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Sociology of gender is a prominent subfield of sociology. Social interaction directly correlated with sociology regarding social structure. One of the most important social structures is status. This is determined based on position that an individual possesses which effects how they will be treated by society. One of the most important statuses an individual claims is gender.[1] Public discourse and the academic literature generally use the term gender for the perceived or projected (self-identified) masculinity or femininity of a person.[citation needed]


The term gender role was coined by John Money in a seminal 1955 paper where he defined it as "all those things that a person says or does to disclose himself or herself as having the status of boy or man, girl or woman."[2]

A person's gender is complex, encompassing countless characteristics of appearance, speech, movement and other factors not solely limited to biological sex.[3] Societies tend to have binary gender systems in which everyone is categorized as male or female. Some societies include a third gender role; for instance, the Native American Two-Spirit people and the Hijras of India. There is debate over the extent to which gender is a social construct or a biological construct .[4]

In feminist theoryEdit

During the 1970s, there was no consensus about how the terms were to be applied. In the 1974 edition of Masculine/Feminine or Human, the author uses "innate gender" and "learned sex roles", but in the 1978 edition, the use of sex and gender is reversed. By 1980, most feminist writings had agreed on using gender only for socioculturally adapted traits.

Liberal feminism is the belief that individuals should be free to develop their own talents and pursue their interests. Individuals seek to expand equality by removing the barriers in society. Socialist feminism thinks that capitalism strengthens patriarchy by concentrating wealth and power in the hands of a few. The traditional family structure should be replaced by a collective revolution. In Radical feminism, they believe that patriarchy is so deeply rooted in society that even a sociological revolution would not end it; Society must eliminate gender itself.

Other languagesEdit

In English, both sex and gender are used in contexts where they could not be substituted (sexual intercourse; anal sex; safe sex; sex worker; sex slave). Other languages, like German, use the same word Geschlecht to refer both to grammatical gender and to biological sex, making the distinction between sex and gender advocated by some anthropologists difficult. In some contexts, German has adopted the English loan-word gender to achieve this distinction. Sometimes 'Geschlechtsidentität' is used as gender (although it literally means gender identity) and 'Geschlecht' as sex (translation of Judith Butler's Gender Trouble). More common is the use of modifiers: biologisches Geschlecht for sex, Geschlechtsidentität for gender identity and Geschlechterrolle for gender role etc.

U.S. mediaEdit

Media criticism is a reflection of the gender inequality in society through print, advertisements, television and music. Media influences and reinforces the idea of The Beauty Myth as discussed in Naomi Wolf's book, The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women, which refers to unrealistic standards of beauty for women.[5] Some argue that the mainstream media perpetuates the idea of hetero-masculinity by portraying men as dominant.[6] Some also argue that the media objectifies and oppresses women, and men who don't fall into the heteronormative category.[7]


Through the media, men are taught to be ultra-masculine by being desensitized, violent, and physically strong.[8] Other forms of media that often portray the ultra-masculine figure are advertisements, specifically beer commercials. These forms encourage men to oppress other men if they do not fit the ideals of heteromasculinity.[9]

Objectification of womenEdit

Objectification of women refers to instances in the media in which women may be viewed as, or directly compared to, insentient objects that can be acquired and/or possessed. This can be examined in the context of advertisements, where objects may be anthropomorphized and given feminine qualities or aspects of the female form.[10] Some studies indicate that widespread objectification of women in the media may have significant repercussions on society, such as low self-esteem and/or eating disorders among women.[11]

Gender and socializationEdit

Socialization theory offers a straightforward account of the acquisition of gendered identities. Infants are seen as blank slates, waiting to be written down on by their environment. Through their interactions with people close to them and exposure to the values of their society, infants learn what sex is attributed to them and what roles they are expected to learn. Reinforcement (through rewarding gender-appropriate behavior and punishing what may seem as deviant behavior) socializes children into their genders.[12] Parents, for example, are far more likely to engage with their sons in rough physical play than they are with their daughters, and it has been argued that long-term consequences may follow (in this case, a head start for boys in the development of physical violence and aggressiveness.)[13]

