Category Archives: Socialization and the Social Construction of Gender

Sepratism Shmeapratism (I made this title at 5:17 am)

In 1894, bell hooks wrote the book Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. My class was assigned chapter 5, Men: Comrades in Struggle.

Before I start on the topic of this blog post, I’d like to include a quote of her Wikipedia page to explain her name (bell hooks), since it was brought up in class.

She adopted her grandmother’s name as a pen name because her grandmother “was known for her snappy and bold tongue, which [she] greatly admired”. She put the name in lowercase letters “to distinguish [herself] from her grandmother”. She said that her unconventional lowercasing of her name signifies what is most important in her works: the “substance of books, not who I am”.

And in an interview from 2009:

When the feminist movement was at its zenith in the late 60’s and early 70’s, there was a lot of moving away from the idea of the person. It was: let’s talk about the ideas behind the work, and the people matter less. It was kind of a gimmicky thing, but lots of feminist women were doing it. Many of us took the names of our female ancestors—bell hooks is my maternal great grandmother—to honor them and debunk the notion that we were these unique, exceptional women. We wanted to say, actually, we were the products of the women who’d gone before us.

Also another thing I learned on Wikipedia (the page for the abovementioned book), is that bell hooks used the term “white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy” throughout it. It was written in 1984!!! That is totally intersectionality, and the Wikipedia page for intersectionality credits Kimberlé Crenshaw for the introduction of intersectionality.

Okay, okay, anyhow, this piece of writing urges feminists to stop barring men from participation in the feminist movement. She points out that such prejudices alienate working class women from the movement

Additonal sidenote: for anyone unfamiliar with prejudice vs. sexism, sexism is power+prejudice, men have more power in this society, thus women can’t be sexist. Ditto for racism but put white people in place of men and people of color in place of women.

I am just full of tangents today; I just finished writing a 7 ¾ page paper that took me about 20 hours to complete over 3 days with 3 energy drinks and a 5:30am bedtime…as I write it is 2:51 and I’m running out of energy drink 3.

OKAY…okay…now. At the time that bell hooks wrote this book, the second wave of feminism was in full swing. A lot of feminists took on a separatist attitude, thinking women should separate from men to their own communities. Hooks (it’s the beginning of a sentence, what to I do with hooks here?!) points out that this position is bound for failure, specifically, “This position eliminates any need for revolutionary struggle and is in no way a threat to the status quo.” She also writes, “As a policy, it has helped to marginalize feminist struggle, to make it seem more a personal solution to individual problems, especially problems with men, than a political movement which aims to transform society as a whole.”

Separatism doesn’t make any sense for current feminism. First of all, intersectionality makes an argument of “all men are the enemy” seem hopelessly oversimplified. The third wave isn’t about having one specific feminist identity, it’s about participation from anyone that believes women should have equality to men. You can be a feminist today and still do things like wear makeup, have a bunch of kids, or even *gasp* be a man, because none of that erases your wish for equality among the sex/genders.

Third wave feminism is also about other movements—there can’t be an us against them mentality when gender is just a construction of society, and there isn’t just two, AND there isn’t even just one biological sex. How can a movement for equality of the genders discriminate based on sexuality? (alah the “lavander menace” crap of the second wave). How can it discriminate based on race? It can’t, without being hypocritical, and hypocrisy is an awful thing to be in this time.

Now, I do still believe that women need some spaces apart from men. Despite the fact that gender is a construction of society, it is one that is tied to the core of most people, myself included. It is insensitive and unrealistic to expect everyone to rip that foundational part of themselves away as if it does not have any deeply psychological roots.

For example, I support the idea of gender-neutral bathrooms, but I support them as a third option along with male and female bathrooms, not as a single option for everyone (and to be clear, I’m talking about bathrooms with multiple stalls). I also support legal protection for Transgender women to use female bathrooms and Transgender men to use male bathrooms; no one fakes an identity just to get into a bathroom *eyeroll*.

I do not want to drop my pants in a room with cisgender strait men other than those I choose. I don’t want to be in such a vulnerable position. If I was a mother, I would not want my 10 year old daughter alone in a bathroom where there may be grown men. I understand not all men are rapists, but the fact that men sexually abuse 1 in 4 women (men are the overwhelming majority of perpetrators), means there must be a terrifying number of them. And yeah, I know that statistic includes acquaintance rape, which could still happen in a bathroom. How would you argue this idea to a sexual assault victim that may be triggered? Furthermore, I understand men can simply walk into a ladies room, but I am sufficiently soothed by the knowledge that the importance of separate bathrooms is so ingrained into society that cisgender men can get in legal trouble for going into a women’s bathroom. Unfortunately this applies to men that would have no interest in women, and I don’t know what to say to that.

