Chapter 10 - Sex and Gender
This book has been updated. The new version of this chapter is located at FreeSociologyBooks.com
What Is The Difference Between Sex and Gender?
By far, sex and gender have been two of the most socially significant factors in the history of the world and the United States. Sex is one's biological classification as male or female which is set into motion at the moment the sperm fertilizes the egg. Sex can be precisely defined at the genetic level with XX being female and XY being male. Believe it or not, there are very few sex differences based on biological factors. Does this surprise you? Many of my students say “but what about that whole opposite sex argument?” Truth is, biologically there is no opposite sex. Look at table 1 below to see sex differences. For the sake of argument, ignore the reproductive differences and you basically see taller, stronger, and faster males. The real difference is the reproductive body parts, their function, and corresponding hormones. The average US woman has about 2 children in her lifetime. She also experiences a monthly period. Other than that and a few more related issues listed in Table 1, reproductive roles are a minor difference in the overall daily lives of women, yet so very much importance has been placed on these differences throughout history.
Table 1: Known Biological Sex Differences
| Breast development
|Less aggression-Testosterone||More aggression-Testosterone|
|Runs a bit slower||Runs a bit faster|
|Less upper body strength||More upper body strength|
|Live years longer(7 years in developed countries)||Live shorter lives- (3 years shorter worldwide)|
See www.prb.org World Population Data Sheet 2008
We have much more in common than differences. In table 2 you see a vast list of similarities common to both men and women. Every major system of the human body functions in very similar ways to the point that health guidelines, disease prevention and maintenance, and even organ transplants are very similar and guided under a large umbrella of shared guidelines. True, there are medical specialists in treating men and women, but again the similarities outweigh the differences. Today you probably ate breakfast, took a shower, walked in the sunlight, sweated, slept, used the bathroom, was exposed to germs and pathogens, grew more hair and finger nails, exerted your muscles to the point that they became stronger, and felt and managed stress. So did every man and woman you know and in very similar ways.
Table 2: Known Biological Sex Similarities
- Digestive System
- Respiratory System
- Circulatory System
- Lymphatic System
- Urinary System
- Musculoskeletal System
- Nervous System
- Endocrine System
- Sensory System (your 5 senses)
- Immune System
- Integumentary System- Skin, Hair, and Nails
- Excretory System
Answer this question, which sex has: Estrogen, Follicle Stimulating Hormone, Luteinizing Hormone, Prolactin, mammary glands, nipples, and even Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (at times)? Yes, you probably guessed correctly. Both males and females have all these hormones, plus many others including testosterone.
Not only are males and females very similar, but science has shown that we truly are more female than male in biological terms. So, why the big debate of the battle of the sexes? Perhaps it’s because of the impact of Gender - the cultural definition of what it means to be a man or a woman. Gender is cultural-based and varies in a thousand subtle ways across the many diverse cultures of the world. Gender has been shaped by political, religious, philosophical, linguistic, traditional and other cultural forces for many years. To this day, in most countries of the world women are still oppressed and denied access to opportunities more often than men and boys. This can be seen through many diverse historical documents.
When reading these documents, the most common theme of how women were historically oppressed in the world’s societies is the omission of women as being legally, biologically, economically, and even spiritually on par with men. The second most common theme is the assumption that women were somehow broken versions of men (Google: Aristotle’s The Generation of Animals, Sigmund Freud’s Penis Envy, or John Grey’s Mars and Venus work).
Biology has disproven the belief that women are broken versions of men. In fact, the 23rd chromosome looks like XX in females and XY in males and the Y looks more like an X with a missing leg than a Y. Ironically, science has shown that males are broken or variant versions of females and the more X traits males have the better their health and longevity.
Debunking Myths about Women
In Table 1 you saw how females carry the lion share of the biological reproduction of the human race. Since history assumed that women were impaired because of their reproductive roles (men were not), societies have defined much of these reproductive traits as hindrances to activities. I found an old home health guide at an antique store in Ohio. I bought it and was fascinated that in 1898 the country’s best physicians had very inaccurate information and knowledge about the human body and how it worked (See, if you can find one, The Book of Health A Practical Family Physician, 1898, by Robert W. Patton).
Interestingly, pregnancy was considered “normal” within most circumstances while menstruation was seen as at type of disease process that had to be treated (back then most physicians were men and still are today). On pages 892-909 it refers to menstrual problems as being “unnatural” and normal only if “painless” and thus the patient should be treated rather than the “disease.” Indeed from a male scientific perspective in 1898, females and their natural reproductive cycles were problematic.
