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Unformatted text preview: ii “NIGHT To HIS DAY”
The Social Construction of Gender Judith Lorber Talking about gender for most people is the equivalent of ﬁsh talking about Wat
Gender is so much the routine ground of everyday activities that questionin (it;
taken-for—granted assumptions and presuppositions is like thinking about whethergth
sun will come up.1 Gender is so pervasive that in our society we assume it is bred
into our genes. Most people find it hard to believe that gender is constantly created
and re-created out of human interaction, out of social life, and is the texture and
order of that social life. Yet gender, like culture, is a human production that depends
on everyone constantly “doing gender” (West and Zimmerman 1987). And everyone “does gender" without thinking about it. Today, on the subway,
I saw a well—dressed man with a year-old child in a stroller. Yesterday, on a bus, I
saw a man with a tiny baby in a carrier on his chest. Seeing men taking care of
small children in public is increasingly common—at least in New York City. But
both men were quite obviously stared at—and smiled at, approvingly. Everyone
was doing gender—~the men who were changing the role of fathers and the other
passengers, who were applauding them silently. But there was more gendering going
on that probably fewer people noticed. The baby was wearing a white crocheted
cap and white clothes. You couldn’t tell if it was a boy or a girl. The child in the
stroller was wearing a dark blue T—shirt and dark print pants. As they started to leave
the train, the father put a Yankee baseball ‘cap on the child’s head. Ah, 3 boy, I
thought. Then I noticed the gleam of tiny earrings in the child’s ears, and as they
got off, I saw the little ﬂowered sneakers and lace-trimmed socks. Not a boy after all. Gender done.
Gender is such a familiar part of daily life that it usually takes a deliberate disruption of our expectations of how women and men are supposed to act to pay
attention to how it is produced. Gender signs and signals are so ubiquitous that
we usually fail to note themnunless they are missing or ambiguous. Then we are
uncomfortable until we have successfully placed the other person in a gender statu5; otherwise, we feel socially dislocated. . . .
From “Night to His Day’: The Social Construction of Gender,” in Parml'mw * ; ‘ ' I " 3238.
22, 23-27, 29, 30, 32—35, and notes on pp. 304—305. Copyright ((-3 l‘i“?~’%_3ﬁ f j i i
Reserved. Reprinted by permission of Yale University Press as pantie-F .5 3 " S4 5 Lorber / “Night to His Day” 55 For the. Individual, gender construction starts with assignment to a sex category
on the basrs Of what the gcmmlla look like at birth.2 Then babies are dressed or
adorned 111 a way that displays the category because parents don’t want to be con- stantly asked whether their baby is a girl or a boy. A sex category becomes a gender
status through naming, dress, and the use of other gender markers. Once a child’s gender is ev1dent, others treat those in one gender differently from those in the
other, and the children respond to the different treatment by feeling different and
behaving dlfferently. As soon as they can talk, they start to refer to themselves as
members 0f the” gender. Sex doesn't come into play again until puberty, but by
that time, sexual feelings and desires and practices have been shaped by gendered
norms and expectations. Adolescent boys and girls approach and avoid each other in
an elaborately scripted and acndered mating dance. Parenting is gendered, with dif-
ferent expectations for mothers and for fathers, and people of different genders work
at different kinds of jobs. The work adults do as mothers and fathers and as low-level workers and high-level bosses, shapes women’s and men’s life experiences, and these
experiences produce different feelings, consciousness, relationships, skills—ways
of being that we call feminine or masculine.3 All of these processes constitute the
social construction of gender. Gendered roles change—today fathers are taking care of little children, girls
and boys are wearing unisex clothing and getting the same education, women and
men are working at the same jobs. Although many traditional social groups are
quite strict about maintaining gender differences, in other social groups they seem
to be blurring. Then why the one-year-old’s earrings? Why is it still so important to
mark a child as a girl or a boy, to make sure she is not taken for a boy or he for a
girl? What would happen if they were? They would, quite literally, have changed
places in their social world. To explain why gendering is done from birth, constantly and by everyone, we
have to look not only at the way individuals experience gender but at gender as a
social institution. As a social institution, gender is one of the major ways that human
beings organize their lives. Human society depends on a predictable division of
labor, a designated allocation of scarce goods, assigned responsibility for children
and others who cannot care for themselves, common values and their systematic
transmission to new members, legitimate leadership, music, art, stories, games, and
other symbolic productions. One way of choosing people for the different tasks of
society is on the basis of their talents, motivations, and competence—their dem-
onstrated achievements. The other way is on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity—
ascribed membership in a category of people. Although societies vary in the extent
to which they use one or the other of these ways of allocating people to work and
to carry out other responsibilities, every society uses gender and age grades. Every
society classifies people as “girl and boy children,” “girls and boys ready to be mar—
tied,” and “fully adult women and men," constructs similarities among them and
differences between them, and assigns them to different roles and responsibilities.