Parents and family can influence the way that a child develops their view of gender. These types of influences can include parental attitudes and difference of treatment regarding male and female children. Researcher Susan Witt claims that parents also expose children to gender from the time they are born via specific toys, colors, and names associated with genders in the binary. Witt suggests that parental attitudes about gender can differ from male to female children and that these attitudes develop quickly after a child's birth.[14]

Author Susan Grieshaber, in "Constructing the Gendered Infant", suggests that attitudes regarding pregnancy change after parents find out the sex of their child, subsequently changing parental attitudes towards the unborn child. According to Grieshaber's theory, once parents determine the sex of their unborn child, they assume a gender while planning for the child's arrival. Because of this, Grieshaber claims that infants are born into a gendered world where they never know anything other than the gender traits that are assumed due to their sex.[15] Dr. Kara Smith utilizes similar theory throughout the analysis of her pregnancy journals kept throughout her second pregnancy. Smith concluded that her attitude towards her child changed after learning that her child’s sex was male. Smith's claim is reflected in changes in tone of voice when talking to the unborn child as well as differences in physical touch of her stomach throughout the rest of her pregnancy.[16] Another theory of gender socialization, discussed by Susan McHale, is that the gender roles and attitudes of older siblings can impact the gender roles adopted by younger children. Throughout the findings of McHale's study, it is maintained that parents still have the most familial influence on childhood socialization.[17]

By the time children reach the age of three, many will have acquired a firm sense of themselves as male or female, a gender identity that remains throughout life. In addition, many pre-schoolers develop a firm awareness of gender stereotypes, insisting that certain activities or items of clothing are not for girls and others not for boys. Yet gender identity does not automatically follow from biological sex.[18][19]

Adults respond differently to communicative efforts of boys and girls. A study of infants aged 13 months found that when boys demand attention - by behaving aggressively, or crying, whining or screaming - they tended to get it. By contrast, adults tended to respond to girls only when they used language, gestures, or gentle touches; girls who used attention-seeking techniques were likely ignored. There was little difference in the communicative patterns at the start of the study, but by the age of two, the girls have become more talkative and boys more assertive in their communicative techniques.[20]

The norms that are taught throughout childhood are influential in an individual's life because the ideas about gender that are typically taught by parents in early years are reinforced outside of the home.[14] A study done by Dr. Mick Cunningham states that the normative behaviors and attitudes that children observe can influence the way that these children grow up to structure their own households in adulthood.[21] Normative gender roles can be reinforced outside of the household, adding power to these hegemonic ideas about gender. An analysis of children’s books in the twenty-first century, by Janice McCabe, suggests that this particular avenue of children’s media symbolically annihilates females, representing them about half as often as that of males. Underrepresentation such as this can affect children and their views of gender.[22] Children’s TV networks, such as Disney, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network have demonstrated a disproportional representation of males and females on their respective shows in a study done by Beth Hentges and Kim Case. According to Hentges and Case, there are less female characters across all three children’s networks; however, there is more propagation of stereotypical gendered behavior on Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon than that of Disney.[23]

Atypical Household Influence on Gender SocializationEdit

Some children are raised in atypical households that challenge normative gender roles. In Jada Tidwell's study, she observes the play of children who come from households with lesbian feminist mothers (both single mothers and couples). Tidwell's observations consisted of both individual play as well as play integrated with the mothers. As a result of these observations, Tidwell asserts that atypical environments can affect children’s lives and ideas. According to Tidwell, households that challenge hegemonic cultural ideas ultimately give children a different perspective of gender than those of children raised in heterosexual, two parent households. In the families studied by Jada Tidwell, children reported ideas that both endorsed and challenged stereotypical gender roles at times.[24] In a different study, Abbie Goldberg observed toddlers from various types of households and how these children engaged in play. Goldberg's findings suggest that children whose parents are of the same gender tend to play in ways that are less adherent to stereotypical gender roles than children from heterosexual households.[25] Susan Witt, in her article “Parental Influence on Children’s Socialization to Gender Roles’, advocates for androgynous gender roles in parenting, arguing that environments are more open minded about gender and encouraging to both their sons and daughters.[14]

