Introduction to Sociology/Gender
- 1 Gender vs. Sex
- 2 Biological Differences
- 3 Social and Psychological Differences
- 4 Sexism
- 5 Theories of Gender Differences
- 6 Research Example
- 7 Additional Reading
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Gender vs. Sex
Sociologists make a distinction between gender and sex. Gender is the perceived or projected component of human sexuality while sex is the biological or genetic component.
Why do sociologists differentiate between gender and sex? Differentiating gender from sex allows social scientists to study influences on sexuality without confusing the social and psychological aspects with the biological and genetic aspects. As discussed below, gender is a social construction. If a social scientist were to continually talk about the social construction of sex, which biologists understand to be a genetic trait, this could lead to confusion.
Many species of living things are divided into two or more categories called sexes. These refer to complementary groups that combine genetic material in order to reproduce, a process called sexual reproduction. Typically, a species will have two sexes: male and female. The female sex is defined as the one which produces the larger gamete (i.e., reproductive cell) and which bears the offspring. The categories of sex are, therefore, reflective of the reproductive functions that an individual is capable of performing at some point during its life cycle, and not of the mating types, which genetically can be more than two.
In mammals (and many other species) sex is determined by the sex chromosomes, called X and Y. For mammals, males typically have one of each (XY), while females typically have two X chromosomes (XX). All individuals have at least one X chromosome, the Y chromosome is generally shorter than the X chromosome with which it is paired, and is absent in some species. In humans, sex is conventionally perceived as a dichotomous state or identity for most biological purposes, such that a person can only be female or male.
Gender is the socially constructed component of human sexuality. Gender is an inner feeling that you are male, female, both, neither, or somewhere in between. Perhaps the best way to understand gender is to understand it as a process of social presentation. Because gender roles are delineated by behavioral expectations and norms, once individuals know those expectations and norms, the individual can adopt behaviors that project the gender he/she wishes to portray. One can think of gender like a role in a theatrical play - there are specific behaviors and norms associated with genders just like there are lines and movements associated with each character in a play. Adopting the behaviors and norms of a gender leads to the perception that someone belongs in that gender category. Gender roles are, unlike sex, mutable, meaning they can change. Gender is not, however, as simple as just choosing a role to play but is also influenced by parents, peers, culture, and society.
Some examples may help illustrate the distinction between gender and sex. Parents may socialize a biological boy (XY chromosomes) into what is perceived as a traditionally masculine role, that includes characteristics like: independence, courage, and aggressiveness. Likewise, parents may socialize a biological female (XX chromosomes) into what is perceived as a traditionally feminine role, that includes characteristics like: submissiveness, emotionality, and empathy. Assuming both children feel like their gender roles fit their identities, the masculine boy and feminine girl will behave in ways that reflect their genders. For instance, the boy may play with toy soldiers and join athletic teams. The girl, on the other hand, may play with dolls and bond with other girls in smaller groups.
|feminine characteristics||masculine characteristics|
However, gender is fluid and can change. This can be seen by continuing the above example. It is possible for the boy to decide later in life that he no longer wishes to portray himself as traditionally masculine. The boy may adopt some traditionally feminine characteristics and become androgynous, or may adopt a feminine persona altogether (see the photos of cross-dressing drag queens for an example of this type of gender construction). Either change would involve adopting the behaviors and norms that go along with the intended gender. The same is true for the girl, who may adopt masculine characteristics.
A significant proportion of the human population does not correspond exclusively to either female or male genders or sexes. When gender identity and biological sex conflict, the result is sex discordance. Some discordances are purely biological, such as when the sex of the chromosomes (genetic sex) does not match the sex of the external genitalia (anatomic sex). For more extensive discussion of this type of discordance, see this article on intersex.
Discordances between the biological (sex) and psychosocial (gender) components of gender, such as when the gender does not match the anatomic sex, are even more common but less well understood. The vast majority of people who are discordant in some aspect of psyche or behavior do not have any detectable biological intersex condition. Human societies respond to, or accommodate, these behavioral and psychological discordances in many different ways, ranging from suppression and denial of difference to acknowledging various forms of third sex (see the Kothoey pictured above).