But, to the author, females were more fragile and vulnerable and should be treated more carefully than males especially during puberty. Patton states, “The fact is that the girl has a much greater physical and a more intense mental development to accomplish than the boy…” As for public education, he states that “The boy can do it; the girl can—sometimes…” He attributes most of the female sexual and reproductive problems to public school which is a byproduct of “women’s rights, so called.”
He’d probably be stunned to see modern medicine’s discoveries today. In our day, women are not defined as being inferior in comparison to men. But, in 1898, a physician (source of authority and scientific knowledge) had no reservations about stating the cultural norm in print, that women were considered broken in contrast to men.
Gender Socialization is the shaping of individual behavior and perceptions in such a way that the individual conforms to the socially prescribed expectations for males and females. One has to wonder what might have been different if all women were born into societies that valued their uniqueness and similarities in comparison to men. How much further might civilizations have progressed? It is wisdom to avoid the exclusion of any category of people—based on biological or other traits—from full participation in the development of knowledge and progress in society. In the history of the world, such wisdom has been ignored far too often.
Gender Roles as a Social Force
One can better understand the historical oppression of women by considering three social factors throughout the world’s history: religion, tradition, and labor-based economic supply and demand. In almost all of the world’s major religions (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and many others) very clear distinctions have been made about Gender Roles, or socialized expectations of what is normal, desirable, acceptable, and conforming for males and females in specific jobs or positions in groups and organizations over the life course. These gender roles have very specific meanings for the daily lives and activities of males and females who live under the religious cultures in nations throughout history and even in our day. The Book of Leviticus in the Judeao-Christian Old Testament has many biological rituals based specifically on Womens’ hygiene.
A close friend of mine performed her Master’s thesis in Ancient Near East Studies on the reproductive hygiene rituals described in the book of Leviticus (see Is God a Respecter of Persons? : another look at the purity laws in Leviticus / Anne M. Adams , 2000 in BYU Library Holdings). In brief, she found no modern-day scientific support for these religious rituals on female’s health nor on their reproduction. Her conclusion was that these were religious codes of conduct, not biologically-based scientifically beneficial codes.
Many ancient writings in religions refer to the flaws of females, their reproductive disadvantages, their temperament, and the rules that should govern them in the religious community. Please don’t get me wrong, if it sounds like I’m bashing religious beliefs, I’m not. In fact many current religious doctrines have transformed as society’s values of gender equality have emerged. I am also a fan of religious worship and participation in whatsoever religion a person chooses to follow. My point is that throughout history, religions were a dominant social force in many nations and the religious doctrines, like the cultural values, often placed women in a subjugated role to men at a number of different levels.
The second social force is tradition. Traditions can be and have been very harsh toward women. Look at Table 3 below which shows a scale of the outcomes of oppression toward women that have and currently do exist somewhere in the world. I have always found it remarkable that even though the average woman outlives the average man by 3 years worldwide and 7 years in developed countries, there are still a few countries where cultural and social oppression literally translates into shorter life expectancies for women.
Table 3: Outcomes of the 10 Worse Forms of Oppression of Women-Worst to Least
10-Death from cultural and social oppression (Various Countries)
9-Sexual and other forms of slavery (Western Africa and Thailand)
8-Maternal deaths (Sub-Sahara Africa and developing nations)
7-Female Genital Mutilation (Mid-Africa about 120 million victims)
6-Rape and sexual abuse (South Africa and United States are worst countries)
5-Wage disparity (worldwide)
4-No/low education for females (various degrees in most countries of the world)
3-Denial of access to jobs and careers (many developing nations)
2-Mandatory covering of females’ bodies head to toe (Traditional countries, Muslim)
1-Public demeaning of women (still practiced, public and private)
www.prb.org World Population Data Sheet2008; pages 7-15. http://www.prb.org/pdf08/08WPDS_Eng.pdf (Niger, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia have lower death rates for women while Kenya, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, and Micronesia have a tie between men and women’s life expectancy—this even though in developing nations the average woman outlives the average man by 3 years)
Some cultural traditions are so harsh that females are biologically trumped by males—this by withholding nutrition, abandoning wife and daughters, abuse, neglect, violence, refugee status, diseases, and complications of childbirth unsupported by the government. If you study this online looking at the Population Reference Bureau’s many links and reports, you will find a worldwide concerted effort to persuade government, religious, and cultural leaders to shift their focus and efforts to nurture and protect women/females (www.PRB.org see also United Nations www.un.org ). Progress has already been made to some degree, but much change is still warranted because life, health and well-being are at stake for billions of women worldwide.
