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Chapter 3 – Socialization and the Social Construction of Gender


Chapter 3 Socialization and the Social Construction of Gender Robert Wonser Remember, that biology alone does not explain where gender comes from. – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Chapter 3 – Socialization and the Social Construction of Gender

Chapter 3 Socialization and the Social
Construction of Gender
  • Robert Wonser

  • Remember, that biology alone does not explain
    where gender comes from.
  • How do these social factorssocial learning,
    social interaction, and social structurefit
    together to create our gendered experience?
  • Three levels
  • 1) the individual level of social learning and
    psychological sex differences
  • 2) at the interactional level of social relations
    in everyday life
  • 3) at the level of structural and institutional
    forces that constrain and shape action

Gender Lenses of Androcentrism, Polarization, and
  • Different ways we see gender from our culture
  • 1) androcentrism or, male-centeredness, makes
    everything male appear the neutral norm, the
    universally human.
  • Ex he to refer to men and women
  • 2) gender polarization refers to the ways that
    diverse aspects of human experience are
    culturally linked to sex differences.
  • Ex cultural items, emotions are either male or
    female. Girls wear pink, men are rational.
  • 3) essentialism is the view that gender is a
    fixed biological or social trait that does not
    vary among individuals or over time.
  • Traits are inborn and immutable. Also used to
    argue racial and ethnic traits are inborn.

  • As a claim based on biology, essentialism is
  • 1) not all individuals can be categorized as
    either male or female.
  • What would a person born intersexed essential
    traits be?
  • 2) essentialist thinking is akin to stereotyping

Individual Level Theory Social Roles
  • Role theory flourished during the reign of
  • Society is made up of interrelated parts
  • Individuals are socialized into parts (and play
    their respective roles) that fulfilled societys
    needs crucial in maintaining the system.
  • They internalize societys norms, values, how to
    think and feel.
  • They play roles husbands, fathers, wives,
    mothers, employers, workers, teachers and students

Role Theory and Functionalism
  • Functionalism supported the status quo as the
    best, and perhaps only way to organize an ongoing
    stable society.
  • Men lives were in public, womens were in
    private. Any deviation was labeled deviant
  • A 1946 study and Friedans Feminine Mystique
    exposed womens dissatisfaction with the idea
    that home and family are not enough

Roles and Feminists
  • Feminists kept the idea of roles on the
    individual level and that they were rooted in
    statuses and the expectations of those statuses.
  • Sex-role learning produced nurturing women and
    aggressive men
  • Research was done on white middle class families,
    ignoring black families.

Patricia Hill Collins and Intersectionality
  • It is important to understand how intersecting
    oppressions of class and gender differentially
    position black women nationally and globally.
  • All of us are in some ways privileged and in
    other ways oppressed.
  • Context dependent for example, in some settings
    white women are privileged by their race and in
    others oppressed by their gender.

Interactionist Theory of Gender Gender as a
Course of Action
  • Gender is situational and contextual
  • Situations we find ourselves in (and seek out)
    draw from us particular ways of acting and
    particular identities.
  • Ex in class, youre a student
  • Gender differences are created socially and
    historically, rather than on account of an
    individuals biology or psychology.
  • Doing gender

  • Garfinkel called Agnes a practical methodologist
    because she turned a sociological eye on the
    trivial but necessary social tasks that women
    enacted to appear normally female.
  • She made gender happen
  • Second, she was accountable to her audience.
  • For her, gender was an achieved status, an
    accomplishment, not ascribed by her genitals.

  • Our biological sex, our status as males or
    females, and the ways we live our lives as sexed
    beings need not coincide.
  • Sex may be a biological category but in practice
    it depends on social cues. We deduce sex from
    what we see before us.
  • Sex category refers to the status of male or
    female that most persons inhabit unambiguously
  • Gender refers to the performance itself, the ways
    people accomplish being a man or woman
  • Gender is a property of and emerges in social
  • Gender is omnirelevant (relevant in every

Props and Resources for Doing Gender
  • People enact gender by drawing on resources
    that are features of local settings and that
    guide actions that produce and reproduce gender
  • Ex public restrooms no bio need for
    segregation. Instead, these arrangements produce
    the difference they were meant to respect.
  • Ex sports, assortive mating practices, fixing
    a flat tire, lifting a heavy box, etc.
  • ? Doing gender reinforces the illusion that there
    are essential differences between men and women,
    when in fact, the doing is what creates these
    very differences.
  • We interactionally create the social worlds we
    inhabit but in turn are constrained and pressed
    into certain courses of action as our creations
    take on a life of their own (reifications).

  • What accounts for the strength and persistence of
    gendered inequality in interaction, its
    occurrence across social institutions and
    contexts and its reproduction over time?
  • Whereas interactionists focus on social actors in
    the everyday world, structuralists maintain that
    the rules and resources that frame local actions
    best explain gender.