Some societies identify youths with atypical behavioral characteristics and, instead of giving them corrective therapy or punishing them, socialize them in such a way that their individual characteristics let them provide a useful function for the society in a recognized and respected role. Some of the roles these individuals may assume include: shaman, medicine man, tong-ki, berdache, hijra, xanith, and transgender.
Gender discordance leads to the understanding that what we traditionally understand to be feminine and masculine characteristics are social (and cultural) constructions. Some people have sought to define their sexuality and sexual identity in non-polar terms in the belief that the simple division of all humans into males and females does not fit their individual conditions. A proponent of this movement away from polar oppositions, Anne Fausto-Sterling, once suggested we recognize five sexes: male, female, merm, ferm and herm. Although quickly rejected as a bizarre flouting of human nature and social reality and inimical to the interests of those whom she was attempting to champion, it expresses the difficulty and imperfection of the current social responses to these variations.
While much of this chapter focuses on the socially constructed differences between men and women, it is also important to note there are some clear physiological differences between the two sexes. In addition to different sex organs and sex chromosomes, the average male is 10 percent taller, 20 percent heavier, and 35 percent stronger in the upper body than the average female Some researchers believe that these physiological differences may have been influenced by social/cultural decisions in our evolutionary past. Even so, when measured against their own body size, rather than on an absolute scale (e.g., how much women can carry relative to their body size versus how much men can carry relative to their body size), actual strength differences are minimal.
Women, for reasons still somewhat undetermined, tend to outlive men. Women's life expectancy in the U.S. is 79.8 years; men's is 74.4. Some believe this difference is due to the riskier lifestyles of men, especially earlier in life, combined with their typically more physically stressing occupations.
Behaviorally, age of sitting, teething, and walking all occur at about the same time in men and women. However, men enter puberty on average two years later than do women. There are no significant differences in intelligence, happiness, or self-esteem between men and women. However, women are, statistically, twice as vulnerable to anxiety disorders and depression, but only one-third as vulnerable to suicide and one-fifth as vulnerable to alcoholism. Women attempt suicide more often than men but have lower rates of "success", because their preferred methods do not involve firearms, unlike men. Women are also less likely to suffer hyperactivity or speech disorders as children or to display antisocial personalities as adults. Finally, women have slightly more olfactory receptors on average and are more easily re-aroused immediately after orgasm.
Much evidence has shown that there are differences in male and female brains. In fact, the temporal lobe, which is the part of the brain associated with language and emotion, develops up to 4 years earlier in girls in comparison to boys On the other hand, the left parietal lobe, which is associated with mathematical and spatial reasoning, is thought to develop up to 4 years earlier in boys. This difference could account for the fact that girls are sometimes thought to be better when it comes to language and are more emotional, while boys are thought to be better in math. As well, some say that girls are better at hearing than boys. A typical teenaged girl hears up to 7 times better than a typical teenaged boy. This could possibly explain why boys are diagnosed with ADHD more often.. Lastly there is a difference between sight for girls and boys. Girls are able to see facial expressions / emotions better while boys are able to see motion better. Girls use the p-cells in the retina, which are associated with texture and color, while boys use m-cells, which are associated with motion.
Social and Psychological Differences
As the previous section outlined, some gender differences are attributable to biology. However, there are a number of gender differences that vary by society, environment, and/or culture, indicating they are social constructions. For example, in work group situations in the U.S., men tend to focus on the task at hand whereas women tend to focus more on personal relationships. When eating, women eating with men tend to eat fewer calories than when they are eating with women. Both of these differences in behavior vary by culture and are therefore believed to be socially constructed. Two detailed examples of socially constructed gender differences are presented below: workforce differences and education.
Work and Occupations
An often discussed and debated difference between men and women involves work and occupations. Women's participation in the workforce has varied significantly over time. Prior to the development of capitalism and factory-type work, women played a significant role in food production and household maintenance. With the advent of capitalism and labor outside of the home, women continued to play a significant role, though their participation in paid labor outside the home initially diminished. Also, women's participation in the labor force varied (and varies) depending on marital status and social class.