Personality characteristics, feelings, motivations, and ambitions flow from these
different life experiences so that the members of these different groups become 56 Part I —-'l'lze Social Constmction of Diﬂcrence: Ruce, Class, Gender, and Salado), different kinds of people. The process of gendering and its outcome are legitin -
by religion, law, science, and the society’s entire set of values. . . . med
Western society’s values legitimate gendering by claiming that it all COInes fr physiology—female and male procreative differences. But gender and sex are Om
equivalent, and gender as a social construction does not flow automatically frgm
genitalia and reproductive organs, the main physiological differences of femaleS an“;
males. In the construction of ascribed social statuses, physiological differences such
as sex, stage of development, color of skin, and size are crude markers. They are not
the source of the social statuses of gender, age grade, and race. Social statuses are
carefully constructed through prescribed processes of teaching, learning, emulation
and enforcement. Whatever genes, hormones, and biological evolution contribute:
to human social institutions is materially as well as qualitatively transformed by
social practices. Every social institution has a material base, but culture and SOCia]
practices transform that base into something with qualitatively different patterns
and constraints. The economy is much more than producing food and goods and
distributing them to eaters and users; family and kinship are not the equivalent of
having sex and procreating; morals and religions cannot be equated with the fears
and ecstasies of the brain; language goes far beyond the sounds produced by tongue
and larynx. No one eats “money" or “credit”; the concepts of “god” and “angels”
are the subjects of theological disquisitions; not only words but objects, such as their ﬂag, “speak” to the citizens of a country.
Similarly, gender cannot be equated with biological and physiological dif- ferences between human females and males. The building blocks of gender are socially constructed statuses. Western societies have only two genders, “man” and
“woman.” Some societies have three genders—men, women, and berdaches or lzijras or xaniths. Berdaches, hijras, and xaniths are biological males who behave,
dress, work, and are treated in most respects as social women; they are therefore
not men, nor are they female women; they are, in our language, “male women."4
There are African and American Indian societies that have a gender status called
manly hearted women-bi0logical females who work, marry, and parent as men;
their social status is “female men” (Amadiume 1987; Blackwood 1984). They
do not have to behave or dress as men to have the social responsibilities and
prerogatives of husbands and fathers; what makes them men is enough wealth
to buy a wife. Modern Western societies’ transsexuals and transvestites are the nearest
equivalent of these crossover genders, but they are not institutionalized as third
genders (Bolin 1987). Transsexuals are biological males and females who have
sex-change operations to alter their genitalia. They do so in order to bring their
physical anatomy in congruence with the way they want to live and with the”
own sense of gender identity. They do not become a third gender; they Change
genders. Transvestites are males who live as women and females Who live as men
but do not intend to have sex-change surgery. Their dress, appearance, and man-
nerisms fall within the range of what is expected from members of the 0pp05_‘te gender, so that they “pass.” They also change genders, sometimes temporan y, 5 Lorber / “Night to His Day" 57 some for most of their lives. Transvestite women have fought in wars as men
soldiers as recently as the nineteenth century; some married women, and others
went back to being women and married men once the war was over.5 Some were
discovered when their wounds were treated; others not until they died. In order
to work as a jazz musician, a man’s occupation, Billy Tipton, a woman, lived
most of her life as a man. She died recently at seventy-four, leaving a wife and
three adopted sons for whom she was husband and father, and musicians with
whom she had played and traveled, for whom she was “one of the boys” (New
York Times 1989).6 There have been many other such occurrences of women
passing as men to do more prestigious or lucrative men’s work (Matthaei 1982,
192-93).7 Genders, therefore, are not attached to a biological substratum. Gender bound-
aries are breachable, and individual and socially organized shifts from one gender
to another call attention to “cultural, social, or aesthetic dissonances" (Garber
1992, 16). rlﬁhese Odd or deviant or third genders show us what we ordinarily take
for granted—that people have to learn to be women and men. . . . For Individuals, Gender Means Sameness Although the possible combinations of genitalia, body shapes, clothing, manner-
isms, sexuality, and roles could produce infinite varieties in human beings, the
social institution of gender depends on the production and maintenance of a limited
number of gender statuses and of making the members of these statuses similar
to each other. Individuals are born sexed but not gendered, and they have to be
taught to be masculine or feminine.8 As Simone de Beauvoir said: “One is not
born, but rather becomes, a woman . . . ; it is civilization as a whole that produces
this creature . . . which is described as feminine” (1953, 267). Children learn to walk, talk, and gesture the way their social group says girls and
boys should. Ray Birdwhistell, in his analysis of body motion as human communica-
tion, calls these learned gender displays tertiary sex characteristics and argues that
they are needed to distinguish genders because humans are a weakly dimorphic
species—~their only sex markers are genitalia (1970, 39—46). Clothing, paradoxically,
often hides the sex but displays the gender. In early childhood, humans develop gendered personality structures and sexual
orientations through their interactions with parents of the same and opposite gender.