Gender and psychoanalysisEdit

One of the most influential of the psychoanalytic theories of gender identity is the perspective developed in the book The Reproduction of Mothering. Its author, Nancy Chodorow, traces the implications for emotional development by linking them with the way mothers usually care for their infants in their formative years, while fathers are more emotionally distant. The development of an identity takes place as the infant gets more and more separated from his/her mother, with whom the infant is initially psychically merged. This process however operates differently for boys and girls. Girls can separate gradually, maintain a continuous sense of relationship with the mother, who is after all experienced as alike. For boys, on the other hand, separating from the mother, who is experienced as different, involves repressing the feminine aspects of themselves and rejecting their tenderness that was central to that early relationship. Boys' sense of maleness, according to Chodorow, is achieved at a great emotional cost.[26]

Consequently, men grow up to have a more autonomous sense of self, and to be more independent, more instrumental and competitive in their dealings with others. They are also more likely to have difficulty expressing their emotions and to be anxious about intimacy. Women, on the other hand, have more ability and more need to sustain relationship with others.; they have greater empathy with others. They have difficulty however in maintaining the boundaries of an independent and autonomous self.

Chodorow however believes that these patterns aren't inevitable. Changes in the social arrangements for care of children such as dual parenting, which would involve fathers in emotional intimacy with their children, can break the cycle.

Gender and the division of laborEdit

Before industrialization, economic activity, which centered around agricultural work, crafts and so on, was organized by households. Household members, whether male or female, young or old, contributed to the family's livelihood. Although women might do some types of work and men others, depending on region and class, the distinction between men as breadwinners and women as housewives didn't characterize pre-industrial divisions of labor.

Industrialization shifted much productive activity to factories, shops and offices. This separation of work from home signaled a profound change in gender relations and gender discourse. The home came to be understood not as the site of a family enterprise, but as a refuge from the world of work. Women were defined as the keepers of the home, as it was seen as their nature to create harmony and virtue rather than services and goods. Preindustrial society relied on gendered roles in the workforce to create equilibrium between men and women. Men were assigned the hunter role while women were assigned the domestic roles. Men were expected to supply food and shelter for the family while women were the caretakers for the children and their household. As centuries passed, this continued and created a divide in gendered roles in labor. Women remained dependent on men to provide, this dependence led to male roles being more valued in society which still remains in the 21st century.[1]

Gender in conversationEdit

Some research has found that, in classroom settings, male students tend to talk more, and longer, than female students. This was determined to be particularly noticeable when the instructor is male.[27]

Similar results were found previously in hospitals by Erving Goffman in 1961, university discussion groups by Elizabeth Aries in 1972, and in corporate settings by Rosabeth Kanter in 1977.[27]

Gender in the workplaceEdit

Women and men experience different types of mobility within the workplace. For example, women tend to experience a glass ceiling, an invisible barrier that prevents them from moving up the corporate ladder.[28] An example of this is a study from Sweden that compared the number of females in director jobs to men in director jobs. The study showed that there were statistically more men than women holding those jobs and showed that the results were also shown in other countries such as the USA.[29] Men in jobs traditionally held by women, such as nursing, elementary school teaching, and social work, experience a "glass escalator" effect in which they are able to quickly ascend the job hierarchy to become managers and principals.[30] There also tends to be a gender pay gap between men and women, with women earning 77% as much as men.[31]

One cause of the gender pay gap may be due to occupational segregation, which pushes men and women towards gender-specific forms of employment, rather than pay discrimination. Another possible cause is the double burden, a phenomenon in which women perform most of the unpaid childcare and household work despite being otherwise employed for pay. A third possible cause is occupational sexism, one part of which favors men for promotions due to their traditional breadwinner status.[32] The 2001 class action lawsuit, Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., charged Wal-Mart with sexist hiring and promotion practices.

