Chapter 5.doc

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Women's and Gender Studies
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Anissa Talahite- Moodley

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CHAPTER 5: Doing Gender − sex was what was ascribed by biology: anatomy, hormones, and physiology − gender was an achieved status: that which is constructed through psychological, cultural, and social means − the received doctrine of gender socialization theories conveyed the strong message that while gender may be 'achieved', by about age five, it was certainly fixed, unvarying, and static – much like sex − doing gender involves a complex of socially guided perceptual, interactional, and micropolitical activities that cast particular pursuits as expressions of masculine and feminine 'natures' − when we view gender as an accomplishment, an achieved property of situated conduct, our attention shifts from matters internal to the individual and focuses on interactional and, ultimately, institutional arenas − in one sense, of course, it is individuals who 'do' gender − but it is a situated doing, carried out in the virtual or real presence of others who are presumed to be oriented to its production − rather than as a property of individuals, we conceive of gender as an emergent feature of social situations: both as an outcome of and a rationale for various social arrangements and as a means of legitimating one of the most fundamental divisions of society − to advance our argument, we undertake a critical examination of what sociologists have meant by gender, including its treatment as a role enactment in the conventional sense and as a 'display' in Goffman's terminology − both gender role and gender display focus on behavioural aspects of being a woman or a man (as opposed, for example, to biological differences between the two) − however, we contend that the notion of gender as a role obscures the work that is involved in producing gender in everyday activities, while the notion of gender as a display relegates it to the periphery of interaction − we argue, instead, that participants in interaction organize their various and manifold activities to reflect or express gender, and they are disposed to perceive the behaviour of others in a similar light − to elaborate our proposal, we suggest at the outset that important but often overlooked distinctions be observed among sex, sex category, and gender − sex is a determination made through the application of socially agreed upon biological criteria for classifying persons as females or males − the criteria for classification can be genitalia at birth or chromosomal typing before birth, and they do not necessarily agree with one another − placement in a sex category is achieved through application of sex criteria, but in everyday life, categorization is established and sustained by the socially required identificatory displays that proclaim one's membership in one or the other category − in this sense, one's sex category presumes one's sex and stands as proxy for it in many situations, but sex and sex category can vary independently; that is, it is possible to claim membership in a sex category even when the sex criteria are lacking − gender, in contrast, is the activity of managing situated conduct in light of normative conceptions of attitudes and activities appropriate for one's sex category − gender activities emerge from and bolster claims to membership in a sex category Perspectives on Sex and Gender − in Western societies, the accepted cultural perspective on gender views women and men as naturally and unequivocally defined categories of being, with distinctive psychological and behavioural propensities that can be predicted from their reproductive functions − competent adult members of these societies see differences between the two as fundamental and enduring – differences seemingly supported by the division of labour into women's and men's work and an often elaborate differentiation of feminine and masculine attitudes and behaviours that are prominent features of social organization − things are the way they are by virtue of the fact that men are men and women are women – a division perceived to be natural and rooted in biology, producing, in turn, profound psychological, behavioural, and social consequences − analyses of sex and gender in the social sciences, though less likely to accept uncritically the naive biological determinism of the view just presented, often retain a conception of sex-linked behaviours and traits as essential properties of individuals − the 'sex differences approach' is more commonly attributed to psychologists than to sociologists, but the survey researcher who determines the 'gender' of respondents on the basis of the sound of their voices over the telephone is also making trait-oriented assumptions − reducing gender to a fixed set of psychological traits or to a unitary 'variable' precludes serious consideration of the ways it is used to structure distinct domains of social experience − taking a different tack, role theory has attended to the social construction of gender categories, called 'sex roles' or, more recently, 'gender roles' and has analyzed how these are learned and enacted − beginning with Linton and continuing through the works of Parsons and Komarovsky, role theory has emphasized the social and dynamic aspect of role construction and enactment − but at the level of face-to-face interaction, the application of role theory to gender poses problems of its own − roles are situated identities – assumed and relinquished as the situation demands – rather than master identities, such as the sex category, that cut across situations − unlike most roles, such as 'nurse', 'doctor', and 'patient', or 'professor' and 'student', gender has no specific site or organizational context − moreover, many roles are already gender marked, so that special qualifiers – such as 'female doctor' or 'male nurse' – must be added to exceptions to the rule − Thorne observes that conceptualizing gender as a role makes it difficult to assess its influence on other roles and reduces its explanatory usefulness in discussions of power and inequality − drawing on Rubin, Thorne calls for a reconceptualization of women and men as distinct social groups, constituted in 'concrete, historically changing – and generally unequal – social relationships' − we argue that gender is not a set of traits, nor a variable, nor a role, but the product of social doings of some sort − we claim that gender itself is constituted through interaction Gender Display − Goffman contends that when human beings interact with others in their environment, they assume that each possesses an 'essential nature' – a nature that can be discerned through the 'natural signs given off or expressed by them' − femininity and masculinity are regarded as 'prototypes of essential expression – something that can be conveyed fleetingly in any social situation and yet something that strikes at the most basic characterization of the individual' − the means through which we provide such expressions are 'perfunctory, conventionalized acts', which convey to others our regard for them, indicate our alignment in an encounter, and tentatively establish the terms of contact for that social situation − but they are also regarded as expressive behaviour, testimony to our 'essential natures' − Goffman sees displays as highly conventionalized behaviours structured as two-part exchanges of the statement-reply type, in which the presence or absence of symmetry can establish deference or dominance − these rituals are viewed as distinct from but articulated with more consequential activities, such as performing tasks or engaging in discourse − hence, we have what he terms the 'scheduling' of displays at junctures in activities, such as the beginning or end, to avoid interfering with the activities themselves − gender depictions are less a consequence of our 'essential sexual natures' than interactional portrayals of what we would like to convey about sexual natures, using conventionalized gestures − our human nature gives us the ability to learn to produce and recognize masculine and feminine gender displays – 'a capacity [we] have by virtue of being persons, not males and females' − upon first inspection, it would appear that Goffman's formulation offers an engaging sociological corrective to existing formulations of gender − in his view, gender is a socially scripted dramatization of the culture's idealization of feminine and masculine natures, played for an audience that is well schooled in the presentational idiom − to continue the metaphor, there are scheduled performances presented in special locations, and like plays, they constitute introductions to, or time out from, more serious activities − by segregating gender display from the serious business of interaction, Goffman obscures the effects of gender on a wide range of human activities − gender is not merely something that happens in the nooks and crannies of interaction, fitted in here and there and not interfering with the serious business of life − while it is plausible to contend that gender displays – construed as conventionalized expressions – are optional, it does not seem plausible to say that we have the option of being seen by others are female or male Sex, Sex Category, and Gender Sex − more central to our argument is Kessler and McKenna's point that genitalia are conventionally hidden from public inspection in everyday life; yet we continue, through our social rounds, to 'observe' a world of two naturally, normally sexed persons − it is the presumption that essential criteria exist, and would or should be there if I looked for, that produces the basis for sex categorization − Kessler and McKenna argue that 'female' and 'male' are cultural events – products of what they term the 'gender attribution process' – rather than some collection of traits, behaviours, or even physical attributes Sex Categorization − the act of categorization does not involve a positive test, in the sense of a well-defined set of criteria that must be explicitly satisfied prior to making an identification − rather, the application of membership categories relies on an 'if-can' test in everyday interaction − this test stipulates that if people can be s
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