As adolescents, they conduct their sexual behavior according to gendered scripts.
Schools, parents, peers, and the mass media guide young people into gendered work
and family roles. As adults, they take on a gendered social status in their society’s
stratiﬁcation system. Gender is thus both ascribed and achieved (West and Zim- merman 1987). . . .
Gender norms are inscribed in the way people move, gesture, and even eat- in one African society, men were supposed to eat with their “whole mouth,
Wholcheartcdly, and not, like women, just with the lips, that is halfheartedly, Class, Gender, and Sexuality 1990, 70). Men and women in . 1 ways that proclaimed their different positionS in the society.
- cc of the person he approaches, 0r because ever threatened, he misses “0thing of '~ 1 . . *l on the alert ' .
Wishes to welcome. Ever 7 a well brought—up woman . ' . 18 Expected ' ' ‘ ' n. . . . Conversely,
what happens around hu 'splace d movement of her body, her .. - ,- ' , o'din every ml .
to walk with a slight stoop, av l g her eyes on the spot where she WI“ mm head or her arms, looking down, keeping ' ‘ ’
put her foot, especially if she happens to have to walk past the men 5 assembly, (70)
. . . For human beings there is no essential femaleness orlmaleness, femininity thood, but once gender 15 ascribed, the SOCial or masculinity, womanhood or mar d .
holds individuals to strongly gendered norms an CXPCCthlons. order constructs and d d h'
Individuals may vary on many of the components of gen. er an may 5 1ft genders
ly but they must fit into the limited number of gender temporarily or permanent , _ . " ' ' h it re—create their socrety’s v - statuses their socrety recognizes. In t e process, 1ey ersum
'ately, we Simultaneously sustain, of women and men: “If we do gender appropri
legitimate the institutional arrangements. . . . If we fail to do not the institutional arrangements—may
otives, and predispositions)” (West and The manly man . . . reproduce, and render
gender appropriately, we as individuals-— be called to account (for our character, m Zimmerman 1987, 146).
The gendered practices of everyday life reproduce a society’s View of how women and men should act (Bourdieu  1990). Gendered social arrange—
ments are justified by religion and cultural productions and backed by law, but the
' most powerful means of sustaining the moral hegemony of the dominant gender
ideology is that the process is made invisible; any possible alternatives are virtually unthinkable (Foucault 1972; Gramsci 1971).9 For Society, Gender Means Difference The pervasiveness of gender as a way of structuring social life demands that gen-
der statuses be-clearly differentiated. Varied talents, sexual preferences, identities,
personalities, interests, and ways of interacting fragment the individual’s bodily
and socral experiences. Nonetheless, these are organized in Western culturﬁS
into ‘two andvoglly two soc1ally and legally recognized gender statUSES, “man"
and woman. In the soc1al construction of gender, it does not matter What
3:?“ agiwomenl actually do; it does not even matter if they do exactly the Same
mg. 6 socra institution of gender insists onl ' Mad
as different. y that what they do IS percet
If men and women are doin tl . '
to maintain cnder se . f g 1e same tasks, they are usually spatially segregated
well such a g t' para 10“, and Often the tasks are given different job titles 35
(”f , s execu we secretary and administrative assistant (Reskin 1988). If the
i .erenees between women and men be in to bl ' ’ “ " 065
into action (Rubin 1975 178) At a roekgand r 1111:], SOCICtySNSHmCHCSS “1113;;th
‘ ’ ' O ance at est Point in . 5 Lorber / “Night to His Day" 59 year women were admitted to the ~ '
hool’s ' " ' “
the 5C admmrstrators were reported couples dancmg m short hair and dress gra
women cadets could dance at these eve Raab 1990, 53).“ Women recruits in th
makeup—3t a minimum, lipstick and e
in makeup, hair care, poise, and etiquet
poliCy of making them clearly distingui 1y perturbed by the sight of mirror—image
y trousers,” and a rule was established that
nts only if they wore skirts (Barkalow and
e U.S. Marine Corps are required to wear
ye shadow—and they have to take classes
te. '1 his feminization is part of a deliberate . shable from men Marines Ch ' ' '
‘ _ . rlstm W l-
liams quotes a twenty ﬁve-year-old woman drill instructor as saying: “A lot :f the recruits who come here don't , , .