One of the most repugnant traditions in our world has been and is the sale of children/women into sexual and other forms of slavery. Countless civilizations that are still influential in our modern thought and tradition have sold girls and women the same way one might sell a horse or cow. It’s estimated by a variety of organizations and sources that about 1 million women are currently forced into the sex slavery industry (boys are also sold and bought into slavery). India, Western Africa, and Thailand are some of the most notorious regions for this atrocity (Google amnesty International, Sexual Slavery, PRB.org, United Nations, and search Wikipedia.org). Governments fail at 2 levels in the sexual slavery trade: First, they allow it to occur as in the case of Thailand where it’s a major draw of male tourists; and second, they fail to police sexual slavery which is often criminal and/or organized crime in nature. The consequences to these girls and women are harsh at every level of human existence and is often connected to the spread of HIV and other communicable diseases.
Although pregnancy is not a disease it carries with it many health risks when governments fail to provide resources to expecting mothers before, during, and after delivery of their baby. Maternal Death is the death of a pregnant woman resulting from pregnancy, delivery, or recovery complications. Maternal deaths number in the hundreds of thousands and are estimated by the United Nations to be around ½ million per year worldwide (See www.UN.org ). Typically very little medical attention is required to prevent infection, mediate complications, and assist in complications to mothers. To answer this problem one must approach it at the larger social level with government, health care systems, economy, family, and other institutional efforts. The Population Reference Bureau puts a woman’s risk of dying from maternal causes at 1 in 92 worldwide with it being as low as 1 in 6,000 in developed countries and as high as 1 in 22 for the least developed regions of the world (See www.prb.org World Population Data Sheet 2008). The PRB reports “little improvement in maternal mortality in developing countries" (see page 3 of the Data Sheet).
Female Genital Mutilation is the traditional cutting, circumcision, and removal of most or all external genitalia of women for the end result of closing off some or part of the vagina until such time that the woman is married and cut open. In some traditions, there are religious underpinnings. In others, there are customs and rituals that have been passed down. In no way does the main body of any world religion condone or mandate this practice—many countries where this takes place are predominantly Muslim—yet local traditions have corrupted the purer form of the religion and its beliefs and female genital mutilation predates Islam (see Obermeyer, C.M. March 1999, Female Genital Surgeries: The Known and the Unknowable. Medical Anthropology Quaterly13, pages 79-106;p retrieved 5 December from http://www.anthrosource.net/doi/abs/10.1525/maq.19126.96.36.199 ).
An analogy can be drawn from the Taliban which was extreme in comparison to most Muslims worldwide and which literally practiced homicide toward its females to enforce conformity. It should also be explained that there are no medical therapeutic benefits from female genital mutilation. Quite the contrary, there are many adverse medical consequence that result from it, ranging from pain, difficulty in childbirth, illness, and even death.
Many human rights groups, the United Nations, scientists, advocates, the United States, the World Health Organization, and other organizations have made aggressive efforts to influence the cessation of this practice worldwide. But, progress has come very slowly. Part of the problem is that women often perform the ritual and carry on the tradition as it was perpetrated upon them. In other words, many cases have women preparing the next generation for it and at times performing it on them.
As is mentioned in the chapter on rape and sexual assault, rape is not the same as sex. Rape is violence, motivated by men with power, anger, selfishness, and sadistic issues. Rape is dangerous and destructive and more likely to happen in the United States than in most other countries of the world. There are 195 countries in the world today. The US typically is among the worst 5 percent in terms of rape (Yes,that means 95% of the world’s countries are safer for women than the US). Consecutive studies performed by the United Nations Surveys on crime Trends and the Operations of Criminal Justice Systems confirm that South Africa is the most dangerous, crime-ridden nation on the planet in all crimes including rape.(see http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/United-Nations-Surveys-on-Crime-Trends-and-the-Operations-of-Criminal-Justice-Systems.html).