I also think separate changing rooms are a good thing. It’s hard enough for me to crack a changing room door far enough to show my mom my bathing suit.

I feel a little defensive about this topic, because I know there are people out there that must think I’m some sort of brainwashed phobic individual. I honestly don’t know how I would defend myself against such a person, because I don’t understand how I would reason with someone that thinks they can just brush away such a deep rooted fear.

Well, the article just went in a sort-of-but-kind-of-not-tangent. I mean, I was supposed to cover the above, but it makes transition to the next topic awkward.

Aaaand, transition.

Women and men can work together in today’s feminist movement! We can both sign petitions and educate others and march for equality. We can fight the patriarchy together! I personally know men who acknowledge and aren’t cool with the fact that their gender is in control of everything (and still recognize their male privilege). If a white person can be against racism and fight against it, a male can do the same with sexism (again, recognizing privilege is important here). Why want’s to succeed just because of an arbitrary trait they were born with?

Unfortunately, before men can join the feminist movement today (and, in it’s current state, this applies to women as well) there needs to be widespread education about the inequalities that still exist, and this education needs to stress how reputable the evidence is. There will always be stragglers that refuse to acknowledge truth, but I think a far bigger problem is that so many people haven’t ever heard the truth. The wage gap, rape statistics, and second shift need to be part of mandatory curriculum in schools. If schools have enough time to tell kids the redundant fact that “if you don’t have sex you won’t get pregnant,” they have enough time to tell girls that 1 in 4 of them will be sexually assaulted, they’ll make 77% what boys make, and that they’ll have less time for fun because they have to take care of their house and family. They have time to stress to boys how wrong it is to have an advantage just because you were lucky enough to be born a certain way—that real success is earned, that upstanding citizen take care of their house and children, and that only an evil person wants to exercise power over someone else.

There is more that can be done, but it is 5:10 am and my brain wants to go crawl in a corner to sleep.

No pictures for this article; it’s finals week and I’m a lazy duck, also I might get distracted and start googling something else.

Niiiiiiiiiight blog readers (or morning? Noon? Twilight? I don’t know when you’re reading this).

I promise my other blogs are better and more coherent. Go read those.

That is all.

Oh god this is 6 Microsoft word pages #whatdidIdo #Idon’tevenusehashtagsinreallife

Women in Government–If this were a survey, the results would be rubbish!

Women are dramatically underrepresented in our government. They share this under representation with other minority groups (and I’m using that term in its sociological definition—a group that is subset from the social majority which holds most of the power in a society—and not it’s “popular” definition [and I say that with as much feigned-butsortofactual-disdain as possible] of numerical majority, since, you know, women are the numerical majority *phew*).

This is a problem. It’s sad that I even need to say that. Or that there may be people reading this that disagree.

In 2013, women make up 18.3% of the U.S. Congress. There are only 5 female Governors. That’s 10% guys.

50.8% of the U.S. population is female!

Oh, and don’t sit nice and comfy in front of your computer thinking haughtily “at least the U.S. is better than other places.” Oh no…Oh no honey, it isn’t though. According to the UN’s infographic Women in Politics 2012, we place 78th in a ranking of countries by women in congress. That’s 78th place after other places tie with each other. We actually tie too–with Turkmenistan.

If you’re one of those people who think Muslim women are super oppressed in “their own” countries, I’ll be glad to burst your superiority bubble. Of the 15 countries with the highest populations of Muslims in the world, 9, (N-I-N-E!) beat us when it comes to female representation in government. In fact, most of the nations we deem “developing countries” beat us as well!

Now, discussions like this tend to start leaning towards the idea of biological and set femininity—that women are better at handling issues related to women because it’s something inherent in them. I’d like to break that part of the discussion right now. According to Unicef’s The State of the World’s Children 2007,

“Women are often exposed to different patterns of socialization and have different life experiences than men and are likely to bring their experience and expertise to bear on their political decisions. While important changes have been taking place over the past few decades, in most countries, women still bear the main caregiving responsibilities for their families, including children and the elderly” (54).

