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Gender Two Primary Issues The Cultural construction of Gender Gender Relations Sex Versus Gender Sex refers to biological differences,

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Two Primary Issues

  • The Cultural construction of Gender
  • Gender Relations

Sex Versus Gender

  • Sex refers to biological differences,
  • Gender refers to the cultural construction of male and female characteristics. The ways members of the two sexes are perceived, evaluated and expected to behave.

(what different cultures make of sex.)


Gender Boundaries

  • In our society we demand that the categories of male and female are discrete
  • since gender is culturally constructed the boundaries are conceptual ones rather than physical ones
  • the boundaries need not remain static and are changing, eg. now it is acceptable for men to wear earrings.
  • Boundaries require markers to indicate gender some of which are natural such as
  • voice
  • physique
  • Dress
  • Behaviour
  • Hair style
  • Kinetics
  • Language use

Gender identity

Why is it important

How do we react when someone seems to have some traits of each category?

social intercourse requires that the interacting parties know to which gender category `the other' belongs

Felicita Vestvali1824 - 1880

New York opera star who specialized in singing contralto "trouser roles."


If the categories `man' and `woman' are culturally constructed then there can be no essential or universal meaning to the category woman or man. Only what it means to be a man or a woman in a particular society.

It also means that we do not have to be restricted to two genders

  • transsexual – gender/ sex incongruent, “trapped in wrong body” but with the gender identity of their organs
  • transvestite – dressing as other gender, biological sex (cross-dresser)
  • homosexual
  • bisexual
  • eunuch – castrated male
  • hermaphrodite – both sets of biological organs

The Hijras of India and Pakistan

  • Hijra meanshermaphrodite in Urdu but most Hijras are homosexual transvestites, some of whom have gone through a crude sex-change operation
  • Cultural descendants of the court eunuchs of the Mughal Empire (1526-1858),

getting dressed for a job entertaining at a Pakistani wedding

Hijras now earn their living as beggars, and prostitutes.and by dancing at carnivals, weddings and births.

The Hijras are both feared and pitied in Pakistan, feared for their supposed ability to place curses, pitied for being outcast children of Allah.

Perceived neither as men nor women but as a third gender,


Gender roles:

  • tasks and activities that a culture assigns to the sexes.

Gender stereotypes:

  • oversimplified but strongly held ideas of the characteristics of men and women.

Gender stratification:

  • an unequal distribution of rewards (socially valued resources, power, prestige, and personal freedom) between men and women, reflecting their different positions in social hierarchy.


All the day long,Whether rain or shine,She's a part of the assembly line.She's making history,Working for victory,Rosie the Riveter.Keeps a sharp lookout for sabatoge,Sitting up there on the fuselage.That little girl will do more than a male will do.Rosie's got a boyfriend, Charlie.Charlie, he's a Marine.Rosie is protecting Charlie,Working overtime on the riveting machine.When they gave her a production "E,"She was as proud as she could be.There's something true about,Red, white, and blue about,Rosie the Riveter.

Gender Roles

Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb,"Rosie the Riveter," (New York: Paramount Music Corp., 1942


In the 1940s, women were encouraged to help the war effort by getting a job outside the home. But it was family and country rather than money, status, or power that they were encouraged to toil for .

Coke 1942

“For whether she rears a family or mans a rangefinder, a woman needs the physical support of a good foundation." and "Amongst other munitions of war, Berlei are still making foundations.". 

November 1942


1950s - mass consumption in high gear, TV ads idealized the woman as the wife and homemaker, and the man as the bread winner.

But also the sex kitten


1960s Educated women started exhibiting their discontent with the status quo. Armed with diplomas and new sophisticated birth control methods, they demanded for the right to have both career and family. The great social change in the sixties allowed a variety of depictions of women: sex kitten, nurturing mother and independent working girl.

1970s Issues like woman's lib, ethnic heritage, and critiques of capitalism. Women are shown as independent only when inexpensive items or simple decisions were involved Advertisers realized that not just white people were buying products. Ethnic people were placed in advertisements.


1990s 2000s

She is a "multifaceted success machine”.

She is a nurturer and a seducer.

She is the twenty-four hour a day woman, and she never sleeps.

