According to the book American
Society by Wright and Rogers, egalitarian gender relations suggest that if
males and females have separate but equal roles and power, then gender
relations are just. The sociological question it suggests, then, is whether
gender relations are natural or social. Empirical evidence shows that gender
norms are socially-constructed and deeply stitched into geographical,
historical, and cultural variables. For example, during the Renaissance,
heaviness was considered more attractive in society, whereas today, thinness is
considered more attractive.
Although there may be a small
disposition to have universal, “natural” gender relations—such as women
historically being more involved in infant care—the text argues that we should
question if what is seemingly natural is also desirable. The example the text
gives deals with medicinal progress—if a person contracts smallpox, it is
biologically natural for him to die of infection, but does that mean we should
relinquish all efforts to develop vaccines?
Additionally, there is no 1:1
ratio. The differences in hypothetical “natural roles” are often magnified more
than the actual “natural roles.” For example, the graph on page 292 shows that
society’s distribution of child care roles between men and women are very
skewed from the “natural” child-care capability differences between men and
women, which is pretty much nothing. Likewise, sociologists analyze the
validity, fairness, and institutional and cultural implications (like eugenics)
of gender stereotypes.
Gender disparities in the legal
system are also an immense global problem. Even after the American women’s
suffrage movement attained the right for women to vote in 1920, women were
still unable to travel with their own passports, and were not given equal
working rights until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Still today,
only 98 of all 535 members of Congress are women (so 437 men), and on average
get paid $0.77 for every dollar a man makes doing the same work. This is only
up $0.05 from 1973! (Pew Research, 2013).
Gender roles also amplify
traditional “gendered” professions. For example, according to the 2007 Census,
96.1% of secretaries were women, and 98.3% of automobile mechanics were men.
There is also a disparity in power, with only 47 women of theForbes 500 Richest of 2013(so 453 men). Consequently, there is a
recent campaign featuring celebrities Beyoncé, Sheryl Sandberg, and Jane Lynch
which puts the word “Bossy” to describe female leadership in a negative limelight.
This is all very geographically
and culturally relative, of course, with countries like Sweden, Iceland, and
Finland exhibiting nearly 50% women in legislative positions, compared to only
about 10% in Brazil, India, and Chile according to the reading.
There are immense social gender
roles and expectations as well. Some social norms in contemporary America are
that men who cry in public are weak, girls who play sports are aggressive,
women who dress in short clothes are “sluts,” and anyone who cross-dresses is
homosexual (even our cultural etymology is inflammatory: we always “accuse”
people of being gay, as though it is a crime). LGBT genders exhibit higher
rates of hate crimes against them. Gay marriage is still only legal in 17
states. These cultural beliefs, although gradually lessening, are braced by
these gender norms.
Gender roles often beget a
double entendre: those who do not fit the orchestrated definition of beauty are
shamed, and yet those who try to lessen it with makeup or weight loss are
shamed too, further rekindling the idea that your verdict is in the control of
our society’s values. The reading ends with implications for the
future—specifically that we need to adopt certain policies to mitigate these