, social class also
makes a difference. High-testosterone men from higher social classes are less
likely to be involved in anti-social behaviors than high-testosterone men from
lower social classes. This suggests that social factors, as well as biological factors,
affect the relationship between male testosterone and aggression.
Gender Inequality in Global Perspective
A) Although some analysts speculate that women and men were social equals in hunting and
gathering societies, historian and feminist Gerda Lerner has concluded that “there is not a
single society known where women-as-a-group have decision-making power over men.”
B) Surveying 324 pre-modern societies around the world, anthropologist George Murdock
found that all of them sex typed activities as male or female.
• Murdock also found that with the exception of metalworking, which was
considered men’s work in all societies, activities that are considered “female” in
one society may be considered “male” in another.
• Murdock’s cross-cultural study guests that social arrangements determine what
work is assigned to men and to women.As those social arrangements vary from
society to society, so do men’s and women’s work assignments.
The division of labor along gender lines does not, by itself, constitute social inequality.
What constitutes social inequality is the fact that, universally, greater prestige is
given to male activities, regardless of the activity.
When delivering babies was “women’s work” (done by midwives), it was
afforded low prestige. When licensed doctors, primarily male, took over the task,
the prestige of the activity increased dramatically.
It is not the work that provides the prestige, but the sex with which the work is
!!!Do not fix to gender b/c activities will be associated with genders; they are not
innately associated to gender. Idea is not innately gendered itself, it’s the way
society accords it to gender. Gender Inequality in the United States
• Over time and wi