risman-genderasstructure

risman-genderasstructure - UNDERSTANDING GENDER 33 Gender...

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Unformatted text preview: UNDERSTANDING GENDER 33 Gender as Structure Barbara I. Risman THERE ARE THREE DISTINCT 'l'HEORl‘i'lllCAL traditions that help us to understand sex and gen- der, and a fourth is now taking shape. The first tradition focuses on gendered selves, whether sex differences are biological or social in origin. The second tradition . . . focuses on how the social From Gender Vertigo: American Families in Transition by Barbara Risman. Reprinted with permission from Yale University Press. 1998 structure (as opposed to biology or individual learning) creates gendered behavior. The third tradition emphasizes contextual issues and how doing gender re—creates inequality during interac- tion. The fourth, multilevel approach treats gen— der itself as built in to social life via socialization, interaction, and institutional organization. This new perspective integrates the previous ones; it is formed on the assumption that each viewpoint sheds different light on the same question. GENDERED SELVES There are numerous theoretical perspectives with- in this tradition, but all share the assumption that maleness and femaleness are, or become, proper— ties ofindividuals. . . . Research questions in this tradition focus on the development of sex differ- ences and their relative importance for behavior. . . . Sociobiologists have argued that such be— haviors as male aggressiveness and female nurtu- rance result from natural selection. Biosociologists stress the infant care skills in which females ap- pear to excel. Their perspective has been criticized for its ethnocentrism and its selective use ofbio- logical species as evidence . . . . More recent biosocial theories have posited complex interactions between environment and biological predispositions, with attention to ex— plaining intrasex differences. This new version of biosociology may eventually help to identify the biological parameters that, in interaction with en— vironmental stimuli, affect human behavior. Sex role theory suggests that early childhood socialization is an influential determinant of later behavior, and research has focused on how soci- eties create feminine women and masculine men. There is an impressive variety of sex—role explana— tions for gender—differentiated behavior in families. Perhaps the most commonly accepted explanation is reinforcement theory (e.g., Bandura and Walters 1963, Mischel 1966, and Weitzmau 1979). Reinforce—W ment theory suggests, for example, that girls de— velop nurturant personalities because they are j given praise and attention for their interest in dolls j and babies, and that boys develop competitive t l selves because they are positively reinforced forJ winning, whether at checkers or football. Although much literature suggests that the socialization ex- periences of boys and girls continue to differ dra- matically, it is clearly the case that most girls raised in the 19903 have received ambiguous gender so- cialization: they have been taught to desire domes— ticity (dolls remain a popular toy for girls), as well as to pursue careers. For generations, African Ameri- l \r . , r j . l '1 293 Gl-NDICR AS STRUCTURE can girls have been socialized both for motherhood and paid work (Collins 1990). Nancy Chodorow’s (1978, 1989) feminist psy— choanalytic analysis approach has also been in- fluential, particularly in feminist scholarship. Chodorow develops an object-relations psychoan— alytic perspective to explain how gendered person- alities develop as a result of exclusively female mothering. . . . Chodorow notices that mothers are responsible for young children almost universally. She argues that mothers relate to their boy and girl *infants differently, fusing identities with their daughters while relating to their sons as separate and distinct. As a result, according to this feminist version of psychoanalysis, girls develop selves based on connectedness and relationships while boys develop selves based on independence and autonomy. In addition, boys nmst reject their first love-object (mother) in order to adopt masculin- ity, and they do this by rejecting and (levaluing what is feminine in themselves and in society. Thus, we get nurturant women and independent men in a society dominated by men and which values independence. Many feminist studies have incorporated this psychoanalytic view of gender as an underlying assumption (L. Rubin 1982; Keller 1985; Williams 1989). Other feminist theorists, such as Ruddick (1989, 1992) and Aptheker (1989), build on the notion that the constant nature of mothering cre- ates a certain kind ofthinking, what Ruddick calls “maternal thinking." The logic ofthis argument does not depend on a psychoanalytic framework, but it implicitly uses one: through nurturing their children women develop psychological frame- works that value peaee and justice. Therefore, if women (or men who mothered