Principles of Sociology/Gender Stratification

I am of the opinion that a prime measurement of the goodness of a society must be how much of their population's potential they utilize. In more modern societies, it is thought that task specialization (what Durkheim called organic solidarity) replaced the need for an expansion of the general knowledge base of most members of societies. Nowadays, in the so-called post-modern or information age, it isn't so much knowing how to fix cars and household appliances that is so crucial, but understanding other people's behavior patterns and means of justification that proves useful. We still have a lot of leftover barriers from the days of mechanical solidarity along the lines of race, class, and gender especially. These barriers restrict our development as individuals insomuch as they constrain our choices throughout our lives. Our key task is to discuss how socially gendered systems of meaning are constructed, maintained, and changed.

Interesting Thoughts and Examples:

Why might sorority row be located where it is today? Conversely, what about fraternity row? (I ask this of my freshman students at the University of Florida and almost none can reason it out... frat row is next to the law school and sorority row is next to the education college)

What do you think the two professions are in which average women's earnings outpace men's?

Gender Polarization refers to the tendency to construct more homogenized, mutually exclusive ideal types of male/female characteristics rather than embracing the naturally occurring diversity within the gender spectrum. This also refers to the ways we initially stereotype the ways we think others relate to the world.

Stratification on the basis of sex/gender channel males and females into very different and often unequal life situations. However, resistance to this system is often mitigated by the process of enculturation, whereby individuals encountering hegemonic gendered discourses and institutions gradually internalize socially acceptable standards of behavior and are rewarded for constructing identities consistent with them.

Androcentrism refers to the idea that our society is male-centered, that is, hegemonic notions of masculinity are what most individuals must live up to in order to access positions of high status and prestige.

Throughout history, men in positions of power have argued that gender stratification is inherent in societies due to biological essentialism (sociobiology). Others have used religious texts as justification. The same lines of argument were long used to oppress all racial/ethnic groups outside of Nordic Europeans, but it seems that with gender, this reasoning has not been so fully discredited and still curries public favor.

• Gendered conservation of energy was used to justify women's exclusion from education and voting because proponents argued that women would use up their “vital energy” on intellectual pursuits, thus leaving insufficient quantities for the optimal development of reproductive faculties.

• Darwin concluded that males of a particular species are always more highly evolved than the females because males' selection relies on more competition with sexual rivals.

• Evidence that men are innately more active and dynamic can be found in the behavior of sperm, while evidence that females are innately passive can be found in the behavior of the egg.

When thinking about how biology influences behavior, as it doubtlessly does, we have three choices:

  1. Exaggerate biological dispositions
  2. Try to change biological limitations through other innovations (technological, social)
  3. Accept biological limitations and adapt within them

We have made significant strides in minimizing #1 and expanding #2, but the third option still seems to be our cultural default. The real flaw in this reasoning lies in the notion that common sense folk knowledge or science as it's currently practiced (tools and ethics) can really apprehend “human nature”, especially gender

Since it seems that more and more we're settling on option #2, we should look at how people attempt to alter the cultural environment and corresponding social systems of meaning corresponding with gender…

We've witnessed in the Western world and in much of the non-Western world a political movement over the last 150 years that has transformed women from an almost totally disenfranchised and disempowered population whose social relevance only extended as far as their father/husband to full fledged equal citizens

Still, gross inequities remain. Most all of these cannot be effectively chalked up to biology. With the opportunities for women seemingly expanded to such a large degree, it seems strange that persistent social patterns that disadvantage women remain. Equally as strange has been men's role change stagnation. Why?

Possible explanations: 1. Entrenched cultural scripts… example = linguistic sexism

• Think of some popular slang to describe intercourse… and what do you find?

• 500 synonyms for prostitute and 1000 sexually derogatory words/phrases to describe women

• 10 times as many slang terms for stupid/superficial women as for similar men

• “girls and guys” not “boys and girls” – women often described as irresponsible, immature, small

• women professionals are often linguistic derivatives of masculine nouns – men get male nurse

• formal distinctions based marriage status are only used for women – Ms. is best perceived

• he, his, and man are still used as our generic descriptors – men and women respond differently

Does language merely represent our past values and prejudices or does it actively reinforce it? Social psychologists have shown that people given a position paper to read enough times will begin to adjust their own attitudes towards that position, regardless of initial disposition, this is how “brainwashing” is done…

2. Workplace androcentrism and power

• women are underpaid and underemployed relative to men – hence the higher poverty

• the more women in a specific profession, the more its prestige declines

• model behavior for success in the professional/corporate workplace is traditionally unfeminine – women must vanquish their femininity lest they be seen as weak or sexually conniving, but then face the stigma of being labeled “manly” - demanding too much and stepping out of their “place”

• the subordination of all other life activities to the service of workplace achievement requires that someone else take care of your other essential life activities for you (food, children, cleaning) – in effect, a wife – however, few men will take a position and look after their wives' affairs

• women know how to work in teams, but not in teams that don't want token players on them.

• Minorities have great difficulties exercising power because they need approval from the majority

• Women must also negotiate disproportionate burdens at home while in fulfilling their female role over the life course – “the double shift”

3. Ineffective tactics of the feminist movement

• Why do you think most American adults don't favor women using collective action to better their social position? Is it because they truly fear gender equity at a visceral level, or because they fear particular representations of feminism? Where are their public relations advisors?

• Like most movements that seem to achieve success in their early days (1960s) – certain subgroups with more extreme agendas (for better or worse) branched off – deflecting public attention off their core mainstream goals (mentioned in book) and socialist and radical versions emerged

• Furthermore, the rhetoric wasn't well tuned from the beginning – in retrospect, why name a movement that advocates equality for men and women feminism – we can see the early justifications, but today most uninformed people interpret the term as a female power grab…

• How do feminist organizations go about attempting to persuade men, the assumed principle opposition to the feminist agenda, of the righteousness of their political vision?

• Feminists have had a lot of trouble reconciling different cultural beliefs as well, especially along religion lines, but along class and racial ones as well

• What is the feminist vision today and what group is responsible for disseminating it to the public at large? How could it be improved to advance the interests of women in America ?

4. Men and Masculinities

• Men haven't been paid nearly as much attention to over the last 50 years or so and their change movements have been even more hokey and ineffective than women's – Christian revival of family values (the “Promise Keepers”) and wilderness retreats to revive the “wild man within” (read Robert Bly's Iron John)

• Men haven't changed their behaviors and attitudes nearly as fast as women – as is usually the case with a group in power responding to a challenge to that power – its only now in the last decade or so that some men have begun to soften their masculine displays, hence the metrosexual emergence

• Why would men in their current mindset relinquish power, especially when they think it comes directly at the expense of their manhood?

Last modified on 16 December 2006, at 09:22