Men are domesticated. Sex objects



  • Business Executive 1958=0% 1970=0% 983=4%
  • Professional 1958=0% 1970=0% 1983=15%
  • Entertainment/sports 1958=11% 1970-58% 1983=33%
  • Sales/Midlevel business 1958=6% 1970=8% 1983=33%
  • White Collar 1958=72% 1970=17% 1983=4%
  • Blue Collar 1958=0% 1970=17% 1983=4%

Sullivan and O'Connor (1988)


Content analysis on the Portrayal of Sex Roles in Canadian Television Advertising, commissioned by the CRTC (1985)

  • For 50% of the major female characters, the primary setting is the home.
  • Among men, 29% appear primarily in the home.
  • The paid work setting includes 9% of women and 22% of men.
  • The outdoor setting includes 11% of women and 19% of men.
  • The number of ads showing men only is significantly greater at 24% than the 13% of women-only ads.
  • Of the ads with voice-overs, 94% are male.

Females are usually shown performing domestic tasks relating to the product.

  • Male product representatives are mostly depicted using the product or giving instructions or advice.
  • Men are shown as the beneficiaries in 54% of the food ads and 81% of the cleaning product ads.
  • Ads that show the preparation and consumption of food tend to be populated with women and girls.

Images of women improving?

From June 1999 issue of Glamour

Part of outstanding ad campaign that

accompanied the Women’s World Cup

“You pass on more to your children

and your grandchildren than your eye

color, . . . You provide the living

example that they can become more

than they ever thought they could.

Because you did.

Just do it.”



  • Advertising generally portrays women as:
  • dependent on or subservient to men
  • primarily in the home or domestic settings
  • preoccupied with physical attractiveness
  • sex objects
  • decorations for men
  • product users/demonstrators

What is the thinnest book in the world?What men know about women!What do you call a man with an I.Q. of 50?Gifted!What is the difference between men and government bonds?Bonds mature!How many men does it take to change a roll of toilet paper?We don't know - it's never happened. What's the difference between a man and E.T.?E.T. phoned home!

How do men exercise at the beach?By sucking in their stomachs every time they see a bikini.What's the best way to force a man to do situps?Put the remote between his toes.


Be a Man

What does this statement mean? What comes to mind

  • Men never cry
  • Should not show emotion
  • Not quitters
  • Physically brave
  • Independent
  • Heroic and patriotic ideals
  • Adventurous
  • Shaving
  • First day at work - earning a wage
  • Initiations
  • tough
  • Courageous
  • Drinking
  • Physical strength
  • Sex

Masculine Traits

self promotion & achievement


“Men are Supposed to be Strong”

  • What message does this ad send to men? Women?
  • Do we usually see more scantily clad men or women?
  • Is this what a man looks like? Should men look like this? Why or why not?
  • Where do our ideals of beauty come from?

Go Against the Flow: Write Outside the Margins

  • How is this model “acting like a man?”

Act like a Lady

What does this phrase mean? What comes to mind?


Feminine Traits

focus on others, community


Victoria’s Secret is Revealed

  • What does this ad suggest women should look like?
  • Are these women, “Acting like Ladies?” How / Why or why not?
  • The current ideal of female beauty is difficult to achieve. The ideal being a young Caucasian female, height 5'8"- 5'10", weighing 110-120 pounds or less. Make-up, lighting and air-brushing are used to slim down the images even more. Less than 10% of the female population are genetically destined to fit this ideal.

Victoria’s Secret, “Angels’ Collection”


Changing beauty standards

  • In 1957, Miss America was 5'7" and weighed 150 pounds.
  • In 2002 Miss America was 5'9 " and weighed 117 pounds

Marian McKnight Manning, S.Carolina

Katie Harman

Gresham, Oregon


Recent advertising trends are just as harmful to men

  • Unforgiving & unrealistic images
  • Men’s magazines encourage obsession with body image, aging & sexual prowess

Healthy Women

  • What does this ad suggest about women? About men?
  • Why aren’t the men drinking the orange juice?

Want Candies?

  • The text in this ad (on the computer screen) says: “To: All Hot Babes; SWRS (Single White Rock Star) looking for some sugar! Reply to”
  • What messages does this ad send men? Women?
  • How do these models fulfill the stereotype of men or women?

What Men and Women Really Think

  • What do the models’ thoughts suggest?
  • What does this say about the roles of women? And of Men?
  • How are these people acting like a man or lady?
  • How are they not?

