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Chapter 11

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Sheldon Ungar

Chapter 11: Sexualities and Gender Stratification SEX VERSUS GENDER Is It a Boy or a Girl? - Dr. John Money was well known for his research on intersexed infants - intersexed infants - Babies born with ambiguous genitals because of a hormone imbalance in the womb or some other cause. - it was Money’s opinion that infants with ambiguous genitals should be assigned a sex by surgery and hormone treatments, and reared in accordance with their newly assigned sex - according to Money, these strategies would lead to the child developing a self-identity consistent with its assigned sex Gender Identity and Gender Role - sex - Depends on whether you were born with distinct male or female genitals and a genetic program that released either male or female hormones to stimulate the development of your reproductive system. - gender - The feelings, attitudes, desires, and behaviours that are associated with a particular sexual category. - gender has three components 1. sexuality - A person’s capacity for erotic experiences and expressions. 2. gender identity - A person’s sense of belonging to a particular sexual category. 3. gender role - Behaviour that conforms to widely shared expectations about how members of a particular sexual category are supposed to act. - research shows that babies first develop a vague sense of being a boy or a girl at about the age of one - they develop a full-blown sense of gender identity between the ages of two and three - many researchers believe that if gender reassignment occurs before the age of 18 months, it will usually be successful - however, once the social learning of gender takes hold, it is apparently very difficult to undo, even by means of reconstructive surgery, hormones, and parental and professional pressure - heteronormativity - The belief that sex is binary (one must be either male or female as conventionally understood) and that sex ought to be perfectly aligned with gender (one’s sexuality, gender identity, and gender role ought to be either male or female as conventionally understood). - most people regard heterosexuality as normal, and they seek to enforce it - heterosexuality - The preference for members of the “opposite” sex as sexual partners. - yet, for reasons that are still poorly understood, some people resist and even reject the gender that is assigned to them based on their biological sex - when this occurs, negative sanctions are often applied to get them to conform or to punish them for their deviance - people often use emotional and physical violence to enforce conventional gender roles THEORIES OF GENDER - most arguments about the origins of gender differences in human behaviour adopt one of two perspectives - some analysts see gender differences as a reflection of naturally evolved dispositions - sociologists call this perspective essentialism - essentialism - A school of thought that views gender differences as a reflection of biological differences between women and men. - other analysts see gender differences as a reflection of the different social positions occupied by women and men - sociologists call this perspective social constructionism because it views gender as “constructed” by people living in historically specific social structures and cultures Modern Essentialism: Sociobiology and Evolutionary Psychology - according to sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists, all humans instinctively try to ensure that their genes are passed on to future generations - a woman has a bigger investment than a man does in ensuring the survival of any offspring because she produces only a small number of eggs during her reproductive life, and, at most, can give birth to about 20 children - it is therefore in a woman’s best interest to maintain primary responsibility for her genetic children and to find the best mate with whom to fertilize her eggs - he is the man who can best help support the children after birth - in contrast, most men can produce hundreds of millions of sperm in a single ejaculation, and this feat can be repeated often - thus, a man increases the chance his and only his genes will be passed on to future generations if he is promiscuous yet jealously possessive of his partners - moreover, since men compete with other men for sexual access to women, men evolve competitive and aggressive dispositions that include physical violence - women, says one evolutionary psychologist, are greedy for money, while men want casual sex with women, treat women’s bodies as their property, and react violently to women who incite male sexual jealousy Functionalism and Essentialism - functionalists reinforce the essentialist viewpoint when they claim that traditional gender roles help to integrate society - in the family, wrote Talcott Parsons, women traditionally specialize in raising children and managing the household - men traditionally work in the paid labour force - for boys, noted Parsons, the essence of masculinity is a series of “instrumental” traits, such as rationality, self-assuredness, and competitiveness - for girls, the essence of femininity is a series of “expressive” traits, such as nurturance and sensitivity to others - the larger society also promotes gender role conformity - it instills in men the fear that they won’t be attractive to women if they are too feminine, and it instills in women the fear that they won’t be attractive to men if they are too masculine - in the functionalist view, then, 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 - conflict and feminist theorists disagree sharply with the essentialist account - first, essentialists ignore the historical and cultural variability of gender and sexuality - wide variations exist in what constitutes masculinity and femininity - moreover, the level of gender inequality, the rate of male violence