DefinitionWhen studying “gender,” the first task is to clearly define what it isnot. Gender simply can not be defined by one’s anatomy. In other words, genderis not categorized as male or female. Stating this fact is of the utmostimportance, because most people would define gender in such a way. In fact, somedictionaries actually define gender as “See sex.” So now that I havewithdrawn that determinant, I must conclude that gender is something which isdetermined socially. Unfortunately, the concept is far too broad to have oneclear definition.
It can be studied in so many different ways, and it is becauseof this that there are a multitude of theories about it. Learning aboutdiffering theories stimulates one’s own beliefs about gender and its usefulness.
Every sociology litterateur is aware of the socialization theory. Socializationand the study of gender are often linked. In terms of gender, the socializationtheory suggests that children are taught to behave a certain way according totheir sex. Boys are taught to be masculine and girls to be feminine.
Forexample, parents will often buy boys trucks or army toys and for girls, theywill buy dolls and playhouse sort-of toys. Boys are played with in a roughmanner and are taught to “tough it out” when they get hurt. Girls aretaught to be more passive and expressive of their feelings. Also, children learnby observing their parents and the roles that they play. Girls love pretendingto be the “mommy.” Chores are also divided. Those chores that are more”masculine” are for the boys such as taking out the trash and rakingleaves. Girls help in the kitchen and with cleaning. The socialization theory isaccepted by many, but it does not account for everything. This theory islimiting in that it doesnot allow one to study gender in a macro sense. Thistheory cannot explain why or how gender came about. It also doesn’t provide ananswer for how gender inequality began or how it can be minimized. Manytheorists take the socialization theory and expand on it. One of the most uniquetheories on gender comes from Judith Lorber, a professor of sociology. Lorber’sbook, “Paradoxes of Gender,” introduces her idea of gender being asocial institution. Lorber views gender inequality from this perspective. It isdifficult to explain all aspects of Lorber’s theory without sounding repetitive,because so much is interrelated. She critiques all of the popular beliefs aboutgender. Gender is not the assumptions or beliefs about males and females; it isnot the roles that males and females play; it is not male and female status; itis certainly not anatomy, and it is not strictly socialization. “Gender isa social structure that has its origins in the development of human culture, notin biology or procreation. – As is true of other institutions, gender’shistory can be traced, its structure examined, and its changing effectsresearched.” (Lorber, p.1) LLorber does not view gender at the individuallevel, but rather as a social construction that establishes norms forindividuals which are built into the major societal organizations. Thedevelopment of gender inequality is the main focus of Lorber’s discussion ofgender. According to Lorber, roles are gendered. Either sex can participate inopposite gendered roles. The problem is that males are expected to be masculineand women to be feminine. Those jobs that are more feminine have lower statuses,thus lower pay. So we now begin to see where inequality comes into play. Aninteresting point that Lorber makes about this is that women are to blame forthis as well as men. When a woman chooses to go into a female-dominated field,she is perpetuating inequality by contributing to masculinism. However, when afemale works in a male-dominated field, she must become a social man. Forexample, in the work force, CEOs are supposed to possess masculine traits. Afemale CEO must be aggressive, dominant, and non-sympathetic. So when femalesbecome social men, they are looked down upon. Most of these women are thought tobe too aggressive and unappealing. They have failed at being a”woman.” The same goes for men in female-dominated jobs, although formen, there isn’t much of a problem simply because there aren’t very many men whotake feminine jobs due to their lower statuses. Naturally, female-dominated jobsare seen as feminine. If a man were to take a female-dominated job, he would beexpected to act as a social woman. The fact that a person must behave accordingto the gender of his/her job demonstrates the idea of gender beinginstitutionalized. The process is known as gender differentiation. So why don’tmore women get into male-dominated jobs? Lorber explains that women aren’tviewed as having what it takes to be successful in these jobs. Men are inpositions of power, therefore they will generally hire someone likethemselves–a man. Another important distinction between Lorber’s theory ofgender and others is that she asks “why” gender inequality exists. Shehas to ask how gender came about in the first place. She gives a thoroughdiscussion about the history of gender. According to Lorber, gender was born inkinship. When fire was invented, new weapons resulted and hunting practiceschanged. This new form of hunting required new skills, and this lead to childrentaking longer before they could become members of this group. An increased infood meant that fertility increased and more children lived. This lead to thedivision of labor between child-minders and non-child-minders. Logically, thewomen were the child-minders and would gather and process food and hides andmake the necessary tools. Non-child-minders *males* would make their weapons andhunt for food. It was not women’s anatomy/biology that made them more nurturingthan man, but rather their anatomy placed them into a more nurturing role.