Crutchfield; Catalog for car stereo equipment.


Gender is an important dimension of social inequality

  • Gender stratification frequently takes the form of patriarchy whereby men dominate women
  • Are women in our society subordinate (i.e. of less important or subservient) to men. If so How?
  • Politics
  • Economics
  • Education
  • Employment
  • Health
  • Religion

Sexism is the assertion that one sex is innately superior or inferior to the other


Gender Relations

  • In the1970s it was argued that women are universally subordinate to men in political, economic, and public life
  • I.e cultures everywhere give man, as a category opposed to women, higher social value and moral worth.
  • the secondary status of women is one of the true cultural universals

How does one measure gender stratification


  • economic power
  • prestige
  • Autonomy
  • ideology
  • Legal rights
  • How deferential they are expected to be towards men.
  • Freedom to choose marriage partner, profession, and conception. Etc.
  • One has to look at the roles played by women and the value society places on those roles

Explanations for the Universal subordination of Women

  • 1. The biological argument
  • women's subordination to men is natural and due to biological differences:
  • Men’s testosterone naturally leads them to be more aggressive and to dominate others.
  • Women’s oestrogen makes them more compliant
  • Women biologically programmed to bear and raise children which affects their economic roles

Do you think these difference can explain such things as

      • male aggression
      • juvenile delinquency, for violent crime in general
      • the biological basis of warfare
      • the emotional nature of women
      • the political and economic dominance of men

In other words does biology influence behaviour?

    • implies that the relationship between biology and social life is one of cause and effect.
    • If biological explains the political and economic dominance of men then surely one must simply accept that fact.
    • biological differences cannot provide a universal basis for social definitions of `man' and `woman', `male' and `female'

Biologically men are physically stronger than women

    • therefore this results in a sexual division of labour with men doing the harder work

So much for that theory

in many societies women are the real labourers



    • boys try to dominate others
    • girls comply with parents
    • again linked with biology
  • Envy theory
    • men may have political control but women have the power of life - giving birth
    • Men may arrange or exchange legal rights over women's offspring, but the power of creating life and sustaining it by breastmilk remains beyond their grasp.
    • i.e. men are envious
    • again linked to biology

Children's socialization or Gender Typing

  • both sexes must learn behavior that is deemed appropriate to their gender
  • girls from their mother's model
  • a boy with his father.

But so what

  • it is true, generally men are physically stronger than women
    • this may account for some of the division of labour
  • But nothing in the biological differences between the sexes can account for female subordination
  • female subordination is not inherent in biological differences between the sexes
  • what is really important is the different values that are placed on being a man or a woman or on the work that is done
  • An alternative explanation for the secondary status of women must be found

there must be some cultural or sociological regularities that must account for male dominance.

  • the inequalities are due to the fact that societies place different values on biological sex
  • and apparently universally value female sex lower than male sex

Which card is ranked higher?


Female is to Male as Nature is to Culture

  • argument put forward by Sherry Ortner
  • Ortner asked what is common to very culture such that all cultures place a lower value on women.
  • answer: women everywhere are associated with something that every culture devalues
  • her answer was `nature' in its most generalized form

all cultures make a distinction between human society and the natural world

  • culture attempts to control and transcend nature, to use it for its own purposes
  • culture is therefore superior to the natural world

Ortner suggests that

  • women are identified with, or symbolically associated with nature
  • Woman's physiology and her specialized reproductive functions make her appear closer to nature than men

men, on the other hand are associated with culture

  • unlike women have to seek cultural means of creation
  • technology, symbols
  • Men are therefore more closely associated with culture and the creative power of culture as opposed to nature
  • Since culture seeks to control and transcend nature, then it is natural that women, by virtue of their close association with nature should also be controlled and contained.


  • concepts of nature and culture vary greatly from one culture to another
  • nature and culture do not have to be seen as dominate and subordinate
  • it does not have to be that men and women are correlated as nature and culture
  • these associations are not inherent in the biological differences between the sexes.
  • they themselves are cultural constructs
  • So
  • Do cultures universally associate women/nature and men/culture
  • and do they place a lower value on nature?