The world’s histories with very few exceptions have recorded the pattern of sexually abusing boys, girls, and women. Slavery, conquest of war, kidnapping, assault, and other circumstances are the context of these violent practices. Online there is a Website at www.rainn.org which is a tremendous resources for knowledge and information especially about rape, assault, incest and issues relating to the United States. The United Nations reported that, “Women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, motor accidents, war and malaria, according to World Bank data. (Retrieved 5 December, 2008 from http://www.un.org/women/endviolence/docs/VAW.pdf , UNite To End Violence Against Women, Feb. 2008).
The UN calls for a criminal Justice System response and for increased prioritization and awareness. Anything might help since almost every country of the world is struggling to prevent sexual violence and rape against its females.
Wage disparities between males and females is both traditional and labor-based economic supply and demand. Statistics show past and current discrepancies in lower pay for women. Diane White, during a 1997 presentation to the United Nations General Assembly, stated that “Today the wage disparity gap cost American women $250,000 over the course of their lives”. (Retrieved 5 December from http://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/statements/Diane%20White.pdf)
Indeed evidence supports her claim that women are paid less in comparison to men and their cumulative losses add up to staggering figures. The US Census Bureau reported in 2008 that US women earn 77 cents for every US man’s $1 (See : American Community Survey) . They also reported that in some places (Washington DC) and in certain fields (Computers and mathematical) women earn as much as 98 cents per a man’s $1. At the worldwide level, “as employees, women are still seeking equal pay with men. Closing the gap between women’s and men’s pay continues to be a major challenge in most parts of the world”. (retrieved 5 Dec., 2008 from the UNstats.org from The World’s Women 2005: Progress and Statistics http://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic/products/indwm/ww2005_pub/English/WW2005_chpt_4_Work_BW.pdf ; page 54).
The report also discussed the fact that about 60 countries have begun to keep statistics on informal (unpaid) work by women. Needless to say even though measuring paid and unpaid work of women is not as accurate as needed for world considerations, “Women contribute to development not only through remunerated work but also through a great deal of non-remunerated work (page 47).”
Why the lower wages for women? The traditional definition of the reproductive roles of women as being “broken, diseased, or flawed” is part of the answer of wage disparity. The idea that reproductive roles interfere with the continuity of the workplace and the idea that women cannot be depended on plays heavily into the maltreatment of women. The argument can be made that traditional and economic factors have led to the existing patterns of paying women less for their same education, experience, and efforts compared to men.
Efforts to provide formal education to females worldwide have escalated over the last few decades. The 2002 Kids Count International Data Sheet estimated rates as low as 11 percent of females in primary school in Somalia. A 1993 World Bank report made it very clear that females throughout the world were being neglected in receiving their formal educations when compared to males (see Subbarro, K. and Raney, L. 1993, “Social Gains from Female Education: A Cross-National Study”. World Bank Discussion Papers 194; retried from Eric ED 363542 on 8 December, 2008).
In 1998 another example is found in efforts specific to Africa via the Forum of African Women Educationalists which focuses on governmental policies and practices for female education across the continent (retrieved 8 Dec 2008 from http://www.un.org/ecosocdev/geninfo/afrec/subjindx/114sped3.htm ). Literally hundreds of studies have since focused on other regions around and below the equator where education levels for females are much lower.
In 1999 it was reported by UNICEF that 1 billion people would never learn to read as children with 130 million school aged children (73 million girls) without access to basic education (retrieved, 8 Dec 2008 from http://www.unicef.org/sowc99/ ). Another UNICEF 2008 report clearly identifies the importance of educating girls who grow up to be mothers because of the tremendous odds that those educated mothers will ensure that their children are also formally educated ( see http://www.unicef.org/sowc08/docs/sowc08.pdf ). In its statistical tables it shows that Somalia is now up to 22 percent for boys and girls in primary schools, yet in most countries females are still less likely to be educated ( see http://www.unicef.org/sowc08/docs/sowc08_table_1.pdf ). The main point from UNICEF and many other formal reports is that higher formal education for females is associated with life, health, protection from crime and sexual exploitation, and countless other benefits, especially to females in the poorer regions of the world.
In the United States most females and males attend some form of formal education. After high school, many go to college. Even though the US numbers of 18-24 year old men are higher than women (www.USCensus.gov ) women are more likely to attend college based on percentages (57%) from a short article in the USA Today paper on the 19 of October, 2005, titled "College Gender Gap Widens: 57% are Women" (retrieved 8 December 2008 from http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2005-10-19-male-college-cover_xhtm).
