Chapter 4 - Gender Relations Chapter 4 of Social Problems

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16 Oct 2011

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Chapter 4 Gender Relations
Sex the biological distinction between male and female is a universal and ancient battle of social differentiation
This social demarcation has some basis in biology and the fact that women alone can bear and nurse offspring
Women, on average, are physically smaller and weaker than men -> less suited for hunting and combat and certain types of
These biological realities led to the widespread social practices of men’s roles as protectors/breadwinners and women’s
roles as procreators/caregivers
However, this varies from one society to another
History and anthropology tells us that women can be breadwinners and protectors; men can be caregivers
In societies with low fertility, this distinction fades in importance because women spent more time as breadwinners
Societies differ in the extent and ways they dramatize this sex-based difference
o Some enlarge these differences, while others diminish them
There is also much variation in how the rationalize their enactment of these differences
o Some invoke religious edicts (bibles), others draw on secular principles (moral commitment to equality), scientific
or pseudo-scientific theories (evolutionary selection)
Before 1900, gender and gender roles were assumed
Middle Ages and Renaissance, a few women were as well-educated as the best-educated men: nun and abbess, QEI,
Hildegard of Bingen, Sir Thomas More’s 4 daughters
Gouges and Wollstonecraft outstanding women who supported equality for women, including education
Women were generally not admitted to university until the late nineteenth century
Until recently, women have enjoyed little social standing and almost no institutional support for their intellectual ambition
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, women became more visible as thinkers about social matters, especially poverty
o Especially obvious among the Fabians in England, where Beatrice worked along with her husband, Sydney Webb
o In the US, where church-promoted and social service research delved into problems in the growing cities, led by
women like Jane Addams
o The growing feminist movement continued to press for gender equality and related social concerns
o Early feminist movement was mainly concerned with women’s suffrage
o Right to vote was achieved in Canada and US in the early decades of the 20th century
Until the early 70s, housework was not considered as work of economical value but an outpouring of family affection
o Was only in 1974, Oakley published her seminal book which drew needed attention to domestic inequality and its
relation to other forms of gender inequality
o This coincided with and promoted by, the large-scale entry of women into higher education
The third feminist wave embraced racial and class diversity and accommodated differences in nationality and cultural
The failure by major male sociologists and theorists to contribute to gender issues tells us something about the connection
between social structure and the propagation of knowledge: only the powerful get noticed, studied, and discussed
The subject matter of sociology itself is a measure of a society’s equality, openness, self-awareness and social concern
Changes in sociology reflect changes in the distribution of power and are achieved largely through changes in the
intellectual class and the institutionalization of knowledge, of peer review, research funding and journal publication
The Battle over Gender Today
Historically, women have suffered more disadvantages than men at school, in the workplace, and in the public realm
To a large degree, Canadian women have overcome these disadvantages in the past two decades
o Canadians support rules that make it illegal for employers to limit or separate their employers by sex
o However, many Canadians still discriminate against women
Sociologists deny claims of essentialism and enforce the assertion that only social constructionism and socialization can
account for the observed differences associated with men and women in a given society
Yet, social critic Naomi Wolf recently reviewed the evidence of biologists, evolutionary psychologists and anthropologists to
reach the conclusion that this war may be about to end
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Wolf notes that:
o Men’s brains can feel invaded and overwhelmed by too much verbal processing of emotion, so that men’s need to zone out or
do something mechanical rather than emote is often not a rejection of their spouses, but a neural need. [Gurian] even posits
that the male brain can’t ‘see’ dust or laundry piling up as the female brain can - which explains why men and women tend to
perform household tasks in different ways. Men often can’t hear women’s lower tones, and their brains, unlike women’s, have a
‘rest’ state (sometimes, he IS thinking about ‘nothing’).
o According to Dr Gurian, men are inclined to socialize children differently from women also for hardwired reasons
o Men encourage more risk-taking and independence than women
o He believes that if women accept and work around these biological differences, men in relationship are likely to respond
Wolf asserts that research does not imply that men are superior, much less justify invidious discrimination but suggest that
a more pluralistic society, open to all kinds of differences, can learn, work, and love better
Defining Sexism and Gender Inequality
Sexism: discrimination and derogatory attitudes and beliefs that promote stereotyping of people because of their gender.