There were also studies done that showed that having women in higher paying positions would correlate to an increased chance of depressive symptoms. These studies talked about how the depression was caused by the negative social experiences at their job, such as social isolation and negative social interactions, that weaken the mental health of the women in authority positions. Of which referenced that men had more value for their status in the work place than women.[33][34] These social interactions would have been caused by cultural gender norms. [35] Parallel to the social norms, women are stuck in the expectations placed upon them based off these norms. This places the identity of follower onto women since that is what the norm dictated.[36]

In China, women have experienced gender based discrimination based off of job requirements that represent indirect discrimination. An example would be a job listing available to everyone but required the individual to be able to carry a set amount of weight or to be a certain height, without there being a need for that requirement in that job. These requirements prevent set groups from getting that job, but is labeled implicitly.[37]

In addition, the emergence of transgender individuals in the workplace has begun to disrupt the gender binary of male and female. By creating a hybrid gender identity,[38] the transgender community suggests notions of movement toward postgenderism.[peacock term]


Intersectionality is a Neo-Marxist concept stemming from a critical theory social analysis of class, race, and gender. The theory of intersectionality argues that forms of "inequality, oppression, and privilege" are shaped by interconnected axes of identity, and are mutually reinforced by social interactions and by social, political, and economic structures, such as capitalism, patriarchy, and institutionalized heteronormativity.[39] The theory of Intersectionality argues that race, class, gender, and other markers of identity are social constructions.[40] This theory argues against the assumption that systems of power relations are normative and can hold individuals accountable for their own character and efforts.[39]

West & Fenstermaker in their 1995 article Doing Difference offer that models that conceive gender, race and class as distinct axes are highly limiting in their understanding of the whole experience or identity of an individual. For example, they critique the additive model, in which the whole will never be greater (or lesser) than the sum of it parts. By analyzing each identity marker as an individual characteristic, we ignore the effect of the interconnection of these markers.[39]

Additional sociologists have written about the intersectionality of class, race, and gender. Joan Acker outlines four gendered processes of intersectionality. The first includes procedures that create hierarchies based on gender and race. Another is the process in which social images and ideas condone gendered institutions. The third is a process of interaction between individuals and groups that, through communication, creates gender. The fourth is the internal labeling of the self and others to gendered personas.[41] Evelyn Nakano Glenn critiques both the patriarchy model of gender, which ignores racial differences among oppressed women, and the internal colonialism model, which focuses on minority populations in general, ignoring gender differences.[42]


Embodiment may be defined as the ways in which cultural ideals of gender in a given society create expectations for and influence the form of our bodies. There is a bidirectional relationship between biology and culture; by embodying societally determined gender roles we reinforce cultural ideals and simultaneously shape, both temporarily and permanently, our bodies, which then perpetuates the cultural ideal.[43] While there is actually more variation in body type within the male and female sexes than there is between the two sexes, embodiment exaggerates the perceived bodily differences between gender categories.[44]

Social embodiment, for both men and women, is variable across cultures and over time. Examples of women embodying gender norms across cultures include foot binding practices in Chinese culture, neck rings in African and Asian cultures, and corsets in Western cultures. Another interesting phenomenon has been the practice of wearing high heels, which shifted from a masculine fashion to a feminine fashion over time. In the United States, the ideal body image and dimensions have changed for both women and men, with the body ideal female body shape becoming progressively slimmer and the body ideal for men becoming progressively larger.[45]

These differences are epitomized in the example of children's toys; G.I. Joe dolls depict the physical ideals for boys and Barbie dolls embody the ideals for girls. The Beauty Myth, as discussed in Naomi Wolf's book The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women, refers to the unattainable standard of beauty for women, which sustains consumer culture. In contrast, men's bodies are also "dictated" by cultural ideals of gender, as is evident in consumer culture—especially beer commercials—in which men are portrayed as outdoorsy, tough, strong, and "manly."[46]


