Several paradigms are available to study a sex/gender system: sociological,
psychological, and biological.
A paradigm is a school of thought that guides the scientist in
choosing the problem to be studied, in selecting the method for studying
them, and in explaining what is found.
Sociological research like all scientific research is subjective as
well as objective.
Sociological Theories – functionalism, conflict theory, symbolic interactionism,
Functionalism – also know as structural-functional though. Begins
with the premise that society is made up of interdependent parts, each
of which contributes to the functioning of the whole.
1. Society is a system of integrated parts.
2. Social systems tend to be stable because they have built-in mechanisms
3. Dysfunctions do exist, but they tend to resolve themselves or become
institutionalized in the long run.
4. Change is gradual.
5. Social integration is produced by the agreement of most members
of society on a certain set of values.
How is functionalism used to explain gender?
Women and men are biologically different and these biological differences,
especially reproductive differences, have led to the emergence of different
These gender roles emerged early in human history and were institutionalized
because they were adaptive and assisted in the survival of the species.
Women because of their unique ability to bear and nurse children, stayed
close to their infants and the campsite. Men, due to their inability,
became the hunters and protectors of the tribe. ("Man the Hunter,
Functionalism says a similar set of principles can be applied to gender
roles in the modern family as well. Talcott Parsons argued that there
is less disruption and competition, more harmony and stability when spouses
assume complementary and specialized roles. Husband-father takes
on the instrumental role, by providing shelter food and linking the family
to the world outside the home. The wife-mother takes on the expressive
role. She provides the emotional support and nurturing qualities,
which sustain the family unit.
Women’s and men’s roles are opposite, but complementary. Because
they are products of nature, social efforts to change them will be futile
at best, but cold also be harmful for society as a whole.
Criticisms of structural functionalism –
1. Functionalists see gender differences as natural phenomena deriving
from biology. Portraying masculinity and femininity as natural, however,
confused gender with sex and suggests immutability.
2. History shows that gender is quite amenable to change; what constitutes
masculinity and femininity varies tremendously throughout history and across
3. The functionalist rendition of the evolution of gender may also be
4. It lacks the concept of power. In overlooking the issue of
power relations, the structural functionalist perspective neglects significant
dimensions of gender: the structural causes of gender-based inequality
and the consequences this inequality has for women and men in society.
5. It defends the status quo.
(Karl Marx) is based on the assumption that society is a stage
where struggles for power and dominance are acted out. For Marx,
the struggle occurred among social classes, which compete for control over
the means of production and the distribution of resources.
Friedrich Engels applied these assumptions to the family – the family
as it exists is the source of oppression for women.
1. The main features of society are change, conflict, and coercion.
2. Social structure is based on the dominance of some groups by others.
3. Each group in society has a set of common interests, whether its
members are aware of it or not.
4. When people become aware of their common interests, they may become
a social class.
5. The intensity of class conflict depends on the presence of certain
political and social conditions, on the distribution of authority and rewards
and on the openness of the class system
Symbolic Interactionism –
Also called the interactionist perspective.
The interactionist model is based on the assumption that society is
created and maintained through the interaction of its members ad how its
members define reality. In this sense, reality is what members agree
to be reality.
W.I. Thomas – A situation defined as real is real in its consequences.
An ongoing process of social interaction in specific settings based
on symbolic communication. Individual perceptions of reality are
variable and changing. Communication is the main feature of symbolic
interactionism. All communication occurs in particular situations
or systems that influence what and how we communicate and especially what
meanings we attach to messages.
Communication is dynamic and systemic. Meanings are created through
human interaction with symbols that are agreed upon. Communication
has 2 levels of meaning: content and relationship level of meaning.
The content is its literal meaning and implies what response is appropriate.
Relationship – it defines the relationship between communicators by defining
each person’s identity and indicating whom they are in relation to one
and other. It tells us how to interpret the literal message.
Erving Goffman – Dramaturgical analysis is especially useful
when considering gender roles. Maintains that when people attempt
to create a certain impression, they actually assume various roles in a
performance which others will evaluate. For gender, Goffman would say that
men and women come to the interaction with a socially scripted and conventionalized
expression of gender. He would agree that the interaction still has
to be created and sustained – but he says we don’t need to invent the meaning
on the spot. We come to the interaction with some preconceived roles
and develop the interaction from that point on.
1. Gender is socially created, rather than innately determined.
2. It is generated within the context of a particular social and economic
structure and is reproduced and transmitted through a process of social
3. Gender is a central organizing factor in the social world and so
must be included as a fundamental category of analysis in sociological
4. Feminist recognizes that sociological research is dualistic: It has
both subjective and objective dimensions. While they reject the notion
of value-free science, however, feminists do not reject "scientific standards"
in their research.
5. The consequences of gender inequality are not identical for all groups
of women and men. Therefore, research must analyze the interrelationships
among multiple oppressions, including sexism, racism, classism, ageism,
hetrosexism. And ableism.
6. A major goal of sociological work should be the development of effective
means to eradicate gender inequality and to change those aspects of our
social constructions of gender that are harmful or destructive.
Judith Lorber –
3 major categories of feminist theory:
Gender-reform feminisms – emphasize the similarities rather than
the differences between women and men. Their goal is for women to
have same opportunities as men to fully participate in all aspects of social
Liberal – focuses on securing the same legal rights for women that men
Marxist – see women’s oppression as caused by economic dependence and
us emphasize increasing women’s employment opportunities and bettering
their wages and working conditions.
Socialist – as above
Development – reflects the concerns of women in economically developing
countries and strives to improve work and educational opportunities for
women there, wile often operating within the constraints of their traditional
Gender-resistance feminisms – argue that formal legal rights
lone cannot end gender inequality because male dominance is too ingrained
into everyday social relations, including heterosexual sexual relations.
– Separatist strategy
Radical feminism – focus on the sexual exploitation of women by men
and especially on men’s violence against women.
Lesbian feminism – as above
Psychoanalytic feminism – uses Freud to explain gender inequality in
terms of sex differences in personality
Standpoint feminism – attempts to examine all aspects of life from
a woman’s unique standpoint
Gender-rebellion feminism – 3rd wave feminisms Gender rebellion
feminisms focus on the interrelationships among inequalities of gender,
race, and ethnicity, social class, and sexual orientation, and analyze
gender inequality as one piece of a complex system of social stratification.
Gender rebellions feminisms include multiracial feminism, men's feminism,
social construction feminism, postmodern feminism and queer theory.
Multiracial feminism and men’s feminism highlight how one’s various
social locations within the social stratification hierarchy privilege or
disadvantage groups of women and men in different ways.
Social construction feminism examines the ways that people construct
varying identities and social labels through their everyday interactions
with one another.
Post modern feminism and queer theory conceptualize sex and gender as
social scripts and then rewrite the parts and alter the props as they see
fit for specific situations. Gender, from these perspectives, is