against women, the criteria used for mate selection, and other gender differences that appear universal to the essentialists vary widely too - this variation deflates the idea that there are essential and universal behavioural differences between women and men - three examples help illustrate the point 1. - in societies with low levels of gender inequality, the tendency decreases for women to stress the good provider role in selecting male partners, as does the tendency for men to stress women’s domestic skills 2. - when women become corporate lawyers or police officers or take other jobs that involve competition or threat, their production of the hormone testosterone is stimulated, causing them to act more aggressively - aggressiveness is partly role-related 3. - literally hundreds of studies conducted mainly in North America show that women are developing traits that were traditionally considered masculine - as these examples show, gender differences are not constants and they are not inherent in men and women - they vary with social conditions - the second problem with essentialism is that it tends to generalize from the average, ignoring variations within gender groups - for example, one of the best-documented gender differences is that men are, on average, more verbally and physically aggressive than women are - however, when essentialists say men are inherently more aggressive than women are, they make it seem as if that is true of all men and all women - it is not - many women are more aggressive than the average men and many men are less aggressive than the average woman - third, little or no evidence directly supports the essentialists’ major claims - finally, essentialists’ explanations for gender differences ignore the role of power - essentialists assume that existing behavior patterns help to ensure the survival of the species and the smooth functioning of society - however, as conflict and feminist theorists argue, essentialists generally ignore the fact that men are usually in a position of greater power and authority than women are - according to Fredrich Engels, men gained substantial power over women when preliterate societies were first able to produce more than the amount needed for their own subsistence - at that point, some men gained control over the economic surplus - they soon devised two means of ensuring that their offspring would inherit the surplus - first, they imposed the rule that only men would own property - second, by means of socialization and force, they ensured that women remained sexually faithful to their husbands - 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 - for one thing, they note that gender inequality is greater in pre-capitalist, agrarian societies than in industrial capitalist societies - these observations lead many feminists 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 - despite this disagreement, conflict and feminist theorists concur that behavioural differences between women and men result less from any essential differences between them than from men being in a position to impose their interests on women - from the conflict and feminist viewpoints, functionalism, sociobiology, and evolutionary psychology can themselves be seen as examples of the exercise of male power, that is, as rationalizations for male domination and sexual aggression Social Constructionism and Symbolic Interactionism - essentialism is the 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 the view that apparently natural or innate features of life, such as gender, are actually sustained by social processes that vary historically and culturally - as such, conflict and feminist theories may be regarded as types of social constructionism - so may symbolic interactionism - symbolic interactionists focus on the way people attach meaning to things in the course of their everyday communication Gender Socialization - research shows that, from birth, infant boys and girls who are matched in length, weight, and generally health are treated differently by parents—and by fathers in particular - girls tend to be identified as delicate, weak, beautiful, and cute, boys as strong, alert, and well coordinated - recent attempts to update the extent their investigation found that although parents’ gender-stereotyped perceptions of newborns have declined, especially among fathers, they have not disappeared entirely - when viewing videotape of a nine-month-old infant, adult experimental subjects tend to label its startled reaction to a stimulus as “anger” if the child has early been identified by the experimenters as a boy and as “fear” if it has earlier been identified as a girl, whatever the infant’s actual sex - parents, especially fathers, are more likely to encourage their sons to engage in boisterous and competitive play and discourage their daughters from doing likewise - in general, parents tend to encourage girls to engage in cooperative, role-playing games - these different play patterns lead to the heightened development of verbal and emotional skills among girls and to more concern with winning and the establishment of hierarchy among boys - boys are more likely than girls are to receive praise for assertiveness, and girls are more likely than boys are to receive rewards for compliance - it would take someone who has spent very little time in the company of children to think they are passive objects of socialization - they are not - parents, teachers, and other authority figures typically try to impose their ideas of appropriate gender behaviour on children, but children creatively interpret, negotiate, resist, and self-impose these ideas all the time Gender Segregation and Interaction - Barrie Thorne noticed quite a lot of boundary crossing involving boys playing stereotypically girls’ games and girls playing stereotypically boys’ games - the most common form of boundary crossing involved girls who were skilled at sports