These patterns of socialization are also why women are less likely to run for office. Many women aren’t socialized to think they can hold a political office, so they don’t strive for it as much as men who are socialized to think they can. The effect of this socialization floods into many other fields (STEM, I’m looking at you! >.>)

A good way to think about the problem of under representation of women in government lies in sociological research. The idea that a sample must be an accurate representation of the total population being researched is constantly drilled into the Sociology student’s head. In order to collect data from a sample (the group of people who were picked to participate) that actually represents the total population, you need to make sure that it’s made up of individuals that actually match the characteristics of the population.

If you’re doing a study that isn’t about gender or race, and you want to make sure these variables don’t disproportionately affect your results, there are sampling methods to help you do this.  One is especially good at representing the ideas of the total population as a whole, by making sure the proportions of people in the sample are the same as in the population—it’s called proportionate stratified sampling. If 10% of a certain population is female, 10% of your sample should be randomly selected females. If 20% of the population is white, 20% of the sample is white.

If, however, a researcher wanted to know how the opinions of different genders or races differ, you need to have a sample size of each category so you have enough data from each to do a comparison (this could be used if, say, you wanted to do a survey on women’s vs. men’s opinions in the field of engineering). This is called disproportionate stratified sampling.

The key with disproportionate stratified sampling is, you want more opinions from a certain group.

Hehehee, the only public domain picture I could find was of one of former President Bush's State of the Union addresses, though, he did appoint Condeleeza Rice as Secretary of State, so perhaps he applies more positively than one may think to this post.

Hehehee, the only public domain picture I could find was of one of former President Bush’s State of the Union addresses, though, he did appoint Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State, so perhaps he applies more positively than one may think to this post.

Hopefully, you can see how I think this applies to the government. If the sample (elected officials) is unrepresentative of the population (the U.S. citizens), how can their ideas truly represent the whole? Spoiler: they can’t. No, the “sample” has a disproportionate number of men than the total population, and that metaphorically makes it a disproportionate stratified sample. Their opinions are inordinately overrepresented. Unfortunately, “unrepresentative” in that first sentence applies to literal government representation—elected officials are meant to carry out the will of the citizens who elect them.

Some may say “Men can represent women just as well as women can!” That could be and in some cases is very true! Unfortunately, most of the men in government simply don’t pay enough attention to issues that affect women. That Unicef’s The State of the World’s Children 2007 thing from earlier also stated,

“A study of legislatures in the United States, for example, found that women feel a special responsibility to represent other women and consider themselves more capable of representing their interests ” (54).

Women don’t just think they are more capable of representing other women’s interests, they really do represent them. According to the UN’s infographic Women in Politics 2012, of the 1065 portfolios held by Women Ministers (in government, of course), in 188 countries, 98 fell in the category of “Social Affairs” (9.2%), 79 in the category of “Family/Children/Youth/Elderly/Disabled” (7.4%), 73 in the category of “Women’s Affairs/Gender Equality” (6.9%), and 68 in “Education” and in “Employment/Labour/Vocational Training” (6.4%).

Women in government truly do advocate for other women (though, it should be noted, although women are more likely than men to advocate for women’s issues, not all women advocate for women’s issues.)

So don’t let your subconscious prejudices hold you back—go out and vote for your qualified female mayors, representatives, senators, and governors!

Dansville, Michigan: The Epitome of a Small Town School District

The other day in my Women’s &Gender Studies class, we were given a school district to analyze. The school district given to my group was a tiny place called “Dansville, Michigan.” We were to find information about the district, and then find its ranking on a website— We are to fulfill four rough requirements with this information:

1. Briefly describe community and district
2. How was it ranked and speculate why?
3. How might gender and race be experienced there?
4. Is the district Desirable? Would you send your kids there?

So, let’s begin!

Dansville, Michigan is a rural agriculture town, whose population is 563 and 95.6% White.
Its school system serves 898 students, and it has one elementary, middle, and high school. The student body is about 96% white, with Hispanic children making up most of the other 4%. The average percentage of students that are eligible for discounted or free lunch is 31%. In contrast, the average percentage of students that are eligible for discounted or free lunch in the district ranked 2nd in the state is 6%.

Dansville was ranked 330th out of the 602 districts in Michigan. It’s single Elementary school was ranked 727th of 1493, it’s Middle school 383rd of 661, and it’s High school 471st of 814. These statistics put it somewhere around the middle of the rankings for the state.

