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Chapter 11

SOCA01H3 Chapter Notes - Chapter 11: Grammatical Gender, Liberal Feminism, Economic Surplus

Course Code
Mc Kinon

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Chapter 11- Sexuality and Gender
Sex versus Gender
Is it a boy or a girl?
-intersexed infants are babies born w/ ambiguous genitals b/c of a hormone imbalance in the wombs or some
other cause
Gender identity and gender roles:
-sociologists distinguish biological sex from sociological gender
-a person’s gender comprises the feelings, attitudes, and behaviours typically associated w/ being male or female
-social learning of gender begins very early in life
-babies first develop vague sense of being a boy or girl at ~ age 1
-they develop full-blown sense of gender identity b/w age 2 or 3
Theories of Gender
2 Perspectives:
1. Essentialism: a school of thought that views gender differences as a reflection of biological differences
b/w women and men
-compatible w/ functionalist theory
2. Social contructionism: views gender as “constructed” by social structure and culture
-compatible w/ conflict, feminist, and symbolic interactionist theories
-Freud believed that differences in male and female anatomy accounts for the development of distinct masculine
and feminine gender roles
-essentialist view
-says that at age 3, children begin to pay attention to their genitals
-believes girls have “penis envy”
-thus gender differences follow from anatomical sex differences that children first observe around age 3
Sociology and Evolutionary psychology:
-offered 2nd essentialist theory
-say that all humans instinctively try to ensure that their genes are passed on to future generations
-men and women develop different strategies to achieve this
-thus, gender differences in behavior are based on biological differences b/w women and men
Functionalism and essentialism:
-functionalists reinforce the essentialist viewpoint when they claim that traditional gender roles help to integrate
-people learn their gender roles through gender role socialization
-learning the essential features of femininity and masculinity integrates society and allows it to function properly
A critique of essentialism from the conflict and feminist perspectives:
-have 4 main criticisms against essentialism:

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1. Essentialists ignore the historical and cultural variability of gender and sexuality
-variations exist in what constitutes masculinity and femininity which deflates the idea that there are
essential and universal behavioural differences b/w men and women
2. It tends to generalize from the average, ignoring variations w/n gender groups
-ex. Variations in aggressiveness b/w males and females
3. Little or no evidence directly supports the essentialist’ major claim
4. Essentialist’ explanation for gender differences ignore the role of power
-they generally ignore the fact that men are usually in a position of greater power and authority than
women are
Engels: located the root of male domination in class inequality
-they gained substantial power over women when preliterate societies were first able to produce more
than the amount needed for their own subsistence
-some gained control over economic surplus
-as industrial capitalism developed, male domination increased
-feminist theorists doubt that male domination is closely linked to industrial capitalism b/c gender equality usually
greater in agrarian societies and in societies that are communist or socialist
-they believe it is rooted more in patriarchal authority relations, family structures, and patterns of socialization and
culture that exist in most societies
Social constructionism and symbolic interactionism:
-the view that apparently natural or innate features of life such as gender are actually sustained by social processes
that vary historically and culturally
-symbolic interactionists focus on the way people attach meaning to things in the course of their everyday
-one of the things they attach meaning to is what it means to be a man or a woman
Gender socialization:
-from birth, infant boys and girls who are matched in length, weight, and general health are treated differently by
-girls tend to be identified as delicate, weak, beautiful, while boys are identified as strong, alert and well
-parents tend to encourage boys and girls to engage in different play patterns
-ex. Encourage boys to engage in competitive play and girls to engage in cooperative role playing
-boys more likely to be praised for assertiveness and girls for compliance
Gender segregation and interaction:
Thorne: observed the grade 4 and 5 classroom
-noticed quite a lot of “boundary crossing b/w boys and girls
-gave 2 important contributions to our understanding of gender socialization
1. Children are actively engaged in the process of constructing gender roles
-not merely passive recipients of adult demands
2. Although school children tend to segregate themselves by gender, boundaries b/w boys and girls are
sometimes rigid, and sometimes fluid depending on social circumstances
-i.e. the content of children’s gendered activities is by no means fixed
-by age 14 or 15 adolescents’ gender ideologies are well formed
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