A projection from the National Center for Education Statistics projects a continuing trend up and through the year 2016 where about 58 percent of US college students will be female (retrieved 8 December, 2008 from “Projections of Education Statistics to 2016” http://nces.ed.gov/programs/projections/projections2016/sec2c.asp ). By 2016 about 60 percent of graduated students will be females (see http://nces.ed.gov/programs/projections/projections2016/sec4b.asp). These numbers reflect a strong and concerted push toward equality of opportunity for females in formal education that dates back over a century. The challenge is to avoid defining progress for US females in public and private education as having been made at the expense of males. That’s much too simplistic.
They also reflect a change in the culture of bread winning and the adult roles of males. Males and/or females who don’t pursue a college degree will make less money than those who did. To make sense of this trend, many males have been identified as having: a prolonged adolescence (even into their 30’s); video game playing mentality; and a live with your parents indefinitely strategy until their shot at the labor force has passed them by. Others have pointed out the higher rates of learning disabilities in K-12, the relatively low percentage of K-5 teachers who are males, and the higher rate of male dropouts. Still others blame attention deficit and hyperactivity as part of the problem.
Here is a truism about education in the US: Higher education=higher pay=higher social prestige=higher income=higher quality of life. Many countries of the world have neutralized the traditional, religious, and labor-force based biases against women and have moved to a merit-based system. Even in the US, there have been “men" wages, then women and childrens wages (1/10th to 2/3rd of a man’s). In a sense, any hard working, talented person can pursue and obtain a high-end job, including women. Communism broke some of these barriers early on in the 20th century, but the relatively low wages afforded those pursuing these careers somewhat offset the advances women could have made. In the US progress has come more slowly. Physicians are some of the brightest and best paid specialists in the world. Salaries tend to begin in the $100,000 range and can easily reach $500,000 depending on the specialty (see http://www.allied-physicians.com/salary_surveys/physician-salaries.htm ). Prior to 1970 most physicians were white and male, but things are slowly changing. See Table 4 for trends between 1970 and 2006.
Table 4: The Percentage of Physicians who are Male and Female
Retrieved from the American Medical Association 8 December, 2008 from “Table 1- Physicians By Gender (Excludes Students)” http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/category/12912.html]
The upward trend shows a concerted effort to provide equal opportunity for females and males. Engineers have also seen a concerted effort to facilitate females into the profession. The Society of Women Engineers is a non-profit organization which helps support and recognize women as engineers (see http://societyofwomenengineers.swe.org/index.php ). Look at Figure 1 below. Computer-based careers are seeing striking gains in some areas for women who will be hired competitively based on merit. The same cannot be said for doctoral level employment in the more prestigious fields. In Figure 2 you can see 2005 estimates from the US National Science Foundation.
Figure 1: Women in High Tech Jobs
retrieved 8 December, 2008 from http://www.dol.gov/wb/factsheets/hitech02.htm
Figure 2. United Doctorates States Conferred By Characteristics of Recipients: 2005*
Retrieved 8 December, 2008 from table 786: “Doctorates Conferred By Characteristics of Recipients: 2005” from http://www.census.gov/compendia.statab/tables/08s0786.pdf
The first 6 fields are the highest paying fields to work in while social and psychological sciences are among the least paying. Women clearly dominate Psychology and nearly tie in social sciences and biology. True, at the doctoral level pay is higher than at the masters and bachelors levels, but the difference in engineering and psychology is remarkable at every level of education (see http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm#b00-0000 ).
The mandatory covering of females’ bodies head to toe has been opposed by some and applauded by others. Christians, Hindus, and many other religious groups have the practice of covering or veiling in their histories. Yet, over the last 30 years, as fundamentalist Muslim nations and cultures have returned to their much more traditional way of life, Hijab which is the Arabic word that means to cover or veil has become more common (ħijāb or حجاب,). Often Hijab means modest and private in the day to day interpretations of the practice. For some countries it is a personal choice, while for others it becomes a crime not to comply. The former Taliban punished such a crime with death (they also punished formal schooling of females and the use of makeup by death).
Many womens rights groups have brought public attention to this trend, not so much because the mandated covering of females is that oppressive, but because the veiling and covering is symbolic of the religious, traditional, and labor-forced patterns of oppression that have caused so many problems for women and continue to do so today.
I interviewed a retired OBGYN nurse who served as a training nurse for a mission in Saudi Arabia on a volunteer basis. She taught other local nurses from her 30 years of experience. Each and every day she was guarded by machine gun toting security forces everywhere she went. She was asked to cover and veil and did so. I asked her how she felt about that, given that her US culture was so relaxed on this issue.