To illustrate the point of view I’m coming from, I would like to mention that my school district was ranked almost exactly in the middle of my state, and there were only about 300 more students in the district.

Perhaps Dansville is ranked at a relative average because it is a small, relatively poor school. Schools with poor student populations and smalls student bodies are less likely to get as much money as large districts with wealthy students.

A combination of race and wealth may also have something to do with Dansville’s “middle of the road” ranking. The next to last ranked school district in Michigan is a public charter in Detroit, which comes to 601st out of 602 districts. It’s student body is 97% African-American, and 93.3% of the students are eligible for discounted or free lunch. Money isn’t given to these low-income schools, and systematic racism forces individuals to stay in their school district, without any real possibilities to move to another. This leads to a cycle of poverty and poor education.

Dansville may also have been ranked in the middle because, despite its small size, it still has a K-12 Spanish program, AP classes, and dual-enrollment options. These are all great assets when small schools are ranked against one another.

Creative Commons Attribution: Ajari, flicker

Creative Commons Attribution: Ajari, flicker

The racial experience of a child in Dansville would depend on that child’s race. A white child would likely go through their education thinking that whiteness is default, and that a deviation from whiteness is uncommon—other races would likely be novelties. Children of color would possibly grow up thinking this as well; that people of their race are not very common, and that white people are the majority.

The only information about Dansville that could give clues to the treatment of gender in the district is that it’s an agricultural town. This means the city could go to either end of the spectrum of gendering. Either there is a polarized gendering–the boys learn how to hunt, fish, and farm, and the girls do no such thing–or they are like my rural-Midwestern town was, and a great many girls learn these skills as well. Because it is a majority white district, the gendered norms the girls learn would be centered around white femininity.

I did not enjoy growing up in a racially homogenous and small school. In my experience, the school will talk up the opportunities they provide students, but will, in reality, have very little of what they advertise (for example: they say they have AP classes, but they only have 3). There were only 4 clubs at my high school, and one was not constant through all my years there. I was also one of the few students interested in other cultures, but the people surrounding me were unfortunately all white or “passing-for-white.”

I want my child to understand all that there is for him or her in the world. I want her to have friends who may know a different language, or who have cultural traditions that differ from their own. I want my child to be able to be in clubs that truly fit their interests, and to take classes that will challenge them and put them in a better position for the future.

If I have a choice in the future, I would not send my child to Dansville, or any district like it. Better opportunities are out there!

(information from and,_Michigan)

Shakespeare: Covert Sociologist? [edited to add a response to Tough Guise]

[The bit of this post in brackets was added after I realized it didn’t quite fill a class requirement. This post was apparently meant to be a response to the film Tough Guise, a movie about the ways men are gendered in Western society, and the negative products of that gendering.

A big part of the movie is that men are taught to “perform” their gender a certain way (thus the long post on dramaturgical analysis. Though we didn’t watch the whole movie in class, the bits that we did watched seemed decent in terms of basic facts and figures. Nothing we watched really surprised me much (I was already relatively familiar with gender statistics on crime, and many of the other subjects he mentioned), but one point seemed quite interesting: when crime committed by a male is reported in the media, his gender is rarely brought up as a topic of conversation. However, if a crime is committed by a female, it is seen as less common because of her gender, and this piece of information is often brought up.

Overall, I’m sure the movie has done a lot of good by opening up the eyes of students unfamiliar with the topic. A downside to the movie, though, was the speaking style of the man who lectured through it (Jackson Katz). His speech was full of pauses and abrupt stops that made it difficult to focus on what he was saying, because how he was saying it was distracting. I fear that this could affect how receptive students are to his message, because it makes him sound like he’s not confident about his subject matter.

Now, onto the performance of gender!]


In my Intro to Sociology class, taken at a community college near my high school (dual counting credits, yay!), we were taught the concept of “dramaturgical analysis, the study of social interaction in terms of theatrical performance” (Macionis 2011:101).
It is the idea that people interact with one another through social scripts they have been taught. Macionis says that we use different costumes, props, and demeanor to carry out these roles, and that we change these things depending on our set.

Basically, it’s a sociological theory for what Shakespeare meant when he said “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.”

