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Chapter 1

SOC275H5 Chapter Notes - Chapter 1: Hegemonic Masculinity, Masculinity, Invisibility

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Hae Yeon Choo

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Daily, we hear how men and women are different.
We hear that we come from different planets.
They say we have different brain chemistries, different brain organization, different
They say our different anatomies lead to different destinies.
They say we have different ways of knowing, listen to different moral voices, have
different ways of speaking and hearing each other.
You’d think we were different species, like say, lobsters and giraffes, or Martians and
In his best-selling book, pop psychologist John Gray informs us that not only do women
and men communicate differently, but they also “think, feel, perceive, react, respond,
love, need, and appreciate differently.”
It’s a miracle of cosmic proportion that we ever understand one another.
This “interplanetary” theory of complete and universal gender difference is also typically
the way we explain another universal phenomenon: gender inequality.
Gender is not simply a system of classification, by which biological males and biological
females are sorted, separated, and socialized into equivalent sex roles.
Gender also expresses the near-universal inequality between women and men. When
we speak about gender we also speak about hierarchy, power, and inequality, not
simple difference.
So the two tasks of any study of gender are to explain both difference and inequality or, to
be alliterative, difference and domination. Every general explanation of gender must
address two central questions and their ancillary derivative questions.
First: Why is it that virtually every single society differentiates people on the basis of
Why are women and men perceived as different in every known society?
What are the differences that are perceived?
Why is gender at least one - if not the central - basis for the division of labour?
Second: Why is it that virtually every known society is also based on male dominance?
Why do most societies divide social, political, and economic resources unequally
between the genders? And why is it that men always get more?
Why is a gendered division of labour also an unequal division of labour?
Why are women’s tasks and men’s tasks valued differently?
It is clear that there are dramatic differences among societies regarding the types of gender
differences, the levels of gender inequality, and the amount of violence (implied or real) that
are necessary to maintain both systems of difference and domination.
But the basic facts remain: Virtually every society known to us is founded upon assumptions
of gender difference and the politics of gender inequality.
On these axiomatic questions, two basic schools of thought prevail: biological
determinism and differential socialization.

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We know of them as “nature” and “nurture”, and the question of which is dominant has
been debated for a century.
Are men and women different because they are “hardwired” to be different, or are they
different because they’ve been taught to be? Is biology destiny?
Women and men are biologically different, after all.
Our reproductive anatomies are different, and so are our reproductive destinies.
Our brain structures differ; our brain chemistries differ.
Our musculature is different.
Different levels of different hormones circulate through our different bodies.
Surely, these add up to fundamental, intractable, and universal differences, and these
differences provide the foundation for male domination, don’t they?
The answer is an unequivocal (leaving no doubt) maybe. Or it can be yes and no.
What scientists call sex differences refers precisely to that catalogue of anatomical,
hormonal, chemical, and physical differences between women and men.
But even here there are enormous ranges of femaleness and maleness.
In fact, in order to underscore the issue, most social and behavioural scientists now use the
term “gender” in a different way than we use the term “sex”.
Sex refers to the biological apparatus, the male and the female- our chromosomal,
chemical, anatomical organization. Gender refers to the meanings that are attached to
those differences within a culture. In other words, sex is male and female; gender is
masculinity and femininity- what it means to be a man or a woman.
Whereas biological sex varies little, gender varies enormously. What it means to possess
the anatomical configuration of male or female means very different things depending on
where you are, who you are, and when you are living.
Gender means different things to different people- it varies cross-culturally.
Some cultures, like that of mainstream North America, encourage men to be stoic and to
prove their masculinity through strength and competition.
Other cultures prescribe a more relaxed definition of masculinity, based on civic
participation, emotional responsiveness, and the collective provision for the community’s
And some cultures encourage women to be decisive and competitive, whereas others
insist that women are naturally passive, helpless, and dependent.
The differences between two cultures are often greater than the differences between the
two genders.
The other reigning school of thought that explains both gender difference and gender
domination is differential socialization- the “nurture” side of the equation.
Men and women are different because we are taught to be different.
From the moment of birth, males and females are treated differently.
Gradually, we acquire the traits, behaviours, and attitudes that our culture defines as
“masculine” or “feminine”.

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In other words, we are not necessarily born different: we become different through this
process of socialization.
Nor are we born predisposed toward gender inequality.
Domination is not a trait carried on the Y chromosome; it is the outcome of different
cultural valuing of men’s and women’s experiences.
Thus, the adoption of masculinity and femininity implies the adoption of “political” ideas
that what women do is not as culturally important as what men do.
Developmental psychologists have also examined the ways in which the meanings of
masculinity and femininity change over the course of a person’s life.
The issues confronting a man about proving himself and feeling successful will change,
as will the social institutions in which he will attempt to enact those experiences.
The meanings of femininity are subject to parallel changes, for example, among
prepubescent girls, women in child-bearing years, and post-menopausal women.
Although we typically cast the debate in terms of either biological determinism or differential
socialization- nature versus nurture- it may be useful to pause for a moment to observe
what characteristics they have in common.
Both schools of thought share two fundamental assumptions.
First, both “nature lovers” and “nurturers” see women and men as markedly different
from each other- truly, deeply, and irreversibly different. (Nurture does allow for some
possibility to change, but it still argues that through the process of socialization males
and females become dramatically different from each other.)
And both schools of thought assume that the differences between women and men are
far greater and more decisive (and worthy of analysis) than the differences that might be
observed among men or among women.
Thus, both “nature lovers” and “nurturers” subscribe to some version of the
interplanetary theory of gender.
Second, both schools of thought assume that gender domination is the inevitable
outcome of gender difference, that difference causes domination.
Biologists --> pregnancy and lactation make women more vulnerable and in need of
Gender roles psychologists --> men and women are taught to devalue women’s
experiences, perceptions, and abilities and to overvalue men’s.
We argue in this book that both of theses propositions are false.
First, we hope to show that the differences between women and men are not nearly as
great as are the differences among women or among men.
In fact, gender difference is the chief outcome of gender inequality, because it is through
the idea of difference that inequality is legitimated. (“the very creation of difference is the
foundation on which inequality rests”)
Using what social scientists have come to call a “social constructionism” approach we
make the case that neither gender difference nor gender inequality is inevitable in the
nature of things nor, more specifically, in the nature of our bodies.
Neither is difference- or domination- explainable solely by reference to differential
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