Sociology of Gender Question

March 8, 2022
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Sociology of Gender Question

Sociology of Gender Question

Complete the Module 2 portion of the Explore and Analyze assignment.

Step 1: Click here to read this Kimmel 02 168 Transcript (Links to an external site.).

Step 2: Submit your response as a Microsoft Word document.

What about gender is most interesting to sociologists?
Your response should be a one-page (300-350 words) report on the transcript above on “What About Gender is Most Interesting to Sociologists?” Your report should contain informed references to this module’s materials. A grading rubric (how this assignment will be graded) is provided.

The sociology of gender is one of the largest subfields within sociology and features theory and research that critically interrogates the social construction of gender, how gender interacts with other social forces in society, and how gender relates to social structure overall. The sociology of gender examines how society influences our understandings and perception of differences between masculinity (what society deems appropriate behavior for a “man”) and femininity (what society deems appropriate behavior for a “woman”). Sociologists within this subfield study a wide range of topics with a variety of research methods, including things like identity, social interaction, power and oppression, and the interaction of gender with other things like race, class, culture, religion, and sexuality, among others. The sociology of gender pays special focus on the power relationships that follow from the established gender order in a given society, as well as how this changes over time.

The use of the concept of gender to explain the social differences between males and females is a fairly recent focus in sociology. This is not to say that differences between the two have been ignored by sociologists but that those differences were understood as immutable biological facts and that the social was, in the last instance, powerless to change. The presumed “natural” binary of sex was taken for granted by nineteenth-century and most twentieth-century theorists, for whom men were the primary focus of sociological interest, with women making an appearance usually in discussions of marriage and the family.

The relative invisibility of women in the sociological enterprise, as in all Western intellectual traditions, was challenged with the advent of second-wave feminism in the 1960s. The challenge was not confined to the academy. Betty Friedan’s (1963) popular best-seller, The Feminist Mystique, and Kate Millet’s (1970) Sexual Politics critiqued the oppressive nature of male/female relationships, and the numerous consciousness-raising groups as well as feminist groups that emerged from various left and civil rights organizations also mounted trenchant critiques. Central to the critiques was the conviction that the “personal is political,” that feminist scholarship must be allied to feminist activism. In the academy, the marginality of women to the “intellectual, cultural, and political world” (Smith 1987:1) was contested, and vital interdisciplinary exchanges began the process of putting the natural binary under the microscope (Hess and Ferree 1987).

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Sex Roles
In the early years, research focused on sex roles rather than gender. Sex as well as class and race were “traditional” variables used in social science research, with the assumption that sex, as a biological given, simply meant checking a box for male or female on government or social science survey forms. Using the concept of sex roles was a way of introducing social and cultural factors into the research. The assumption was that socialization into appropriate male/female roles, although resting on a “natural” biological foundation, allowed, in theory at least, some possibility of social change in the unequal relationships between men and women. But the influential work of Talcott Parsons indicated that there were limitations to the use of role theory. Parsons and Bales (1955) linked sex roles to differences in social functions, with males normatively adopting instrumental functions and females expressive functions. These functional social roles were, however, tied to the dictates of a biological binary, and any profound variation in the roles and functions, such as women having careers, was understood to be dysfunctional to the stability of the social system (Parsons [1942] 1954).

Sex-role research was fruitful, however, in producing several empirically based studies on male/female differences (Maccoby and Jacklin 1975), which tended to show that there were no significant differences and that “women and men are psychologically very similar, as groups” (Connell 2002:42). Later research refined the concept of sex roles as defining “situated identities—assumed and relinquished as the situation demands—rather than master identities, such as sex category, that cut across situations” (West and Zimmermann 1987:128). It was also pointed out that roles are prescriptive expectations that vary culturally and historically and are not enacted passively; rather, both men and women actively and reflexively shape their sex roles (Connell 1987; Stacy and Thorne 1985). Consequently, the “functional ideas embedded in the concepts of ‘sex role’ and ‘socialization’” were shown to be “inadequate” because people often “do not become what they are expected to be” (Hess and Ferree 1987:14). More significant, critics pointed out that the concept of sex roles could not explain why men were nearly always the more valued members of any social group. In addition, the concept was theoretically problematic because sociologists did not refer to “race roles” or “class roles” (Eichler 1980; Hess and Ferree 1987).

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