Sexuality encompasses both sexual behavior and sexual desire.[47] However, Heteronormativity structures social life so that Heterosexuality is always assumed, expected, ordinary and privileged. Its pervasiveness makes it difficult for people to imagine other ways of life.[48] Mass media works to glorify heterosexuality, which in turn lends to its pervasiveness and to its power.[49] Both ordinary and exceptional constructions of heterosexuality work to normalize heterosexuality; thus, it becomes difficult to imagine anything other than this form of social relationship or anyone outside of these bonds.[49]

There is a common perception of heterosexuality as the "natural" emotional and sensual inclination for Human sexuality.[50] Furthermore, marital heterosexuality occupies the largely invisible core of normative and desirable sexuality, while all other sexualities are marginalized and considered perverse and unnatural.[51] Alfred Kinsey created a Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale called the Kinsey Scale, which challenges the common perception of Human sexuality as strictly binary and directly linked to Gender. Drag queens are an example of "troubling" gender, complicating the understanding of sexuality in our society by causing people to think outside the binary of male/female.[52]

Friedrich Engels[53] argued that in hunter-gatherer societies the activities of men and women, although different, had the same importance. As technological advances let to productive surplus, social equality and communal sharing gave way to private property and ultimately class hierarchy. With the rise of agriculture, men gained significant power over women. With surplus wealth to pass on to their heirs, upper class men wanted to ensure their sons were indeed theirs, which led them to control the sexuality of women. The desire to control property brought about monogamous marriage and family. Women were taught to remain virgins until marriage and remain faithful to their husbands thereafter, and to build their lives around bearing and raising one man's children.


Masculinity is a performed gender identity. Contrary to popular perception[citation needed], it is not the same as sex or sexual orientation. The contents and practices of masculinity are socially constructed and reproduced through daily interaction, especially on a more micro scale.[54] Theorists West & Zimmerman emphasized that gender is maintained through accountability. Men are expected to perform masculinity to the point that it is naturalized. Thus, a man's status depends on his performance. It is important to note, however, that masculinity can be performed by any sex.[54][55][56][57]

The dominant form of masculinity in a society is known as hegemonic masculinity. Men are constantly performing this to prove their status as men.[58] It is not really possible to reach it, especially as peers are in constant surveillance of each other, looking for flaws in their performance.[58] Hegemonic masculinity is constructed in opposition to femininity and is dominant to all other gender identities (including alternative masculinities). Men are socialized from birth to perform it, especially through behavior and symbolism. One of the prominent behaviors is aggression in order to protect one's reputation. An example of symbols used would be clothing.[54][59]

Sociologist Michael Kimmel describes three cultures that support masculinity (especially in young men) in his 2008 book, Guyland:

  • The Culture of Entitlement: Men are raised to feel they deserve something. They feel entitled to power, sex and women.
  • The Culture of Silence: Men are not to talk to outsiders (those not embedded in the cultures of masculinity) about drinking, bullying, rape, or any performance of masculinity by their peers that they may get in trouble for. If they do talk, they will be seen as unmanly traitors.
  • The Culture of Protection: Communities do not hold men responsible for questionable and illegal actions. Many turn a blind eye, assuming their boys would never do that. Others write off dangerous acts as "boys will be boys".[54]

Some of the prominent attitudes and behaviors of western hegemonic masculinity are: power, sexual dominance and activity, wealth, aggression, independence, and lack of emotion. Less extreme sexual harassment is often seen as normal behavior.[54] Exemplifying control theory, the norms of masculinity are so rigidly ingrained that men find little room to escape and end up constantly reproducing them.