“There is no need to posit special ‘killer’ or ‘maternal’ instincts inmales and females to explain the assignment of these roles.” *Lorber,p.128) SSocialization rooted from the placement of male and females in separateroles. Females had to teach other younger females how to be care-takers andmales had to teach younger males how to hunt. Both roles were vital to thesurvival of the social system. So why is “manly” work valued moretoday? This is directly related to waged and unwaged labor. Unwaged labor iswork done by mostly women in the home. Childcare, laundry, cooking, and cleaningare all examples of unwaged labor. As shown earlier, women were placed in thistype of work long ago, therefore jobs that have feminine traits such asnurturing, caring, and patience are not valued financially. Lorber makes astrong point that because gender has been present for so long, we must rethinkeverything with a gender-sensitive lens. Other theorists on gender offerinteresting perspectives as well. Kate Millett, author of Sexual Politics (1970)dealt with male supremacy. She believed that it was socially enforced throughsocialization of early childhood, family restrictions placed on women, maletendency toward violence and in other institutions. Millett was criticized fornot explaining how male supremacy came about historically. Shulamith Firestone,author of The Dialectic of Sex (1970), accepted the traditional idea that maledominance was natural. She agreed with Millett in that male supremacy wassocially enforced, but that its roots are with the biological family. Firestonewas able to move further than Millett because she pointed to a certaininstitution that caused it-the family. “The family is the primaryinstitution through which women participate in this society. While Firestoneignored the important fact that women work outside the home, even working womengive the family their primary allegiance. Wherever a woman is in this society,it is the family, and the ideology of the family that contributes most toshaping her beliefs and maintaining her oppression.” (P.17) JJulietMitchell, author of Women’s Estate (1971), criticized both Millett andFirestone. She stated that Firestone’s radical feminist outlook was toolimiting. She states that Millett and Firestone see the relevance of socialismbut only in terms of the economy. Mitchell urges that we develop a socialisttheory of women’s oppression and of the family. She analyses the historicfailure of the socialist movement to deal with the oppression of women. Sheurged that we separate the family structures that compose it: sexuality,reproduction, and socialization of the young. It was then portrayed as a naturalinstitution within which women performed natural function: sex, childbirth, andthe child-rearing. Mitchell describes the unity of the family in three ways.
First, it is always formed as an economic unit. Second, the family’s unity isformed ideologically. And lastly, she explains that relative autonomy of thefamily from history by its ‘biosocial’ formed the basic mother/father/childrelationship. In this relationship, within the family, the person is sociallyconstructed and male supremacy takes shape. Sheila Rowbotham, author of Woman’sConsciousness, Man’s World, does not believe that believe that men and women aredetermined either by anatomy or economics. She shares Lorber’s view that womenwere subordinated to men before capitalism, and that this has affected theposition of women in capitalist society. She also would agree with Lorber thatwomen contribute to their oppression. “Our sexual conditioning means thatwe submit more readily than men to this intolerable state of affairs.” (P.
121) Gender studies lead to a variety of interpretations and explanations. Whatdo we gain from them, though? By studying gender, we can better understand howto minimize inequality. Some of the theorists believe that radical means willresult in drastic change. For example, Firestone believed that if we would bemaking major progress if we could somehow “outgrow nature” andreproduce outside the womb. Lorber admits that a gender neutral society is fartoo radical of an idea, because it would call for a complete reorganization ofeverything. Every institution would have to be exactly half male and halffemale, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and heterosexuals would have to haveeverything equal, etc. Even though a genderless society isn’t attainable, Ibelieve that Lorber would agree that by being aware of gender inequality, we canat least change it at the micro level. This over much time, should decrease theamount of it at the macro level. Lorber believes that the first step is torealize that gender is everywhere. Every institution is gendered. If people failto see that, then they will not see the whole picture of inequality. This isbest described using the birdcage effect. The birdcage effect is when onlysingle events of oppression are viewed. This single event is represented by onebar of the cage. When only one bar is seen, it looks as if the cage isescapable, but when you step back and look at all the bars, it is apparent thatthe cage is a trap. According to Lorber, society needs to step back in historyand rethink it using a gender sensitive lens. By doing this, all the”bars” will present themselves and we will realize just how trapped ingender inequality we are.