“I wanted to teach those women and knew that they would benefit from my experience. I just had to do what I was told by the authorities,” she said.
“What would have happened if you had tried to leave the compound without your veil?” I asked.
“I suspect, I would have been arrested and shot.” She chuckles. “Not shot, perhaps, but If I did not comply, my training efforts would have been stopped and I would have been sent home.”
“So, you complied because of your desire to train the nurses?”
“That and the mothers and babies,” she answered.(Interview with HB, 12June, 2005)
The public demeaning of women has been acceptable throughout various cultures because publicly demeaning members of society who are privately devalued and/or considered flawed fits the reality of most day-to-day interactions. Misogyny is the physical or verbal abuse and mistreatment of women. Verbal misogyny is unacceptable in public in most Western Nations today. With the ever present technology found in cell phones, video cameras, and security devices a person’s private and public misogynistic language could be easily recorded and posted for millions to see on any number of Websites.
Perhaps, this fear of being found out as a woman-hater is not the ideal motivation for creating cultural values of respect and even admiration of women and men. As was mentioned above, most of the world historical leaders assumed that women were not as valuable as men and it has been a few decades since changes have begun. Yet, an even more sinister assumption has and does persist today: that women were the totality of their reproductive role, or Sex=Gender (Biology=Culture). If this were true then women would ultimately just be breeders of the species, rather than valued human beings they are throughout the world today.
An early pioneer and one of my personal heroines is an anthropologist named Margaret Mead (1901-1978). Dr. Mead earned her Ph.D. under the direction of some of the best anthropologists of her day. But she was a woman in a mostly male-dominated academic field. In my own readings of her works—her works are regularly quoted in many different disciplines today—I marvel that she successfully challenged the sexist and misogynistic notions established in academics at the time.
Bold Research on Gender
Mead’s work entitled, Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (1935) became a major seminal work in the womens liberation movement and thereby in the redefinition of women in many Western Societies. Her observations of gender in three tribes: Arapesh, Mundugamor, and Tchambuli created a national discussion which lead many to reconsider the established Sex-Gender assumption. In these tribes she found the following:
Arapesh: both men and women displayed what we typically call feminine traits: sensitivity, cooperation, and low levels of aggression
Mundugamor: both men and women were: insensitive, uncooperative, and very aggressive. These were typical masculine traits at the time.
Tchambuli: women were aggressive, rational and capable and were also socially dominant. Men were passive assuming artistic and leisure roles.
Why then, Mead argued, if our reproductive roles determined our cultural and social opportunities were the gender definitions varied and unique among less civilized peoples? Were we not less civilized ourselves at one point in history and have we not progressed on a similar path the tribal people take? Could it be that tradition (culture) was the stronger social force rather than biology? Mead’s work and her public influence helped to establish the belief that biology is only a part of the Sex and Gender question (albeit an important part). Mead established that Sex≠Gender. But, even with the harshest criticism launched against her works, her critics supported and even inadvertently reinforced the idea that biology shapes but cultures are more salient in how women and men are treated by those with power.
Misogyny is easier to perpetrate if one assumes the weakness, biological frailty, and perhaps even diminished capacity that women were claimed to have had. I personally witnessed the rise and fall of some who tried to persist in the traditional definition of women. Andrew Clay Silverstein (1957-present) was a nationally successful comedian who also played in a movie and TV show (although he recently appeared on Celebrity Apprentice). His career ended abruptly because of his harsh sexist themes which were being performed in an age of clarity and understanding about gender values. Mister Clay failed to recognize the social change which surrounded him. We often overlook the change and the continuing problems ourselves. It is advantageous to you and I not to make the same mistake in our own career paths.
Professional and volunteer organizations have made concerted efforts to raise awareness of the English language and its demeaning vocabulary toward females. English as a derivative of German has many linguistic biases against women, non-whites, poor, and non-royalty. Raising awareness and discussing the assumptions within English or any other language has been part of the social transformation toward cultural and biological fairness and equality. If we understand how the words we use influence the culture we live in and how the value of that culture influence the way we treat one another, then we begin to see the importance of language on the quality of life.