Current U.S. labor force statistics illustrate women's changing role in the labor force. For instance, since 1971, women's participation in the labor force has grown from 32 million (43.4% of the female population 16 and over) to 68 million (59.2% of the female population 16 and over). Women also make, on average, $17,000 less than do men. Women tend to be concentrated in less prestigious and lower paying occupations that are traditionally considered women's jobs (also referred to as pink collar jobs). Finally, women are not paid the same wages as men for similar work. This difference is often illustrated as a ratio, as shown in the graph below. Women tend to make between 75% and 91% of what men make for comparable work, though it depends on how the comparison is made. For instance, college educated women between 26 and 45 earned 74.7 cents in hourly pay for every dollar men in the same group made in 2005. However, if you compare women and men with similar profiles and qualifications, the gap is smaller: women make about 91% of what men make, at least they have since the 1980s. In the 1970s, similarly qualified women made only 82% as much as their male counterparts.
However, at all educational and skill levels, women still make less than men, as illustrated in the figure below. That women earn less than men with equal qualifications helps explain why women are enrolling in college at higher rates than are men - they require a college education to make the same amount as men with a high school diploma.
The gap between men's and women's wages narrowed during the 1980s and mid 1990s, but that momentum has fallen off and the distance now appears to have stagnated. The gap in income between genders used to be similar between middle-class and affluent workers, but it is now widest among the most highly paid. A woman making in the 95th percentile in 2006 would earn about $95,000 per year; a man in the 95th earning percentile would make about $115,000, a 28% difference (and that's not including the highest earners, who are predominantly men). The narrowing of the gap in pay has also been called into question. While it appears there has been a narrowing of the gap in pay between men and women, Mulligan and Rubinstein show that much of the narrowing is actually the result of the most able women entering the workforce and not decreases in the pay gap between men and women. Thus, even the apparent narrowing of pay between the sexes likely overestimates the actual differences in pay.
It is quite difficult for women to climb to the top in the business world. For instance, only 3% of tech firms and just 1% of high-tech firms were founded by women and very few are headed by women. But the women who do climb to the top of the organizational ladder in business also experience both overt and covert discrimination. For instance, companies with women on the board of directors have lower stock evaluations than do companies with exclusively male boards. This is likely a reflection of the lack of shareholder trust in women. Women are also often put into leadership positions in corporations when companies are in a crisis and have little hope for recovery, resulting in poorer evaluations of women in leadership positions. The phenomenon of putting women into leadership positions when companies are in trouble is referred to as "the glass cliff" and is also observed in politics, as women are disproportionately chosen to run in elections when it is almost guaranteed that the incumbent male candidate will win.
The most common explanation for the wage gap between men and women is the finding that women pay a motherhood wage penalty, regardless of whether or not they are actually mothers. You can think about this from the perspective of a potential employer: If you have two equally qualified candidates for a position, both are in their mid-twenties, married, and straight out of college, but one is a male and the other is female, which would you choose? Many employers choose men over women because women are "at risk" of having a child, even though they may not want to have children. And, of course, to the potential employer accommodating a pregnant woman and mother is more cumbersome than a male turned father (despite the obvious need for children to continue our species). Thus, women pay a penalty for their ability to give birth. Additionally, when women do have children, this often requires a period of time outside the workforce, whether it's six weeks or several months. Employers take the time off into account when considering raises. The "Mommy track" often results in women making less money than equally qualified men who have been in the same job for the same amount of time because women take time off to have children and are often responsible for taking care of children while men rarely do so. Thus, women are often paid less despite having the same qualifications because they are (1) at risk of having children or (2) do have children and are penalized for doing so.
Another possible explanation for the wage gap between men and women has recently been proposed - customer bias towards white males. Hekman et al. (2009) found that customers who viewed videos featuring a black male, a white female, or a white male actor playing the role of an employee helping a customer were 19% more satisfied with the white male employee's performance and also were more satisfied with the store's cleanliness and appearance, despite the fact that all three actors performed identical, read the same script, and were in the exact same location with identical camera angles and lighting. They provide further evidence to support this claim by noting that white male doctors are rated as more approachable and competent than other doctors. They interpret their findings to suggest that employers are willing to pay more for white male employees because employers are customer driven and customers are happier with white male employees. They also suggest that what is required to solve the problem of wage inequality isn't necessarily paying women more but changing customer biases. Additional reasons for disparity in pay are discussed below.