This idea may seem silly to people that have just heard of it, but with examples, it becomes more tangible.
If your friend raised their hands to be called on while you were hanging out, it would be out of place. Why is this? What if a stranger started telling you about their love life? Would this be different than listing to the same information from a close friend? If your Chemistry teacher suddenly decided that, today they will lecture on religion, would that seem odd?
Have you ever seen a girl wearing “party” clothes during the day, and judged her for her seemingly out of place clothing? What if your professor came to class in academic regalia, or the student serving your lunch today was wearing a ball gown? What if your doctor wore jeans and a t-shirt instead of scrubs or lab coats?
What if that same doctor was carrying around a boombox? Would it be weird to see someone chillin’ in the club wearing a fully packed backpack? If someone in your lecture hall held up a sign cheering on the teacher, would that be strange?

Creative Commons Attribution: Sarah G, flicker

Creative Commons Attribution: Sarah G, flicker
If your doctor has this in his office, he’s using the wrong script altogether.

Do you change your voice when you talk to babies and animals? If you ever “mouth off” to your parents, would you use that tone with your teachers? When you’re walking with a group of friends do you pay as much attention to your surroundings and walk as quickly as you would if you were walking home at night?
Hopefully you see what I’m getting at. There are specific “scripts,” “costumes,” “props,” and “demeanors,” for specific social situations.

Hopefully you can also see why this applies to a Women’s & Gender studies class. Our social performances are often very related to our genders, in fact, gender itself is regarded as a performance (as a disclaimer, my discussion of this is very Western-centric).

Our costumes are obviously different—any trip through a department store (especially the children’s section) can show you that. Women may wear jeans these days, but most of our clothing is thinner, tighter, and shows more skin than “men’s wear”. Even plain t-shirts are different in the men’s in women’s sections, with men’s t-shirts usually reaching the very base of the neck, and women’s t-shirts sitting along the collarbone. Detailing such as lace, scallops, ruffles, bows and ruching are virtually nonexistent on men’s clothes these days. Colors are often softer in women’s clothing, and pinks and purples are definitely harder to find in the men’s section. If you want to read more from me about gendered costuming, head over to my article on skirts and printed-ts!

Women carry purses, but it was a huge cultural push just to make men carrying messenger bags seem normal (you know, the “man purse”). If a woman grabbed out a compact mirror on the bus, she would definitely not get as much attention for it as a man doing the same. Many men carry folding wallets, but a large trend these days for women is long billfolds that need a purse to transport, or function as a small clutch. In a wedding, women carry a bouquet (why?), and her bridesmaids may also carry one, but the groom and his groomsmen don’t carry such a “prop.”

Women are taught to carry themselves differently—their role’s demeanor is different. Women are told to cross their legs when they sit, but men may be ridiculed for this. A highly prized trait in a woman is grace of movement, while boys are taught the ideal is to be gruff, ruff&tumble sorts. Women are taught to take up less space, and men are taught to take up more (though I personally think we should all be taught to take up less space because it’s polite >.>). “Feminine” voices are supposed to be soft, lower pitched, and pleasant, but “shrill” and “loud” girls are annoying. “Masculine” voices are deep and powerful. A man with a lower pitched voice may be accused of being gay because our culture associates certain vocal qualities as traits of gay men.

An important and incredibly gendered social script is the marriage proposal. The man gets the ring. The man gets on one knee. The man asks the woman to marry him. The woman excitedly cries yes. This is a western idea fed to us from childhood.

These ideas about gendered performance limit both men and women. When there is a set list of ideas about the character of men and women, it makes any variations jarring and seemingly out of place. We humans don’t like to be made uncomfortable, and we’re also very good at separating people that are different from the “normal” and dominant group. If these set lists and expectations for male and female social performances were loosened, if we were taught not to expect them so much, we would lessen a source of discomfort, intolerance, and hatred.

I try to make a conscious effort to understand what I am thinking, and to recognize when I am acting based on my expected gender role. I heard somewhere I can’t quite place (and would cite if I could remember), that even if you continue to do something you know is gendered (like shaving your legs if you’re a girl), it’s better (maybe even okay) if you at least question yourself and try to understand the reason you’re doing it. I think this helps break down “the rules” of social performance, because if you can understand why you perform the way you do, you can try to understand another person’s reasons for doing things differently.

So go forth and question your performance!

(Macionis, John J. 2011. Society: the basics. 11th ed. Boston: Prentice Hall.)