The quality of life for women is of importance at many different levels in the world. As you’ve read through this chapter, you’ve probably noticed that much is yet to be accomplished worldwide. The United States has seen much progress. But, other nations continually rank the “world’s best nation for women”. Many European countries far outrank the US for quality of women's lives. In Fact, in 2008 the US ranked number 27th (retrieved 9 December, 2008 from http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/Entertainment/23-Nov-2008/European-countries-top-places-for-women-to-live/1).
The Global Gender Gap Index was developed to measure the quality of life for women between countries. It measures the gap between males and females in objective statistics that focus on equality. There are four pillars in the index which include: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, political empowerment, and health and survival using 14 indicators from each country's national statistics. From 1998-2006, there was a reported net improvement for all countries (page 27).
When one considers the day-to-day lives of women in these national statistics, and perhaps more importantly in their personal lives, the concept of what women do as their contribution to the function of society becomes important. Instrumental Tasks are goal directed activities which link the family to the surrounding society, geared toward obtaining resources. This includes economic work, bread winning, and other resource-based efforts. Expressive Tasks are those that pertain to the creation and maintenance of a set of positive, supportive, emotional relationships within the family unit. This includes relationships, nurturing, and social connections needed in the family and society. Today, women do both and typically do them well.
Prior to the Industrial revolution both males and females combined their local economic efforts in homemaking. Most of these efforts were cottage industry-type where families used their children's labor to make products they needed, such as soap, thread, fabric, butter, and many other products. When the factory model of production emerged in Western Civilizations, the breadwinner and homemaker became more distinct. A Breadwinner is a parent or spouse who earns wages outside of the home and uses them to support the family. A Homemaker is typically a women who occupies her life with mothering, housekeeping, and being a wife while depending heavily on the breadwinner.
What About Men?
In the past two decades a social movement referred to as The Men’s Movement has emerged. The Men's Movement is a broad effort across societies and the world to improve the quality of life and family-related rights of men.
Since the Industrial Revolution, men have been emotionally exiled from their families and close relationships. They have become the human piece of the factory machinery (or computer technology in our day) that forced them to disconnect from their most intimate relationships and to become money-acquisition units rather than emotionally powerful pillars of their families.
Many in this line of thought attribute higher suicide rates, death rates, accident rates, substance abuse problems, and other challenges in the lives of modern men directly to the broad social process of post-industrial breadwinning. Not only did the Industrial Revolution’s changes hurt men, but the current masculine role is viewed by many as being oppressive to men, women, and children. Today a man is more likely to kill or be killed, to abuse, and to oppress others. Table 5 lists some of the issues of concern for those in the Men’s Movement.
Table 5: Concerns in the Men’s Movement
1. Life and health challenges
2. Emotional isolation
3. Sexual research and rights
4. Post-divorce/separation father’s rights
5. False sex or physical abuse allegations
6. Early education challenges for boys
7. Declining college attendance
8. Protection from domestic abuse
9. Man-hating or bashing
10. Lack of support for fatherhood
11. Paternal rights and abortion
12. Affirmative action-sex and race
The list of concerns displays the quality of life issues mixed in with specific legal and civil rights concerns. Mens Movement sympathizers would most likely promote or support equality of rights for men and women. They are aware of the Male Supremacy Model, when males erroneously believe that men are superior in all aspects of life and that should excel in everything they do. They also concerns themselves with the Sexual Objectification of Women which is when men learn to view women as objects of sexual consumption rather than as a whole person. Male Bashing is the verbal abuse and use of pejorative and derogatory language about men.
These and other concerns are not being aggressively supported throughout the world as are the women’s rights and suffrage efforts discussed above. Most of the Men’s Movement efforts are in Western Societies, India, and a handful of others.
I’ve included three self-assessments to help you better understand your views and experiences with gender, men’s issues, and the media portrayal of gender roles.
Gender/Androgyny Role Attitude Assessment
Please answer T=True or F=False on each of the items below. If you are married or otherwise committed then have your partner take the assessment. Compare and discuss only after each has completed it. If you are single have your parents or close friend take the assessment and discuss it.
