Chapter 11 Notes

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9 Oct 2011

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Intersexed infants, babies born with ambiguous genitals because of a hormone imbalance
in the womb or some other cause
Gender Identity and Gender Role
Your sex depends on whether you were born with distinct male or female genitals and a
genetic program that released male or female hormones to stimulate the development of
your reproductive system
Sociologists distinguish biological sex from sociological gender
A person’s gender comprises the feelings, attitudes, and behaviours typically associated
with being male or female
Gender identity is a person’s identification with, or sense of belonging to, a particular
sex – biologically, psychologically, and socially
When you behave according to widely shared expectations about how males or females
are supposed to act, you adopt a gender role
Babies first develop a vague sense of being a boy or a girl at about the age of one
The develop full-blown sense of gender identity between the ages of two and three
Baby Bruce’s social learning of his gender identity was already far advanced by the time
he had his sex-change operation
Social learning of gender begins very early in life
First perspective on gender differences argues that gender is inherent in our biological
makeup and that society must reinforce those tendencies if it is to function smoothly
Functionalist theory is compatible with this argument
Second perspective argues that gender is constructed mainly by social influences and may
be altered to benefit society’s members
Conflict, feminist, and symbolic interactionist theories are compatible with 2nd
Members of society enforce heterosexuality – the preference for members of the
opposite sex as sexual partners
Theories of Gender
Some analysts see gender differences as reflection of naturally evolved dispositions –
called the essentialism perspective because it views gender as part of the nature or
“essence” of a person’s biological makeup
Other analysts see gender differences as reflection of the different social positions
occupied by women and men – sociologists call this perspective social constructionism
because it views gender as “constructed” by social structure and culture
Freud believed that differences in male and female anatomy account for the development
of distinct masculine and feminine gender roles
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Children around age three becomes preoccupied with penis, he unconsciously develops a
fantasy of sexually possessing the most conspicuous female in his life: his mother; and
soon begins to resent his father
Boy also develops anxiety that his father will castrate him for desiring mother;
thus, represses his feelings for mother (in unconscious part of his personality)
In contrast, young girl begins to develop feminine personality when she realizes she lacks
a penis, thus, developing sense of inferiority
Grows angry with mother and rejects mother and develops unconscious sexual
desire for her father
According to Freud, women are “naturally” immature and dependent on men
Sociobiology and Evolutionary Psychology
According to sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists, all humans ensure their
genes are passed on to future generations
Woman has bigger investment than man in ensuring survival of any offspring because
she produces only small number of eggs during reproductive life – therefore, it’s in her
best interest to maintain primary responsibility for her genetic children and to find best
mate to intermix her eggs
In contrast, men produce billions of sperm in single ejaculation and since men compete
with other men for sexual access to women, men evolve competitive and aggressive
dispositions that include physical violence
From point of view of sociobiolgy and evolutionary psychology, then, gender differences
in behaviour based in biological differences between women and men
Functionalism and Essentialism
Functionalists reinforce the essentialist viewpoint when they claim that traditional gender
roles help to integrate society
For boys, the essence of masculinity is series of “instrumental” traits, such as rationality,
self-assuredness, and competitiveness
For girls, essence of femininity is series of “expressive” traits, such as nurturance and
sensitivity to others
Girls and boys learn these roles in family and the larger society also promotes gender role
A Critique of Essentialism from the Conflict and Feminist Perspectives
Conflict and feminist theorists disagree sharply with the essentialist account; they’ve
lodged four main criticisms against it:
First, essentialists ignore the historical and cultural variability of gender and
sexuality – gender differences that appear universal to the essentialists vary
widely, they vary with social conditions
Second problem with essentialism is it tends to generalize from the average,
ignoring variations within gender groups – on average, women and men do
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differ within their own gender groups (e.g. not all men are aggressive, as defined
by essentialists)
Third, little or no evidence directly supports the essentialists’ major claims
sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists haven’t identified any of the
genes that, they claim, cause male jealousy, female nurturance and so on
Finally, essentialists’ explanations for gender differences ignore the role of
power – essentialists generally ignore the fact that men are usually in a position
of greater power and authority than women are
According to Engels, men gained substantial power over women when preliterate
societies were fist able to produce more than amount needed for their own subsistence
As industrial capitalism developed, Engels wrote, male domination increased because
industrial capitalism made men still wealthier and more powerful while it relegated
women to subordinate domestic roles
Feminist theorists doubt that male domination is so closely linked to the development of
industrial capitalism – came to conclude that male domination is rooted less in industrial
capitalism than in the patriarchal authority relations, family structures, and patterns of
socialization and culture that exist in most societies
From conflict and feminist viewpoints, functionalism, socio-biology, and evolutionary
psychology can themselves be seen as examples of the exercise of male power, as
rationalizations for male domination and sexual aggression
Social Constructionism and Symbolic Interactionism
Essentialism is view that masculinity and femininity are inherent and universal traits of
men and women, whether because of biological or social necessity or some combination
of the two
In contrast, social constructionism is view that apparently natural or innate features of
life, such as gender, are actually sustained by social processes that vary historically and
As such, conflict and feminist theories may be regarded as types of social
Symbolic interactionists focus on the way people attach meaning to things in the course
of their everyday communication
Gender Socialization
When girls play with Barbie, they learn to want to be slim, blonde, shapely, and,
implicitly, pleasing to men
Early research reported that, from birth, infant boys and girls who are matched in length,
weight, and general health are treated differently by parents – and by fathers in particular
Girls identified as delicate, weak, beautiful, and cute, boys as strong, alert, and well
Parents’ gender-stereotyped perceptions of newborns have declined
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