The Gimi of the highlands of Papua New Guinea

  • women are seen as polluting
  • but this cannot be attributed to the fact that they are associated with nature
  • The idea of the `wild' exists in Gimi thought and refers to the plant and animal life which make up the rain forest

A Gimi dancer dressed as a huge flightless bird dramatizes the mysteries of the forests


The forest is seen as a male realm where the spirits of dead ancestors reside

  • the abundance and creativity of the natural world is associated with the male spirit
  • Men's ambition, as expressed in their rituals is to identify with the non-human world
  • to be revitalized by its limitless, masculine powers

A Gimi man watches birds of paradise in the forest


Clan elders garbed as spirits of the forest signal their arrival with the sounds of their bamboo flutes.

Male dancers in a prenuptial ceremony portray the sun and the moon. In the same manner that these bodies loom above them all, so do the Gimi men see themselves as dominating life in the Gimi villages


The settlement in contrast is identified with women

  • the nature/culture men/woman opposition does not hold for the Gimi
  • although they make a distinction between the cultivated and the wild
  • it is not analogous to the Western distinction between culture and nature
  • in Gimi thought the wild is transcendent over human social life and is certainly not subject to control or debasement

The women prepare for a performance by decorating themselves with clay. Their skits ridicule everyday life with the women particularly enjoying the theme of husband beating


Traditionally, men and women lived apart, but this changed after missionaries arrived and insisted on western ways. Once men and women began living together, houses were built in small clusters.


The nature/culture female/male model leaves no room for the possibility that

      • different groups (i.e. men and women) in society might see and experience things in different ways
      • it assumes a cultural unity that may not exist.
      • gendered relations are usually focused on the opposition between spouses but little mention is made of other sets of gendered relations,
        • brother/sister,
        • mother/son,
        • father/daughter
      • which are equally important part of being a woman or a man.

The Point

  • The point is nature and culture are also cultural constructs just as much as man and woman are
  • other cultures may not conceive of nature and culture as we do.
  • Thus the distinction between men and women is not necessarily associated with the division between nature and culture.
  • other cultures may not see men as dominant over women

Female is to domestic as male is to public

  • The domestic/public opposition is ultimately derived from woman's role as mother and rearer of children.
  • i.e. identification with the domestic domain is seen as a consequence of their role as mothers
  • has tended to limit them to certain social functions
  • i.e. with the rearing of children,

Since women are confined to the domestic context, their main sphere of activity becomes familial relations

  • i.e. women's roles centres around the hearth and home.
  • domestic are those institutions and activities organized around mother-child groups

men, however, operate in the political and public domain of social life.

  • they are free to form those broader associations that we call `society'
  • Men thus become identified with society and the public interest
  • The domestic sphere is considered less important than the public domain
  • Since women are associated with the domestic sphere and men the public, women are of lower and men of higher value.

The Hagen of New Guinea

  • do associate women with the domestic realm and men with the public sphere
  • pursuing socially valued goals is acting like a man
  • pursuing individual family interests is acting like a woman
  • but these types of behaviour are open to both men and women
  • the association of the domestic with something demeaning or less than social is not a feature of Hagen thought.

Is the domestic sphere is devalued in our society?

  • in Western society the family and the domestic are conceived in opposition to the public sphere of life, business, work and politics
  • but this cannot be considered universal
  • this domestic/public association it appears is a Western construct.
  • These ideas derived from Western thought has been imposed on other cultural situations where it does is not always apply

Relativist Position

  • in the tribal world we find cultural ideologies that
      • subordinate women and exclude women,
      • extract their labour and child-bearing and rearing and
      • place them under the legal control of their fathers, brothers and husbands
      • ideologies which are supported as vehemently by women as by men.
  • Their religion may consign them to domestic roles and labour
  • to enhance male prestige
  • But women portray themselves in terms of virtue and duty.

men and women, may be equally committed to a system of rules and meanings

  • even though it gives power and advantage to some of them and subordinates others.
  • How legitimately can we step outside this system and view it as an ideology without simply imposing our ideology on them.

In other words even though we can see the injustice of the system which polarize the sexes and demean women

  • It does not mean that women live in these societies with the strain, conflict, or negative self-images one would expect them to entail
  • Women are actors
  • women may themselves become important political actors who
  • influence the public political affairs of men from behind the scenes
  • pursue strategies of controlling labour and prestige within the constraints of the system.