Gender Structures Rosabeth Moss Kanter
  • We are the product of structures that we
    ourselves create.
  • Structure refers to the constraints built in to
    social organizations and relationships.
  • The gender division of labor is a structural
  • Kanter studied a large industrial supply firm to
    learn how organizational structure forms
    peoples sense of themselves and of their
  • She showed that gender differences were the
    result of structures rather than personality
    differences between men and women.

Kanters Results
  • Identified three structural features of the
    corporation that explained the differences in
    gender in their workplace performance, relations
    on the job, and attitudes towards work
  • 1) the structure of opportunity offered by the
  • 2) the structure or distribution of power
  • 3) the relative numbers of men and women
    employed, especially as managers, professionals,
    and executives.

Opportunity Structure
  • Argued that opportunity is not a result of
    behavior on the job but opportunity structures
    produce gendered behavior.
  • People with little opp behave in one way and
    those with lots behave differently.
  • Low opp people dont aspire for higher positions,
    have lower self-esteem, and are resigned to stay
    where they are
  • People with substantial opps have high
    aspirations, have high self-esteem, are more
    interested in work, and are more competitive.

Power Structures
  • Power the ability to get things done, to
    mobilize resources, to get whatever it is that a
    person needs for the goals he or she is
    attempting to meet is also the result of
    structural position rather than gender.
  • Because men tended to have more power they tended
    to be able to get things done more effectively
    rather than a function of gender it was a
    function of power embedded in social structures.

Relative Numbers
  • Relative numbers also contribute to outcomes that
    look likebut do not originate ingendered social
    relations at the individual level.
  • Women in usually male positions often faced
    Tokenism which is the social relations that grow
    from belonging to a tiny minority amidst a large
  • Subject to more scrutiny, treated as symbols,
    representing all women.
  • Caused men of the company to magnify their own
    group solidarity against the intruders.
  • Boundary heightening behavior intensified.
    Things like interrupting women, stereotyped,
    treated as mothers, temptresses, pets, or iron
  • Her findings suggest that gendering is not an
    accident of structure, but integral to its

  • To Kanter, organizational structures were gender
    neutral, she believed those differences were just
    as likely to occur between any two differently
    situated unequal groups in the organization blue
    collar versus managerial employees, majority
    versus token workers.
  • She maintained gender inequality grew out of more
    generic hierarchical rules and practices, gender
    wasnt intrinsic to organizational structure.

Gendered Organizations Joan Acker
  • Acker disagrees she maintains gender is an
    integral part of those processes not an add on.
  • She identified several ways that gender
    difference creates and sustains inequalities in
  • Organizational processes create gendered
    divisionsof labor, space, of behavior, of power.
  • Organizational processes construct symbols and
    images that support gender differences in
    organizationsthe masterful business leader, the
    difficult female boss.
  • Organizations promote gendered components of
    individual identityappropriate (gendered)
    clothing, workplace demeanor, language.
  • There is a gendered logic discernable in the work
    rules, labor contracts, and other documents that
    are a part of organizational discourses.

  • The job itself seems neutral, but the job itself
    presupposes the existence of a split between
    unpaid domestic labor and child care (the
    so-called private sphere) and social labor, which
    takes place in a separate location, away from
    families and communities.
  • The job, seemingly neutral, implicitly rests on
    the gendered division of labor in society
  • Even the definition of the ideal worker can
    only be a man with a stay-at-home wife.
  • No emotions, no time off for reproduction, etc.

Gendered Institutions
  • Social institution refers to a persistent
    constellation of practices, power relations,
    norms, interactional dynamics, and ideologies
    surrounding social phenomena.
  • As processes, institutions entail recurring and
    predictable social practices, ways to distribute
    scarce resources, ways to care for those who
    cannot care for themselves, ways of identifying
    and legitimating leaders and so forth gender is
    the process by which we accomplish these tasks.
  • Gender is embedded in all of societys

  • Gender is a construction within and of society.
  • The implication of this is radical.
  • It forces the question, what is the point of
    distinguishing men from women?
  • Lorbers answer is, that the point is to create a
    class of subordinates.

  • 1) gender roles are internalized and adopted by
    individuals through gender socialization
  • 2) sustained by social expectations, gender
    categorization, and accountability (doing gender)
    at the interactional level
  • 3) shaped by constraints and possibilities at the
    structural and institutional levels are three
    interconnected chapters in the story about gender
    differences and gendered inequalities.
  • Anthony Giddens developed the term structuration
    to refer to the relationship between human agency
    and social structure, between the individual
    level of action, in which we exercise choice, and
    the structural and institutional level of
    tradition, moral codes, institutions and
    established ways of doing things, which
    constrains our choices.
  • Structures shape individuals and individuals
    shape social structures

A quick note on research on gender
  • Just as public restrooms create the differences
    they exist to honor, studies based on the
    assumption of difference will probably find the
    difference they assume exists.
  • If you look for it youll find it.
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