Another factor that may contribute to the higher wages of white men is the number of job leads they receive. White men, particularly those in management positions, receive more job leads from friends and colleagues than do white women and Hispanic men and women. Black men and women receive about as many job leads and tips, but only for non-management jobs. As many jobs result from social networking, white males are advantaged by their higher number of job leads, potentially contributing to their higher salaries and more prestigious jobs.
Another often studied difference between men and women is educational attainment. For a long time, higher education (undergraduate and graduate education) was an exclusively male bastion. Women did eventually gain access to institutions of higher learning, but parity or equality on a number of levels has still not been achieved. One measure of educational attainment where women have made great inroads is in college attendance. In 1960, 37.9% of female high school graduates enrolled in college, compared with 54.0% of male high school graduates. In 2002, more female high school graduates were enrolling in college than males, 68.4% of females vs. 62.1% males. Women have, in fact, made significant progress in this respect. Women now earn more Bachelors and Masters degrees than do men, and for the first time in 2009, they earned more PhDs. Women have made significant inroads into some of the traditionally most prestigious professions as well: 40% of medical school graduates are women and women make up large percentages of law school students as well.
Despite the progress, there are still problems. While women are entering college at higher rates and even earning more degrees, the degrees are in less prestigious areas (e.g., social sciences and humanities compared to physical sciences) and women with degrees still earn less than do men with comparable degrees. For instance, in medicine, women tend to concentrate in lower paying specialties (e.g., dermatology and family medicine). The highest paid specialties are dominated by men and will be for decades to come, based on the pipeline of residents: 28% of radiology residents in 2004-5 were women, and only 10% of orthopedic surgery residents were.
At the primary and secondary levels, girls don't often do as well as boys, particularly in math and the sciences. One recent study offers a partial explanation for why this might be the case: highly math-anxious female teachers in elementary school pass their math-anxiety on to the girls in the classroom, but not to the boys. At the beginning of the class, there were no differences in math anxiety between the boys and girls, but in classes taught by female math-anxious teachers, girls developed math anxiety and boys did not. This anxiety led girls to believe boys were better at math than girls, though there is no evidence to suggest that is actually the case.
Sexism is discrimination against people based on their sex or gender. Sexism can refer to three subtly different beliefs or attitudes:
- The belief that one sex is superior to the other.
- The belief that men and women are very different and that this should be strongly reflected in society, language, the right to have sex, and the law.
- It can also refer to simple hatred of men (misandry) or women (misogyny).
Many peoples' beliefs on this topic range along a continuum. Some people believe that women should have equal access to all jobs. Others believe that while women are superior to men in a few aspects, in most aspects men are superior to women.
Sexist beliefs are an example of essentialist thought, which holds that individuals can be understood (and often judged) based on the characteristics of the group to which they belong; in this case, their sex group (male or female). Essentialism assumes that all individuals clearly fit into the category of male or female, which is not the case. It also assumes characteristics are immutable, which is also not the case.
A good example of sexism against women is a question that has been asked in numerous surveys over the years in the US, "Would you vote for a female candidate for president?" A 2005 Gallup poll found that 92% of Americans would vote for a female candidate, but follow-up research found that this percentage was the result of response bias. When you use research techniques that allow people to express how they really feel toward women, the actual percentage who would not vote for a female candidate because she is female is closer to 26%. Intriguingly, it is not just men who feel that way, but some women, too. In short, nearly 1/4 of Americans maintain sexist attitudes against women.
Sexism against women is often called chauvinism, though chauvinism is actually a wider term for any extreme and unreasonable partisanship toward a group to which one belongs, especially when the partisanship includes malice and hatred towards a rival group. Many forms of radical feminism can legitimately be referred to as chauvinism. This is not common usage, however, and the term is most often used to refer to male chauvinism.
While the view that women are superior to men is also sexism, only in recent years has an awareness of this reverse sexism begun to develop in public discourse. Certain forms of sexual discrimination are illegal in many countries, but nearly all countries have laws that give special rights, privileges, or responsibilities to one sex.