children) were powerful political actors, governments would use more peaceful conflict resolution strategies and value social justice more highly, All individualist theories, in luding sex—role socialization and psychoanalth thought, posit that by adulthood most men an women have de- veloped very different personalities. Women have 1 / 294 Barbara I. Rismczn become nurturant, person oriented, and child centered. Men have become competitive and work oriented According to individualist theorists, there are limits to flexibility. Intenser held emo— tions, values, and inclinations developed during childhood coalesce into a person’s self—identity. Al— though these theorists do not deny that social structures influence family patterns, nor that no- tions of gender meaning are always evolving . . . they focus on how culturally determined family patterns and sex-role socialization create gendered selves, which then provide the motivations for in- dividuals to fill their socially appropriate roles. Historically, sex-role theorists have assumed that men and women behave differently because gender resides primarily in personality. This ap- proach has several serious conceptual weak— nesses . . . First, such theories usually presume! behavioral continuity throughout the life course; In fact, women socialized for nnrturance are capa- ble of competitive and aggressive behavior, and men raised without any expectation of taking on primary responsibility can “mother” when they need to (Risman 1987; Gerson 1985, 1993; Bielby and Bielby 1984). Another weakness of these individualist—oriented theories is their oversocial— ized conception of human behavior-that once we know how an individual has been raised, the training is contained primarily inside his or her head (cf. Wrong 1961). Such theories might sug— gest, for example, that women do not revolt and are not necessarily unhappy with their subordi- nate status because they have been so well trained for femininity. . . . This overdependence on internalization of culture and socialization leads to the most serious problem with sex-role theory: its dw of gender inequality. Although sex-role socializa- tion and revisionist psychoanalytic theorists often have explicitly feminist goals, their focus on sex differences has legitimated a dualistic conception of gender that relies on a reified male/female dichotomy. The very notion of comparing all men 3 to all women without regard for diversity within ' groups presumes that gender is primarily about in— dividual differences between biological males and 1‘ N biological females, downplaying the role of inter- actional expectations and the social structure. The sex-role socialization theory is an appli— cation ofa normative role theory for human be- havior. It assumes that social stability is motivated primarily by beliefs and values acquired during so- cialization. Individuals are assumed to use what— ever resources are available to realize these values and to maintain their identities. As Stokes and Hewitt (1976) have argued, socialization cannot serve as the fundamental link between culture and action. Indeed, studies of intergenerational shifts in values suggest that economic and political con~ ditions produce beliefs, attitudes, and preferences for action that overcome those acquired during childhood (Lesthaeghe 1980; Ingleliart 1977, 1981). We cannot assume that internalization of norms—through psychoanalytic processes or sex- role socialization—is the primary means by which society organizes human conduct. STRUCTURE VS. PERSONALITY The overreliance on gendered selves as the pri- mary explanation for sexual stratification led many feminist sociologists—myself included— to argue that what appear to be sex differences are really, in Epstein’s terms, “deceptive distinc- tions" (Epstein 1988; Kanter 1977; Risinan and Schwartz 1989). Although empirically docu— mented sex differences do occur, structuralists like me have argued that men and women behave differently because they fill different positions in institutional settings, work organizations, or fami— ‘ lies. That is, the previous structural perspectives on gender assume that work and family structures create empirically distinct male and female be- havior. . . . Within this perspective, men and women in the same structural slots are expected to behave identically. Epstein’s (1988} volumi- nous review of the multidisciplinary research on gender and sex differences is perhaps the strongest and most explicit support for a social-structural explanation of gendered behavior. She suggests that there are perhaps no empirically docu- mented differences that can be traced to the pre- dispositions of males and females. Instead, the deceptive differences reflect women’s lack ofop— portunity in a male—dominated society. Gender relations in the labor force have re— ceived far more of this sort of structural analysis than have gender relations in intimate settings. Kanter’s classic work Men and Women ofthe Cor— poration (1977) introduced this kind