Sexism and gender stereotyping are two problems for both men and women, and are most often experienced in institutions
and social relationships; has harmed women more than men
Gender inequality: the differential success of men and women in gaining access to valued rewards. This tends to stem from
structural arrangements, interpersonal discrimination and cultural beliefs
Sex and Gender
Sex: a biological concept that differentiates female and male; most people are male or female from the moment of
conception, with biological differences between the sexes that are anatomic, genetic and hormonal
However, research has not revealed any simple split between the sexes or any direct link between genetics and the
behaviour of each sex
Current thinking would be more accurate to view male and female as opposite poles along a continuum of sexual variation
o Useful for unusual cases: rare condition known as adrenogenital syndrome in which an XX chromosome individual
is exposed in the womb to abnormally high levels of androgens -> intersexed appearance, with normal internal
genitalia and an external phallus that is intermediate in size between a clitoris and a penis -> socially answered
There is no scientific proof there are biologically based psychological differences (maternal instinct)
Gender: a social division referring to the social and psychosocial attributes by which humans are categorized as ‘male’ or
‘female’. Biology is deemed somewhat irrelevant to understanding social distinctions between males and females. Gender
encompasses the shared understandings of how women and men, girls and boys, should look and act. It is a label that
subsumes a large assortment of traits, beliefs, values, and mannerisms, and defines how we should practise social
The precise distinctions made between men and women, and the resulting divisions of labour, have varied through time
and across cultures
Males are treated as men because they play masculine roles, and females are treated as women because they play
feminine roles
Gender distinctions are socially constructed
Views of inherent difference between males and females are captured in a neat dichotomy that distinguished
masculinity and femininity
Gender roles: the patterns of behaviour that a society expects of males and females and that all members of the
society learn, to a greater or lesser extent, as part of the socialization process
Masculinity: a socially constructed idea of how boys and men should act; qualities that people in our society expect to
find in a typical man
Femininity: a socially constructed idea of how girls and women should act, or the various qualities that people expect
to find in a typical female
Gender socialization: the process by which people learn their gender-based behaviour. The socialization process links
gender to personal identity in the form of gender identity and to distinctive activities in the form of gender roles. The
major agents of socialization all serve to reinforce cultural definitions of masculinity and femininity
Stereotyping can have serious effects for mental health and social relations
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Canadian men suffer more severe chronic health conditions, have higher death rates for all leading causes of death,
and die, on average, nearly 5 years younger than women
Women more often develop symptoms of depression and anxiety, while men more often develop symptoms of
alcoholism, drug abuse, and social withdrawal
Factors that Reinforce Gender Inequality
Sociologically, the most important difference between the sexes is the fact that women can bear children
Chodorow believes that if women and men shared equally in parenting, gender inequality would diminish
At Home
Reproduction and child-rearing continue to be mainly female activities in Canadian society
However, effective birth control has made the outcome of sexual intercourse more predictable and controllable than at
any other time in history -> women and men can lead more similar lives
However, the family household remains a workplace for women more than for men
Before industrialization, the workplace was mainly for men
Domestic labour is gendered labour: still expect adult women to carry out more of the work; also persists in caregiving
Women do more even if they engage in paid employment and are parenting infants, caring for sick or disabled family
Of course, families do vary,
o remarried couples report a less complete or weaker version of gendered inequality
o Couples who become parents in their 20s are more traditional than those who make the transition in their 30s
o Women who cohabit do much less household work than women who are legally married
o Dual-career couples often renegotiate their domestic division of labour as outside work duties changes
The Arrival of Children
Families rely on babysitters, small-scale child-care operations, or family members’ voluntary care who are mostly
Women take more responsibility for the events or tasks of child care
Women’s lives become much more complicated with the arrival of children
Willen and Montgomery refer to this as the ‘Catch-22’ of marriage: wishing and planning for a child increase marital
happiness, but achieving this wish reduces that happiness
New parents are less happy with each other and experience more frequent, sometimes violent, conflicts with each
other after the baby arrives
o The radical shift from spousal activities to parenting activities creates an emotional distance the partners find
hard to bridge: romance and privacy declines, sleepless night increase
After the birth of a first child, marital quality and quantity of time together decline immediately
o Wives devote more time to their infants -> less time to their husbands -> husbands’ resentment
Marital satisfaction reaches an all-time low when the children are teenagers
Once the children leaves home, many marriages improve to near-newlywed levels of satisfaction -> rediscover each
other because they have more leisure time
Problems of Structural Sexism
Structural sexism: the ways social institutions outside the home treat men and women differently
Many women needed or wanted to work; and many companied wanted to hire women who wanted to work because
women could be paid less than men for the same work
During the first half of the 20th century, women could find work as teachers, nurses, retail salespersons or as domestic
servants in higher-class homes
Interrupted by WWII which allowed women to enter factory jobs; end of war, women were forced to leave
Many women sought to continue working
We now understand that by excluding women from the most important jobs, we significantly limit the country’s supply of
human capital -> now, discrimination against women is illegal
Unfortunately, women do continue to suffer inequalities in the workplace
o Fewer women in high-paying positions
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