Chapter 9: Gender Relations
What you see and how you see yourself is framed by social norms, institutions, culturally defined roles, and dominant
ideologies – or the social construction of gender.
There have been two observations:
1. It has been a constant struggle to interest men in gender courses because men are usually in privileged positions
where they rarely feel the need to interrogate their privilege
2. Many young women seem convinced that the battle for gender equality is won.
As sociologists, they are at least four benchmark ideas regarding ender issues:
Gender is a vantage point of critique
Gender is a social construction
Gender is realized in social roles and institutions
Gender is a relation of power and inequality
Gender is a Vantage Point of Critique
Sociology used to be male-centred discipline where men were dominant and women were absent or invisible, this led to
1. Women were invisible within the content of sociology – they were merely the wives, sisters, mothers, etc.
2. Women were invisible within the profession of sociology.
Gender became an important point of sociological thinking providing a good perspective. Gender as a vantage point allows
us to ‘see’ ourselves, the social institutions, and social world in ways that attend to both women’s and men’s experiences.
Today, many sociology departments have an almost 50/50 balance of women and men.
The generational divide has also pushed for more varied vantage points in the sociological treatment of gender – daughters
and granddaughters of feminist sociologists have also began to actively speak up for women everywhere, particularly on
issues more relevant to their time.
These issues include body image, transgressive sexualities, male sexual responsibility, etc.
The generational divide relates to the feminists of the old and new times and the generation gap dividing the women – the
alienation between the young feminists and their feminist mothers. Younger women began to develop their own
generation’s interpretation and understanding of gender issues.
There is also the question on whether or not feminism is dead – in regards to the wrestle with the contradictory merging of
pop culture’s emphasis on female empowerment with its tendency to constantly demean women.
Levy concludes that ‘raunchy’ and ‘liberated’ are not synonyms, and questions the raunchy turn of feminist interpretation
and reflects on how far we’ve come or how far we have left to go.
Men, on the hand, have also been a part of this conversation. They have offered views on where sociological work
regarding gender studies need to advance and improve: How, where, and when to include men in discussions that are of particular relevance to women
o One strong example of ambivalence on the part of feminists relates to the role of men in the case of sexual
violence. (Examples on p. 206)
o The argument relating to sexual violence includes the undermining of hegemonic masculinity, which is a
dominant form of masculinity
Leah McClaren argues that whereas women’s studies made sense because women’s perspectives have historically been
invisible, men’s studies did not.
Gender is a Social Construction
One of the earliest developments in thinking about gender in sociology was to challenge the notion of gender identities
could easily be mapped into biological identities. (E.g. masculinity and femininity v. male and female)
Gender was introduced as a term distinct from sex, where sex referred to biologically based differences while gender
referred to socially produced differences such as character, ambition, and achievement.
Distinctions of sex are not as straightforward as one would think. Cultural and psychological features of gender are so
variable historically and cross-culturally that it is impossible to map these features onto biological sex difference.
The principle that gender is a social construction has meant that taking a gender perspective means we see ‘being
masculine/feminine’ not as a social achievement requiring intense effort and scrutiny of society and its individuals, rather
than a mere phenomenon.
Gender as a social construction is also no static. It involves a number of developments and issues:
1. The idea that gender as a social phenomenon can be distinguished from sex as a biological phenomenon went
through scrutiny, and scholars began to reconsider what it meant to socially produce gender identities that are
fluid and diverse. (Expansion on pp. 208-209)
2. Sociologists began to think that perhaps the body is important to particular contexts and moments in the life
course. An example includes stay-at-home and single fathers. (Expansion on p.209)
Gender is Realized in Social Roles and Institutions
There has been a great deal of conceptual work on the issue of how gender relations are socially produced in practice.
In attempt to understand how gender relations work within society, feminist sociologists must first turn to sociological
concepts (social roles, social institutions, etc.) to identify gender as an identity and as a property of social structures.
‘Sex role socialization’ was identified as a major force where society provides different gender roles/scripts, and boys and
girls are socialized into these roles through a process of subtle/explicit sanctions or rewards.
Social institutions (family, school, media) act as agent of socialization that reward and punish boys and girls who do or do
not behave in ways deemed appropriate to their gender. In other words, gender was identified as a systemic feature of
Gendered society and structures used to be seen as constraints on individual action, however, analysts wanted a more
dynamic concept of structure that would have a more direct relationship with the everyday actions Individuals, thus social
institutions became more complex sites of negotiation, contestation, resistance, and change.
An example includes the social institution of education. Men typically pursue careers that offer greater salaries.
Gender Relations are Relations of Differences and Inequality In the 1970s and 1980s, sociologists argued that a systemic feature