ofstructural perspective on gender in the workplace. Kanter showed that when women had access to powerful mentors, interactions with people like themselves, and the possibility for upward mobility, they be- haved like others— regardless of sex—with similar advantages. These social network variables could explain success at work far better than could as— smnptions of masculine versus feminine work styles. Women were less often successful because they were more often blocked from network advan— tages, not because they feared success or had never developed competitive strategies. Men who lacked such opportunities did not advance, and they behaved with stereotypical feminine work styles. Kanter argued persuasively that structural system properties better explain sex differences in work- place behavior than does sex-role socialization. . q The application of a structural perspective to gender within personal relationships has been less frequent . . . . In a series of studies (Risman 1986, 1987, 1988), 1 tested whether apparent sex differ- ences in parenting styles are better attributed to sex-role socialization or to the structural contin- gencies of adult life, The question I asked was “Can men mother?" The answer is yes, but only if they do not have women to do it for them. The \ lack ofsex—role socialization for nurturance did not. inhibit the development of male mothering when structural contingencies demanded it. This is an ’. important part of the story, but not all of it. While applications of structural perspectives both to workplaces and to intimate relationships GENDER AS STRUCTURE 295 have furthered the sociological understanding of gender, there is a fundamental flaw in the logic of these arguments. . . . Several studies (Williams 1992; Yoder 1991; Zimmer 1988) found that Kanter's hypothe- ses about the explanatory power of social structural variables such as relative numbers, access to men- tors, and upward mobility are not, in fact, gender neutral. That is, Kanter’s hypotheses are supported‘ empirically only when societally devalued groups enter traditionally white male work environments. When white males enter traditionally female work envirom'nents, they do not hit the glass ceiling, they ride glass elevators. Reskin (1988) has sug— gested that we have so accepted these “structural” arguments that we sometimes forget that sexism itself stratifies our labor force. Evidence similarly points to continued existence of gendered behav— ior in family settings. Hertz reported that in her 1986 study of couples in which husbands and wives hold equivalent, high-status corporate jobs and brought similar resources to their marriages, the wives continue to shoulder more responsibil- ity for family work (even if that means hiring and supervising help). Despite the importance of ‘structural variables in explaining behavior in fami- llies, the sex category itself remains a powerful pre— idictor of who does what kind of family work (Brines 1994; South and Spitz 1994). Gender stratification remains even when other structural aspects of work or of family life are divorced from sex category. The interactionist theory discussed below helps us to understand why. DOING GENDER This approach to gender was best articulated by West and Zimmerman in their 1987 article “Doing Gender.". . . West and Zimmerman suggest that once a person is labeled a member ofa sex cat- egory, she or he is morally accountable for behav- ing as persons in that Category do. That is, the person is expected to “do gender”; the ease of inter- action depends on it. One ofthe groundbreaking 296 Barbara I. Risman [jaspects in this argument is that doing gender im— 1 l plies legitimating inequality. The authors suggest that, by definition, what is female in a patriarchal society is devalued. Within this theoretical frame- work, the very belief that biological males and females are essentially different (apart from their reproductive capabilities) exists to justify male dominance. The tradition ofdoing gender has been well accepted in feminist sociology (West and Zimmer— man's article was Cited in journals more than one hundred times by 1995). West and Zimmerman articulated an insight whose time had come—that (1‘. gender is not what we are but something that we 3‘ do. Psychologists Deaux and Major (1990) . . . argue that interactional contexts take priority over individual traits and personality differences; oth- ers' expectations create the self-fulfilling proph— ecies that lead all of us to do gender. . y. . They suggest that actual behavior depends on the inter- action of participants’ self-definitions, the expec— tations of others, and the cultural expectations attached to the context itself. 1 agree. The weak— ness in the doing gender approach is that it under- theorizes the pervasiveness of gender inequality in organizations and gendered identities. Although gender is always present in our i11— ‘teraction, it is not present only in interaction. We must have a theoretical link from material con- straints to what we do now, to who we think we are. 1 suggest that the doing-gender perspective is incomplete because it slights the institutionalf level ofanalysis and the links among institutional .