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C H A P T E R 3 Learning Gender in a Diverse Society Our typical in-class exercise while teaching a unit on the social construction of gen- der is to ask how many among the large number of women students present identi- fied as tomboys when they were growing up. A sea of hands usually results as women remember their early years as girls resisting traditional notions of feminin- ity. When male students are asked whether they had been called sissies when they were young, usually the whole group laughs as one lone male sheepishly raises his hand and remarks that hes always been a sissy. Why is it so easy to say you were a tomboy and so difficult to admit to being a sissy? This has a lot to do with the mean- ings associated with masculinity and femininity and the ways these are ranked in society. In this chapter we focus specifically on gender and sexism, keeping in mind two important points: First, how gender is constructed in connection to other dif- ferences among women like race, ethnicity, and class, and second, how sexism as a system of oppression is related to other systems of inequality and privilege. BIOLOGY AND CULTURE In Chapter 1 we explained gender as the way society creates, patterns, and rewards our understandings of femininity and masculinity, or the process by which certain behaviors and performances are ascribed to women and men. Gender, in other words, can be understood as the social organization of sexual difference. Although biological distinctions create female and male humans, society interprets these differences and gives us feminine and masculine people. These adjectives are intentionally placed in quotation marks to emphasize that notions of femininity and masculinity are socially constructedcreated by social processes that reect the various workings of power in society. Therefore these notions are culturally and historically changeable. There is nothing essential, intrinsic, or static about femininity or masculinity; rather, they are social categories that might mean different things in different societies and in different historical periods. Society shapes notions of femininity and masculinity through the subtle interactions between nature and nurture. 124 However, the relationship between biology (female/male) and culture (feminine/ masculine), is more complicated than the assertion that sex is a biological fact and gender is the societal interpretation of that fact. First, as new scholarship points out, there is greater gender diversity in nature than once thought. As Joan Roughgarden suggests in Evolutions Rainbow (2004), many species are not just female or male, but can be both female and male at the same time, or be one or the other at differ- ent times. Second, while biology may imply some basic physiological facts, culture gives meaning to these in such a way that we must question whether biology can exist except within the society that gives it meaning in the first place. This impliesexist except within the society that gives it meaning in the first place.... View Full Document

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