Sunday, 4 May 2014

Gender Relations

Lindsey S.
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 the Forbes 500 Richest of 2013 (so 453 men). Consequently, there is a recent campaign featuring celebrities BeyoncĂ©, 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 gender disparities.

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