Hegemonic masculinity is often reproduced and reinforced through media and culture. "Media representations of men…often glorify men's use of physical force, a daring demeanor, virility, and emotional distance." Contemporary rap music is a striking example of masculinity on display. Rappers boast about their sexual conquests of women (emphasizing heterosexuality as well), wealth, power and violence.[60]

Gender and violenceEdit

Gender-based violence is the physical, sexual or emotional harm or suffering enacted upon an individual as contextualized by societal gender norms. Violence affects the lives of millions worldwide, in all socio-economic and educational classes. It cuts across cultural and religious barriers, impeding the right of many to participate fully in society. Violence is about power, control, and domination. Systems of inequality and oppression interact positioning certain groups as particularly vulnerable to violence. Gendered violence takes place within a socially constructed power dynamic in which one ideology (masculinity) dominates another (femininity). What it means to be a woman in society is influenced and ascribed by the media, which acts a "powerful educational force". The media glamorizes violence against women cultivating a "toxic cultural environment" in which women are institutionally positioned as inferior and worthy objects of violence.[61]

Men are disproportionally the offenders, and women disproportionally the victims. Those that commit violent crimes are overwhelmingly male—rape (98%), armed robbery (92%), drunk driving (90%), murder (88%), aggravated assault (87%), arson (86%), and family violence (83%).[62] According to Michael Kimmel, hegemonic masculinity creates a culture of entitlement, silence, and protection, which effectively normalizes violence against women and silences victims of violence.[63]

The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence defines three social arenas in which violence commonly takes place (1) in the family—including domestic violence, infanticide, and traditional practices such as female genital mutilation, foot binding, and bride burning; (2) in the community—including rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and commercialized violence such as sexual slavery, labor exploitation, female migrant workers; and (3) by the State—including violence against women in detention, and in situations of armed conflict such as systematic war rape.[64] In order to address and end gendered violence, solutions must address both the root causes and interpersonal manifestations of gender roles and power relations in order to ensure a balance of power at all levels of society.

Globalization and genderEdit

Globalization refers to the increasingly global relationships of culture, people and economic activity. Globalization impacts female equality on a large and international scale, both negatively and positively. With continuous changes in international relations, the perception of feminism in Western and Nonwestern societies is frequently revised. It is important to be wary of Western bias in sociological accounts of global feminism, as Modern Western society is not always due credit for feminist reform in other cultures and countries.[65]

Feminist sentiments – or a push for gender equality – emerge as a result of the nation-specific circumstances, not according to the exported beliefs of Western society. Advances in female equality and status are often not the result of national groups or corporations, but of individuals and small groups.

One of the results of globalization is the increased use of female factory workers in nonwestern countries. In Mexico, the female worker is ideal because she is seen as docile and inexpensive labor. Stereotypical feminine traits such as beauty, domesticity, and docility are exaggerated and exploited for the production of goods.[66] These gender traits then frame the behavior of the women beyond the occupational realm. Despite increasing feminism, the lack of economic and social mobility prevents women in many nations from having equal status in society.

One of the solutions to erasing gender inequalities globally, is to provide resources and funds to impoverished women who will in turn use them for education as well as business ventures. The global economy could benefit drastically from incorporating educated women into the workforce.[67]

Third genderEdit

Throughout history, and around the world, the idea of a third gender has existed. In Native American culture, the two spiririt had gender roles different from men and women. The muxe of southern Mexico are males who identify as neither male or female. In Samoa the Fa'afafine are biological males who identify as females. The hijra are biological males who identify as women. They are considered outsiders in their communities and have formed their own language. In the United States, the concept of a third gender is beginning to gain traction. California now allows for drivers licenses to have the gender "non-binary", see genderqueer.

See alsoEdit



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Further readingEdit

  • Chafetz, Janet Saltzman (2006). Handbook of the sociology of gender. New York: Springer. ISBN 9780387362182.
  • Laurie Davidson, Laura K. Gordon, Laura Kramer, Geoffrey Huck, Holly Heim (1979). The sociology of gender. Rand McNally College.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  • Franklin, Sarah (1996). The sociology of gender. Edward Elgar.
  • Holmes, Mary (2007). What is Gender? Sociological Approaches. London: Sage Publications. ISBN 9781849208154.
  • Wharton, Amy S. (2013). The sociology of gender an introduction to theory and research (2nd ed.). Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley. ISBN 9781444397246.

External linksEdit