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SOC275H5 (53)
Chapter 1

The Gendered Society Chapter 1.doc

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University of Toronto Mississauga
Hae Yeon Choo

• 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 hormones. • 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 Venutians. • 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 gender? • 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. • 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 needs. • 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”. • 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 protection • 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 socialization of boys and girls into sex roles typical of men and women. • When proponents of both nature and nurture positions assert that gender inequality is the inevitable outcome of gender difference, they take, perhaps inadvertently, a political position that assumes that inequality may be lessened or that its most negative effects may be ameliorated, but that it cannot be eliminated- precisely because it is based upon intractable differences. • On the other hand, to assert, as we do, that the exaggerated gender differences that we see are not as great as they appear and that they are the result of inequality allows a far greater political latitude. By eliminating gender inequality, we will remove the foundation upon which the entire edifice of gender difference is built. • What will remain, we believe, is not some non-gendered androgynous gruel, in which differences between women and men are blended and everyone acts and thinks in exactly the same way. Quite the contrary. • We believe that as gender inequality decreases, the differences among people- differences grounded on race, class, ethnicity, age, sexuality, as well as gender- will emerge in a context in which all of us can be appreciated for our individual uniqueness as well as our community. Making Gender Visible for Both Women and Men • A dramatic transformation in thinking about gender has occurred over the past 30 years. We have been made aware of the centrality of gender in shaping social life. • Today, gender has joined race and class in our understanding of the foundations of an individual’s identity. We now know that gender is one of the axes around which social life is organized and through which we understand our own experiences. • In the past 30 years, feminist scholars properly focused most of their attention on women and the spheres to which women have historically been consigned, like private life and family. • Women’s history sought to rescue from obscurity the lives of significant women who had been ignored or whose work had been minimized by traditional androcentric scholarship and to examine the everyday lives of women in the past to carve our lives of meaning and dignity in a world controlled by men. • Men, themselves, are invisible as men. Rarely, if ever, do we see a course that examines the lives of men as men. There is virtually no information on masculinity. • Michael Kimmel found that American men have been very articulate in describing what it means to be a man and in seeing whatever they have done as a way to prove their manhood, but that we hadn’t known how to hear them. • Race, class, and gender don’t refer only to people who are marginalized by racial class, or gender privilege, but to those who enjoy the privilege of invisibility. • “Whiteness” can and must be analyzed in terms of race just as can the experiences and identities of racialized people. • The very processes that confer privilege to one group and not another group are often invisible to those upon whom that privilege is conferred. Invisibility is a privilege in another sense- as a luxury. Only white people in our society have the luxury not to think about race every minute of their lives. And only men have the luxury to pretend that gender does not matter. • There are consequences to this invisibility: Privilege, as well as gender, remains invisible. And it is hard to generate a politics of inclusion from invisibility. The invisibility of privilege means that many men, like many white people, become defensive and angry when confronted with the statistical realities or the human consequences of racism or sexism. Because privilege is invisible, those who have it may become defensive. • The continued invisibility of masculinity also means that the gendered standards that are held up as the norm appear to us to be gender-neutral. The illusion of gender neutrality has serious consequences for both women and men. • Men --> maintain fiction that they are being measured by “objective” standards • Women --> being judged by someone else’s yardstick • Such equations of “objective=male” (or “objective=white”) have enormous practical consequences in every arena of our lives, from the elementary school classroom to professional and graduate schools and in every workplace we enter. • As Georg Simmel writes, “Man’s position of power does not only assure his relative superiority over the woman but it assures that his standards become generalized as generically human standards that are to govern behaviour of men and women alike. The Current Debate • We believe that until we make gender visible for both women and men we will not, as a culture, adequately know how to address these issues. That’s not to say that all we have to do is address masculinity. But if we ignore masculinity- if we let it remain invisible- we will never completely understand society’s problems, let alone resolve them. Gender and Power: Hegemonic Masculinity and Emphasized Femininity • When we use the term “gender” it is with the explicit intention of discussing both masculinity and femininity. • Elements of social-constructionist approach --> Explore differences among women and among men • Within any one society at any one moment, several meanings of masculinity and femininity co-exist. • Gender varies across cultures, over historical time, among men and women within any one culture, and over the life course. • Gender must be seen as an ever-changing fluid assemblage of meanings and behaviours. In that sense, we must speak of masculinities and femininities and thus recognize the different definitions of masculinity and femininity that we construct. • At the same time, we can’t forget that all masculinities and femininities are not created equal. • North Americans must also contend with a particular definition that is held up as the mode
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