Why do you think a gendered version of these items was created? Would it make sense to have one “un-gendered” version
instead? Why or why not? What does the fact there are gendered items tell you about how our society views gender?
Catharine MacKinnon develops her theory of gender as a theory ofsexuality. Very roughly: the social meaning of sex (gender) is createdby sexual objectification of women whereby women are viewed andtreated as objects for satisfying men's desires (MacKinnon1989). Masculinity is defined as sexual dominance, femininity assexual submissiveness: genders are “created through theeroticization of dominance and submission. The man/woman differenceand the dominance/submission dynamic define each other. This is thesocial meaning of sex” (MacKinnon 1989, 113). For MacKinnon,gender is constitutively constructed: in defining genders (ormasculinity and femininity) we must make reference to social factors(see Haslanger 1995, 98). In particular, we must make reference to theposition one occupies in the sexualised dominance/submission dynamic:men occupy the sexually dominant position, women the sexuallysubmissive one. As a result, genders are by definitionhierarchical and this hierarchy is fundamentally tied to sexualisedpower relations. The notion of ‘gender equality’, then,does not make sense to MacKinnon. If sexuality ceased to be amanifestation of dominance, hierarchical genders (that are definedin terms of sexuality) would cease to exist.
This entry first looked at feminist arguments against biologicaldeterminism and the claim that gender is socially constructed. Next,it examined feminist critiques of prevalent understandings of genderand sex, and the distinction itself. In response to these concerns,the final section looked at how a unified women's category could bearticulated for feminist political purposes and illustrated (at least)two things. First, that gender — or what it is to be awoman or a man — is still very much a live issue. Second, thatfeminists have not entirely given up the view that gender is aboutsocial factors and that it is (in some sense) distinct frombiological sex. The jury is still out on what the best, the mostuseful or (even) the correct definition of gender is. And somecontemporary feminists still find there to be value in the original1960s sex/gender distinction.
That is, her view avoids the implausible claim that sex is exclusivelyto do with nature and gender with culture. Rather, the distinction onthe basis of reproductive possibilities shapes and is shaped by thesorts of cultural and social phenomena (like varieties of socialsegregation) these possibilities gives rise to. For instance,technological interventions can alter sex differences illustratingthat this is the case (Alcoff 2006, 175). Women's specificallygendered social identities that are constituted by their contextdependent positions, then, provide the starting point for feministpolitics.
Since women are socially positioned in various different contexts,“there is no gender essence all women share” (Alcoff 2006,147–8). Nonetheless, Alcoff acknowledges that her account isakin to the original 1960s sex/gender distinction insofar as sexdifference (understood in terms of the objective division ofreproductive labour) provides the foundation for certain culturalarrangements (the development of a gendered social identity). But,with the benefit of hindsight
Nancy Chodorow (1978; 1995) has criticised social learning theory astoo simplistic to explain gender differences (see also Deaux &Major 1990; Gatens 1996). Instead, she holds that gender is a matterof having feminine and masculine personalities that develop in earlyinfancy as responses to prevalent parenting practices. In particular,gendered personalities develop because women tend to be the primarycaretakers of small children. Chodorow holds that because mothers (orother prominent females) tend to care for infants, infant male andfemale psychic development differs. Crudely put: the mother-daughterrelationship differs from the mother-son relationship because mothersare more likely to identify with their daughters than their sons. Thisunconsciously prompts the mother to encourage her son topsychologically individuate himself from her thereby prompting him todevelop well defined and rigid ego boundaries. However, the motherunconsciously discourages the daughter from individuating herselfthereby prompting the daughter to develop flexible and blurry egoboundaries. Childhood gender socialisation further builds on andreinforces these unconsciously developed ego boundaries finallyproducing feminine and masculine persons (1995, 202–206). Thisperspective has its roots in Freudian psychoanalytic theory, althoughChodorow's approach differs in many ways from Freud's.
In summary then, the existing literature highlights that understanding the factors which deter young people from pursuing routes into the physical sciences and engineering remains a key priority, both for Governments focused on economic productivity and in terms of equity, civic participation, equality of opportunity, and social justice. Especially, questions remain concerning the ongoing lack of access to Physics for women (and for men from working class and some minority ethnic backgrounds), as well as what might help to reverse this pattern. Research has established that STEM subjects, and Physics in particular, continue to be constructed as masculine, precipitating various practices that deter girls from pursuing these subjects for higher study. However, there has been less attention to how individuals explain these trends or the discourses underpinning such explanations.
Gender is all around us, but we are trained not to see it because we believe it is ‘natural’ or ‘normal’. However, sociologists want
to analyze the way that gender is constructed because it helps us understand our society’s beliefs and values. This assignment
will give you an opportunity to examine gender in the world you see around you.
1) Find an example of one item that is “gendered” or assigned as masculine or feminine in ”real” (non-online) world. Some
categories you may want to think about: clothing and accessories, personal hygiene products, toys, magazines, electronics and
their accessories, games, workouts, television shows or music, etc. You cannot choose a razor. Every other Intro to Sociology
Student has chosen it, and I want to see different things! You want to pick one item to compare for this assignment
Moreover, as feminist researchers such as Harding (, ) and Walkerdine (, ) have asserted, STEM disciplines are constructed upon, and perpetuate, longstanding epistemological, enlightenment constructions of reason, intellect, and competition that are, in turn, historically associated with masculinity. Several studies have explored how such associations between STEM and masculinity impede girls/women’s identification with STEM (Walkerdine ) and/or necessitate those engaged with STEM to adopt particular strategies to bridge this identification challenge. For example, Pronin et al. () found that women invested in maths adopted “bifurcation”—disassociating themselves from feminine stereotypes in relation to math. Similarly, Archer et al. () found that young women who identified with Physics tended to describe themselves as unfeminine. Critiquing the masculinist discourses that maintain such associations between STEM and masculinity, and which therefore exclude femininity, Walkerdine () and others have adopted poststructuralist theoretical lenses to deconstruct the gendered discourses that perpetuate these productions of STEM. It is these conceptual understandings of the social production of gender difference and of science as a masculine domain that we build upon in our approach to our research and data analysis.
Building on the existing literature, we seek in the present article to explore respondents’ constructions of gender and access to the physical sciences, with particular attention to their explanations for gender inequality in this area. A key research question for the wider study was the extent to which our data reflect prior research findings showing gender inequalities in proportions of students’ intending to pursue Physics for further study after compulsory schooling. Distinctively, we also sought to ask young people and their parents directly for their opinions on why fewer women pursue the Physical sciences in order to explore the different discourses produced in response. This approach is intended to enable identification of the range and nature of discourses that are applied on the topic of gender inequalities in access to Physics, as well as the ways in which these discourses work to construct the Physics discipline, and gendered subjects, in different ways.