that were central to the boys’ world: soccer, baseball, and basketball - if girls demonstrated skill at these activities, boys often accepted them as participants - finally, Thorne noticed occasions in which boys and girls interacted without strain and without strong gender identities - for instance, activities requiring cooperation, such as a group radio show or art project, lessened attention to gender - another situation that lessened strain between boys and girls, causing gender to recede in importance, occurred when adults organized mixed-gender encounters in the classroom and in physical education periods - on such occasions, adults legitimized cross-gender contact - mixed-gender interaction was also more common in less public and crowded settings - thus, boys and girls were more likely to play together in a relaxed way in the relative privacy of their neighbourhoods - in contrast, in the schoolyard, where their peers could scrutinize them, gender segregation and antagonism were more evident - in sum, Thorne’s research makes two important contributions to our understanding of gender socialization - first, children are actively engaged in the process of constructing gender roles - they are not merely passive recipients of adult demands - second, although schoolchildren tend to segregate themselves by gender, boundaries between boys and girls are sometimes fluid and sometimes rigid, depending on social circumstances - in single-sex schools, girls typically experience faster cognitive development; higher occupational aspirations and attainment; greater self-esteem and self- confidence; and more teacher attention, respect, and encouragement in the classroom - they also develop more egalitarian attitudes toward the role of women in society - because such schools place more emphasis on academic excellence and less on physical attractiveness and heterosexual popularity - they provide more successful same-sex role models - and they eliminate sex bias in teacher-student and student-student interaction since there are no boys around - adolescents must usually start choosing courses in school by the age of 14 or 15 - by then, they have well-formed gender ideologies - gender ideology - A set of interrelated ideas about what constitutes appropriate masculine and feminine roles and behaviour. - one aspect of gender ideology becomes especially important around grades 9 and 10: adolescents’ ideas about whether, as adults, they will focus mainly on the home, paid work, or a combination of the two - boys are strongly inclined to consider only their careers in making course choices - most girls are inclined to consider both home responsibilities and careers, although a minority considers only home responsibilities and another minority considers only careers - consequently, boys tend to choose career-oriented courses, particularly in math and science, more often than girls do - young women tend to choose courses that lead to lower-paying jobs because they expect to devote a large part of their lives to child rearing and housework The Mass Media and Body Image - as body image became more important for self-definition, the ideal body image became thinner, especially for women - why did body image become more important to people’s self-definition during the twentieth century? - why was slimness stressed? - part of the answer to both questions is that more North Americans grew overweight as their lifestyles became more sedentary - as they became better educated, they also grew increasingly aware of health problems associated with being overweight - the desire to slim down was, then, partly a reaction to bulking up - the rake-thin models who popular modern ads are not promoting good health - they are promoting an extreme body shape that is unattainable for most people - they do because it is good business - the fitness, diet, low-calorie food, and cosmetic surgery industries do billions of dollars of business a year in North America - bankrolled by these industries, advertising in mass media blankets us with images of slim bodies and makes these body types appealing - once people become convinced that they need to develop bodies like the ones they see in ads, many of them are really in trouble because these body images are impossible for most people to attain - women’s body ideal varied from one region to the next, but their actual self-reported body image was heavier than their body ideal in every world region - North and South American women were more dissatisfied with their bodies than were women from other regions, and North and South American men viewed heavier women more unfavourably than did men from other regions - still, men everywhere preferred heavier women than women thought men preferred - significantly, women’s level of body dissatisfaction did not vary greatly from one region to the next, probably because more exposure to Western and Western-style mass media was associated with greater preference for thin women, and respondents tended to be highly exposed to such mass media, with its strong emphasis on female thinness Male-Female Interaction - the gender roles children learn in their families, at school, and through the mass media form the basis of their social interaction as adults - for instance, by playing team sports, boys tend to learn that social interaction is most often about competition, conflict, self-sufficiency, and hierarchical relationships (leaders versus the led) - they understand the importance of taking centre stage and boasting about their talents - because many of the most popular video games for boys exclude female characters, use women as sex objects, or involve violence against women, they reinforce some of the most unsavoury lessons of traditional gender socialization - in contrast, by playing with dolls and baking sets, girls tend to learn that social interaction is most often about mainta
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