Recent research illustrates the pervasiveness of sexism in the media. Messner et al. found that sports coverage on major television networks focuses predominantly on men, despite the increase in female participation in sports since the passage of Title IX in 1972. In 1971, 294,000 high school girls played interscholastic sports, compared to 3.7 million boys. By 1989 that ratio changed substantially - 1.8 million girls played sports compared to 3.4 million boys. By 2004 the ratio had changed even more - 2.9 million girls compared to 4.0 million boys. At the collegiate level, the change was also substantial. In 1972, the average college in the U.S. had two women's sports teams. In just the four years between 2000 and 2004, universities in the U.S. added 631 new women's teams.
Despite the increase in participation in sports, major network news coverage of women's sports has changed very little over the last 15 years. In 1989 women garnered only 5% of air time; in 1999 that increased to 9%, but it fell back to 6% by 2005. Sports highlights shows (e.g., ESPNS's SportsCenter) are even less accommodating, giving only 2% to 3% of air time to women. What's more, the little amount of air time given to women often portrays women's sports as "novelties" or pseudo-sports and often includes gags, like the women's nude bungee jump in 1999. Additionally, much of the coverage of women in sports is sexualized, as attention is often only given to women deemed "attractive" by the news anchors (e.g., Anna Kournikova and Maria Sharapova). Whether this treatment of women in sport is intentional or not, it is a clear example of sexism in the media.
Another example of gender discrimination is the disparity in wealth between men and women. Using biographical data published in magazines and books as well as IRS income reports, Tickamyer found:
- there are fewer wealthy women than there are wealthy men
- it is not entirely clear as to whether sources of wealth differ, but it does appear that women are more likely than men to inherit their wealth (especially from husbands)
- the forms of women's holdings differ from men's; many women have their money in trusts, which is a safer form of investment than those used by men (e.g., stocks and bonds)
- women are less likely to have control over their wealth than men and are less likely to be actively engaged in increasing their wealth through investments as, say, the head of a company is engaged in growing his wealth
The author attributed the differences in wealth distribution to historical instances of gender discrimination. Up until the 19th Century most women could not own property and women's participation in the paid labor force outside the home was limited. It is possible that wealth among the elite may be redistributed toward a more equal balance between the sexes with increasing numbers of women entering the workforce and moving toward more financially lucrative positions in major corporations.
The differences in income between men and women mentioned above are partially due to discrimination, but also due, in part, to some women (including highly educated women) choosing to leave the labor force and stay home with their young children. Leaving the labor force doubly impacts income: (1) It takes away immediate income, and (2) reduces experience and tenure, lowering future earning potential. Additionally, while women have made significant inroads into many highly paid fields (e.g., medicine, law), the influx of women into those fields has slowed since 2000.
Women in some organizations are suing their employers claiming gender discrimination. For instance, Wal-Mart is currently facing a lawsuit by some of its female employees who allege gender discrimination. Part of the plaintiffs' argument rests on the fact that, while roughly 75% of intra-store department heads are women, only 20% of store managers (who make close to $100,000 per year) are women. It is difficult to prove discrimination in such cases. In fact, many researchers point out that there may and probably are other root causes, including: differences in gender socialization (men believe they need to support their families as the primary breadwinners, leading to greater job commitment) and emphasis by the government on equality in pay and opportunity between genders.
Sexism can take many forms, including preventing women from attending college and paying women less than men for comparable work. Another common form of sexism is violence, especially violence toward women. In 2002, women were the victims of over 900,000 violent crimes and over 200,000 rapes or sexual assaults. Men are more likely to be the victims of violent crime, but far less likely to be the victims of rapes or sexual assaults.
Theories of Gender Differences
Sociologists and other social scientists generally attribute many of the behavioral differences between genders to socialization. As discussed in the chapter on socialization, socialization is the process of transferring norms, values, beliefs, and behaviors to future group members. In gender socialization, the groups people join are the gender categories, males and females. Thus, gender socialization is the process of educating and instructing potential males and females as to the norms, behaviors, values, and beliefs of group membership.