1. T/F Women with school or preschool aged children should stay home if at all possible
2. T/F Cleaning dishes, laundry, cooking, etc... are really a woman's responsibility
3. T/F Men should be the only breadwinners in the home
4. T/F Women are less capable of making important decisions than are men
5. T/F Women are naturally dependent on men
6. T/F When a woman pursues a career, it's because she has problems with relationships
7. T/F When a woman flatters a man to get what she wants, it's O.K.
8. T/F It would be difficult for me to work for a woman
9. T/F You can tell a great deal about a woman by her appearance and sex appeal
10. T/F Most women admire the qualities of men and would like to be more like them
11. T/F Husbands should really make all the tough decisions in the home
12. T/F Women are not as dependable in terms of job stability and commitment
13. T/F Women should pursue an education that would directly benefit their homemaking role
14. T/F Women are simply not as rational/logical as men
15. T/F Women are more social than men
16. T/F If she were qualified, I'd vote for a woman for president of the U.S.
17. T/F Lawmakers should support gender equality issues in the legislation they pass
18. T/F Women are no more emotional than men tend to be
19. T/F Careers provide women with opportunities for self-fulfillment and growth
20. T/F Sexuality is enjoyed just as much by women as men
21. T/F Men are as capable of loving children as women
22. T/F Overall, genetics have little to do with the way men and women behave
23. T/F Men and women are equally as capable of dominance in society
24. T/F Pay should be based on performance, not gender
25. T/F Men tend to welcome their wife's earnings in today's tough market
26. T/F Neither men nor women are superior to one another
27. T/F Both fathers and mothers are essential to the child's upbringing
28. T/F The way men and women communicate depends more on their individuality than gender
29. T/F Couples should negotiate housework, yard work, and child care duties
30. T/F The birth of the child is cause enough to celebrate, not its sex
Scoring your gender role attitudes:
Give yourself 1 point for each True answer in questions 1-15 _____
Give yourself 1 point for each False answer in questions 16-30 _____
The closer your score is to 30 points the more traditional your attitudes tend to be.
Couples and family members enhance the quality of their relationships as they sit down and discuss their gender values and negotiate on those issues which are most significant to those involved. Do these findings accurately reflect you, your expectations, and life experience? Why or Why not?
*81998 Barbara Bearnson, M.S. & Ron J. Hammond, Ph.D.
Personal Mens Issues Assessment
Answer yes or no to all of the events below that actually have or currently are occurring to you. Be as accurate as possible. Females can interview a close male friend or family member. Do not read the answer key until you have taken the assessment.
|I was labeled a trouble maker in public school|
|I had learning challenges in public school|
|I was not athletic in public school|
|I never had a good male role model in my early years|
| I feel that I never measure up
|I feel like a mechanical cog in the big economic machinery|
|I suffer because of being a male in today's work place|
|My father is not proud of me|
|My father is out of touch with issues in my life|
|I feel an emotional gap between my father and myself|
|I long to be more intimate with my partner|
|I was not adequately socialized to nurture children|
|I feel emotionally detached from most people|
|I do things at work which I regret, but must do to keep the job|
|I've thought about suicide before|
|I lost custody of my children in a divorce or separation|
|I have overheard male bashing comments|
|I have been the direct victim of male bashing|
|I have suffered discrimination as a male|
|I fear that I will be accused of sexual crimes|
Add up all the Yes answers. This assessment is designed to measure the intensity of hardship males experience in a post-industrial society. 0=no hardship, 20=extreme hardship. Did these findings surprise you? Discuss them with someone close to you. You can learn more about Men's Issues on the Internet or in the library.
*82000 Barbara Bearnson, M.S. & Ron J. Hammond, Ph.D
Television Messages about Gender Roles
Many studies have established the fact that television viewing shapes our attitudes and outlook on life. Most people in the U.S. are exposed to numerous TV messages while watching 3-4 hours of television per day (that's 9.1 years equivalent by age 65). This project is designed to facilitate an understanding of the gender role messages you get from various television shows. Watch two separate shows from 7-11:00 PM and use this table to analyze their presentation of male and female roles.
|Factors to Consider||Title of First Show||Title of Second Show|
|Are the central characters male, female, or both?|
Which characters are shown as being in control or having the most power?
Are the male characters portrayed as being competent in their social roles? How can you tell?
|Are the female characters portrayed as being independent and capable in their roles? How can you tell?|
|If the show is set in the context of a central family, are the male and female characters realistically portrayed? If not, why?|
|List three words which basically describe the male characters in this show.|
|List three words which basically describe the female characters.|
|When comparing yourself to the main character(s) of the same sex, what is the difference (if any)? Would you be friends in real life?|
|Are any of the male or female characters exploited sexually, financially, or socially? If so, how?|
|Is violence used to coerce male or female characters?|
*81998 Barbara Bearnson, M.S. & Ron J. Hammond, Ph.D.