l h tl . Iwear makeup; they re tomboyish or athletic. A lot of
trem ave 1e preconceived idea that oi ' h ' -
b t b , Th d , . g 11g Into t e mlhtary means they can still
6 a om 0). ey ontreahze that you are W . 7:
If d d'ff . a oman Marine (1989, 76—77).12
gen er 1 erences were genetlc h siolo ' 1 h .
nd en der ambi _ ld , P y glca , or ormonal, gender bending
a gmes and g??? WED occur only in hermaphrodites, who are born with chro- so .
mo - 11 gen] a 1:11 t at are not clearly female or male. Since gender differences
are socra y constructe , all men and all women can enact the behavior of the other
because they .lcnow the other’s social script: “ ‘Man’ and ‘woman’ are at once empty
and oyerﬂowmg categorles. Empty because they have no ultimate, transcendental
meaning. Overflowmg because even when they appear to be ﬁxed, they still contain
Within them alternative, denied, or suppressed definitions” (Scott 1988, 49). . . . For one transsexual man-to—woman, the experience of living as a woman
changed hrs/her whole personality. As James, Morris had been a soldier, foreign
correspondent, and mountain climber; as Jan, Morris is a successful travel writer.
But socially, James was superior to Ian, and so Ian developed the “learned helpless-
ness” that is supposed to characterize women in Western society: We are told that the social gap between the sexes is narrowing, but I can only report
that having, in the second half of the twentieth century, experienced life in both
roles, there seems to me no aspect of existence, no moment of the day, no contact,
no arrangement, no response, which is not different for men and for women. The
very tone of voice in which I was now addressed, the very posture of the person next
in the queue, the very feel in the air when I entered a room or sat at a restaurant table, constantly emphasized my change of status. And if other’s responses shifted, so did my own. The more I was treated as woman,
the more woman I became. I adapted Willy—Hilly. If I was assumed to be incompetent at reversing cars, or opening bottles, oddly incompetent I found myself becoming. If
a case was thought too heavy for me, inexplicably I found It so myself. . . .IWOInen
c it was one of the happiest discoveries of my treated me with a frankness which, whil - 1 ‘1 1 f
metamorphosis, did imply membership of a camp, ahfai'tlonl or zit t(fast a s: too 0 ’ ' ravitatin alwa stowardst e ema C,W1€ rer ins raringa
thought, SO I found myself g g y Men treated me more and more . a l l e
r' t nt or su ortm a ohtrcal caus . . _ .
dllway comp mme PP g P n inferior, mvoluntanly, month as junior, . . . and so, addressed every day-of my M6 as a n ow men prefer women
by month I accepted the condition. I discovered thdt even to be less informed, less able, less talkative, and certainly/(1365353self-centered than they
are themselves; so I generally obliged them. (1975’ 165 ) ) 60 Part I —The Social Construction of Difference: Race, ClclSS, Gender, and sexudiiy Gender as Process, Stratification, and Structure As a social institution, gender is a process of creating diStingUiShable social statu for the assignment of rights and responsibilities. As part of a stratification 5W5“ that ranks these statuses unequally, gender is a major budding blOCk in the Socini
3 structures built on these unequal statuses.
As a process, gender creates the social differences that define ...
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