‘ gender stratification, situational expectations, and 1 gendered selves. West and Fenstermaker (1995) have extended the argument from doing gender to “doing differ- ence.” They suggest that just as we create inequal- ity when we create gender during interaction, so we create race and class inequalities when we in— teract in daily life. Race does not generally hold the biologically based assumption of dichotomy (as sex category does). yet in American society we constantly use race categories to guide our inter- actional encounters. This extension of theoretical ideas from gender to the analysis of inequalities is perhaps the most important direction gender the— orizing has taken in the past decade. GENDER AS SOCIAL STRUCTURE The sex-differences literature, the doing-gender contextual analyses, and the structural perspectives are not necessarily incompatible, although 1, as well as others, have portrayed them as alternatives (e.g., Kanter 1977, Epstein 1988, Risman 1987, Risnian and Schwartz 1989, and Ferree 1990). My view of gender as a social structure incorpo- rates each level of analysis. Lorber (1994) argues that gender is an entity in and of itselfthat establishes patterns of expec- tations for individuals, orders social processes of everyday life, and is built into all other major social organizations of society. She goes further, however, to argue that gender difference is primar- ily a means to justify sexual stratification. Gender 3 is so ubiquitous because unless we see difference, we cannot justify inequality. Lorber provides much cross-cultural, literary, and scientific evi- dence to show that gender difference is socially constructed and yet is universally used to justify stratification. She writes that “the continuing pur- pose of gender as a modern social institution is to construct women as a group to be subordinate to men as a group.” 1 build on this notion that gender is an entity in and of itself and has consequences at every level of analysis. And 1 share the concern that the very creation of difference is the foundation on which inequality rests. 1n my View, it is most useful to conceptualize gender as a structure that has con- sequences for every aspect of society. Gender itselfmust be considered a structural property of society. 1t is not manifested just in our personalities, our cultural rules, or other institu— tions. Gender is deeply embedded as a basis for Individual level of analysis: Socialization; identities Gender as Structure. FIGURE 2.1 stratification, differentiating opportunities and constraints. This differentiation has consequences 011 three levels: (1) at the individual level, for the development ofgendered selves; (2) at the inter- ‘actional level, for men and women face different Wexpectations even when they fill the identical structural position; and (3) at the institutional level, for rarely will women and men be given identical positions. Differentiation at the institu- tional level is based 011 explicit regulations or laws regarding resource distribution, whether re— sources be defined as access to opportunities or actual material goods. (See Figure 2.1 for a schematic summary of the argument thus far.) While the gender structure clearly affects selves, cultural rules, and institutions, far too much explanatory power is presumed to rest in the motivation of gendered selves. We live‘in a very individualistic society that teaches us to make our own choices and take responsibility for our own actions. What this has meant for theories about gender is that a tremendous amount of energy is spent on trying to understand why women and men “choose” to devote their life energies to such different enterprises. The distinctly sociological contribution to the explanation hasn't had enough attention: even when individual women and men do not desire to live gendered lives orto support male dominance, they often find themselves com- pelled to do so by the logic of gendered choices. That is, interactional pressures and institutional design create gender and the resultant inequality, even in the absence of individual desires. . . . Choices often assumed to be based on per— sonalities and individual preferences (e.g., conse- Cencler as Structure Interactioual level of analysis: Cultural cxpectations; taken—for—grauted situational meaning GHNDERAS STRUCTURE 297 Institutional level of analysis: Distribution of material advantage; formal organizational schcrnas; ideological discourse quences of the gender structure at the individual level) are better understood as social constructions based on institutionally constrained opportunities and the limited availability of nongendered cog- nitive images. Even if individuals are capable of change and wish to eradicate male dominance from their per— sonal lives, ...
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