Preparations for gender socialization begin even before the birth of the child. One of the first questions people ask of expectant parents is the sex of the child. This is the beginning of a social categorization process that continues throughout life. Preparations for the birth often take the infant's sex into consideration (e.g., painting the room blue if the child is a boy, pink for a girl). Many of the gender differences just described are attributed to differences in socialization, though it is possible genetic and biological factors play some role. It is important to keep in mind that gender differences are a combination of social and biological forces; sometimes one or the other has a larger influence, but both play a role in dictating behavior.
One illustration of early life gender socialization can be seen in preschool classrooms. Children in preschool classrooms where teachers were told to emphasize gender differences saw an increase in stereotyped views of what activities are appropriate for boys and girls, while children with teachers who did not emphasize gender showed no increase. This study supports the idea that subtle cues that surround us in our everyday lives strongly influence gender socialization.
Research finds that gender differences in work and occupations begin with adolescents' first jobs:
- first jobs are significantly segregated by sex
- girls work fewer hours per week than boys
- girls earn less per hour than boys
- hourly wages are higher in job types dominated by males
- girls are assigned more housework than are boys
Researchers attribute these differences to gender socialization and differential opportunities for boys and girls.
Another example of research finding differences in behavior between genders can be seen in the differences in self-ratings of attractiveness. Using fifty-five Johns Hopkins University undergraduates (24 females), the authors had the students fill out questionnaires they designed as self-appraisals of attractiveness. The authors then used a panel to rate the attractiveness of the participants (an objective measure). The researchers found that women are fairly accurate in their assessments of their attractiveness but men are not. They explained their findings by discussing the salience of attractiveness for women, a characteristic learned through socialization: Attractiveness is a more important component of women's lives then men's. This is seen in the disparity between men and women in the number of cosmetic surgeries they undergo. Of the 11.5 million cosmetic surgeries performed in 2005, women accounted for 85% to 90% of them. Because attractiveness is so important for women, they are more attuned to their actual attractiveness than are men.
Sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists argue that much of social life as we know it today has roots in human evolution and biology. According to these theories, some of the gender differences in behavior are attributable to differences in physiology. For instance, differences in sexuality and sex drives may be due to human evolution. Women, who physically invest more in the creation and bearing of children (through pregnancy), may have a greater propensity toward monogamous relationships as having a partner to help them improves the chances of their child's survival. Men, on the other hand, may be inclined less toward monogamy and more toward polygamous relationships as their investment in offspring can be (and often is) far smaller than that of women. Evolutionary psychologists and sociobiologists use this theory to explain differences in sexual behavior, attitudes, and attractions between men and women: women tend to be attracted to men who can provide support (i.e., protection and resources) and prefer fewer sexual partners than do men; men, on the other hand, are attracted to fertile women (the symbols of which have changed over time) and prefer more sexual partners.
In this perspective, which was developed in the 1940s and 1950s, genders are viewed as complementary - women take care of the home while men provide for the family. Much current research, especially after the women's movement of the 1960s and 1970s, criticizes this approach for supporting the status quo and condoning the oppression of women
In contrast to the status quo supporting structural functionalist approach, social conflict theory argues that gender is best understood in terms of power relationships. Men's dominance of women is seen as an attempt to maintain power and privilege to the detriment of women. This approach is normative in that it prescribes changes to the power structure, advocating a balance of power between genders. (See also feminist theory.)
A powerful example of how gender affects every day life comes from the recently published research of Kristen Schilt on female-to-male (FTM) transexuals in the workplace. Schilt interviewed FTM transsexuals after they had undergone their sexual identity changes and found that, following their change to a male identity, two-thirds of the FTM transsexuals saw increased benefits in the workplace, including receiving greater rewards for doing less work. They were also treated differently. They found that their opinions had greater authority and received more recognition for their work. The FTMs who did not experience these benefits tended to be smaller and minorities. In short, white males are privileged in the workplace, even when those "white males" were formerly white females. The lesson: Perceived gender has a powerful influence on every day social interaction.
The End of Gender? - This is an article that discusses some recent attempts to illustrate how gender is at least partially socially constructed.
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This chapter draws heavily on the following Wikipedia articles: