Montclair State University  
Lecture 2/4/04-Cultural and Historical Constructions of Gender

Gender roles are not natural - they are historically and culturally based.

Biological models assume that sex determines gender; that innate biological differences lead to behavioral differences that lead to social arrangements. By this account, social inequalities are encoded into our physiological composition.

Anthropological research suggests otherwise. Anthropologists have found far more variability in the definitions of masculinity and femininity than any sociobiologist would have predicted. Men possess relatively similar levels of testosterone with similar brain structure and laterialization, yet they seem to exhibit dramatically different levels of aggression, violence and especially, aggression toward women. Women with similar brains, hormones, and ostensibly similar evolutionary imperatives have widely varying experiences of passivity, PMS and spatial coordination.

Important Points:
1. Masculinity is not a fixed, biological essence of men or femininity a biological essence of women, but, rather, a social construction that shifts and changes over time as well as between and among various national and cultural contexts.

2. Power is central to understanding gender as a relational construct, and the dominant definition of masculinity is largely about expressing difference from - and superiority over - anything considered “feminine.”

3. There is no singular male gender role or singular female gender role; rather, at any given time there are various masculinities and femininities. Who gets to play what type of male gender or female gender role will be influenced by where they are positioned in the stratification system.

4. Gender is relational.  “Masculinities do not first exist and then come into contact with femininities; they are produced together, in the process that constitutes a gender order.

R. W. Connell "Masculinities and Globalization." Connell examined how local masculinities have been shaped by historical and current influences such as imperialism and globalization. He says that globalization has created multiple local masculinities while simultaneously providing resources for dominance by particular groups of men.

Masculinities are shaped by: geopolitical struggles, labor migration, global markets and transnational media.

There is a transnational business masculinity   which is the hegemonic form of masculinity associated with those who control its dominant institutions: the business executives who operate in global markets, and the political executives who interact (and in many contexts merge) with them.

The transnational business masculinity has had only one major competitor for hegemony - the rigid, control-oriented masculinity of the military and military-style bureaucratic dictatorships.

Six elements in looking at masculinity.

1. Plural masculinities - in multicultural societies, there are varying definitions and enactments of masculinity. Different cultures and different periods of history construct gender differently. More than one kind of masculinity can be found within a given cultural setting or institution

2. Hierarchy and Hegemony - These plural masculinities exist in definite social relations, often relations of hierarchy and exclusion. There is a generally a hegemonic form of masculinity, the most honored or desired in a particular context. Hegemonic masculinity refers to: a white, middle class, heterosexual and physically dominating form of masculinity. The most valued form of masculinity, and a masculinity that subordinates other masculinities. The hegemonic form need not be the most common form of masculinity. Many men live in as state of some tension with or distanced from, hegemonic masculinity and are required to live up to it strenuously. The dominance of hegemonic masculinity over other forms may be quiet and implicit, but it may also be vehement and violent, as in the important case of homophobic violence.

3. Bodies as Arenas - Men's bodies are addressed, defined and disciplined (as in sport) and given outlets and pleasures by the gender order of society.

4. Active Construction - Masculinities do not exist prior to social interaction, but come into existence as people act." They are actively produced, using the resources and strategies available in a given milieu.

5. Contradiction - Masculinities are not homogeneous. There are contradictory desires and conduct. The bodybuilder who engages in homosexual prostitution to support his bodybuilding is an example.

6. Dynamics - Masculinities created in specific historical circumstances are liable to reconstruct and any pattern of hegemony is subject to contestation, in which a dominant masculinity may be displaced

According to Connell hegemonic masculinity is the idealized pattern of masculinity in patriarchal societies, while emphasized femininity is the vision of femininity that is held as the model of womanhood in those societies. 

A patriarchy is a sex/gender system in which men dominate women, and that which is considered masculine is more highly valued than that which is considered feminine

Key features of hegemonic masculinity include the subordination of women, the marginalization of gay men, and the celebration of toughness and competitiveness.  Emphasized femininity is about women's subordination with its key features being sociability, compliance with men's sexual and ego desires and acceptance of marriage and childcare.

Hegemonic masculinity and emphasized femininity are not necessarily the most common gender patterns.  They are however, the versions of manhood and womanhood against which other patterns of masculinity are judged. 

“Engendering Power in Native North America.” Gonzales and Kertesz
“Multiple Gender among North American Indians.”

Sex/gender systems vary historically and cross-culturally, but each system includes at least 3 interrelated components
1. The social construction of gender categories on the basis of biological sex.
2. A sexual division of labor in which specific tasks are allocated on the basis of sex
3. The social regulation of sexuality in which particular forms of sexual expression are positively or negatively sanctioned.

There were and still are Native American cultures in which more than two gender categories are evident. Native American tribes, gender and sexuality should not be understood as fixed, immutable states neatly divided into two categories.  Nor are notions of gender and sexuality inextricably tied to each other

Multiple sex/gender systems had been found in many (110-150) Native American cultures.  There were many variations in the system.  Gender variant roles differed in the criteria by which they were defined; the degree of their integration into the society; the norms governing heir behavior; they way the role was acknowledged publicly or sanctioned; how others were expected to behave toward gender variant persons; what they could or could not do, the power, attributed to them, and the path of recruitment.

Understandings of gender in Native American culture are highly colored by Western values of gender differentiation.  Gonzales and Kertesz suggest these myths say far more about American imagination than about the relative status and power of men and women in traditional tribal society.

Gonzales, Kertesz and Nanda all caution about either demonizing or romanticing “ gender variant” systems. Further tribal customs differ dramatically across North America and generalizing across tribes can be misleading.

Nanda notes that there is variation in the degree of integration of the gender variant into the soicety, the norms governing their beavior; the way the role is acknowledged or sanctioned; how others are expected to behave toward the gender variant persion, how the gender variant was recruited, etc.  

Some commonalities:

Transvestism – generally permitted to wear the clothing of the other sex. Each society had norms regarding what and when the gender variant could wear the clothing.

Occupation –doing tasks of the other gender. 

Gender Variance and Sexuality – Generally, sexuality was not central in defining gender status among Native Americans. Wide variation.  As an example, the Navajo have four genders, men and women, male-gender variant, female-gender variant.  A sexual relationship between a female nadleeh (female-gender variant) and a woman was not stigmatized because these persons were of different genders.

Biological Sex and Gender Transformations: Not to be seen as transgenderism (having a psyche and body of the opposite sex) nor necessarily as hermaphrodites. Gender variant roles were autonomous gender roles that combined the characteristics of men and women and had some unique features of their own. 

One’s biological sex was not considered a necessary predeterminant of one’s gender.
Very young children were basically regarded as genderless, although not sexless, beings and gradually acquired a gender.  Eventually initiated into “womanhood” or “manhood,” not all males became “men” and not all females “women” but third or fourth genders respectively.  Thus, the gradual genderization of Native people was firmly rooted in a larger process of socialization and the concomitant assumption of roles and responsibilities within a given tribal context.   Gender was chosen by the child; it was not something you were born with. 

Sacred Power – The association between spiritual power and gender variance occurred in most, if not all, Native Americans societies

Gonzales and Kertesz - In many tribal societies, gender has not been as highly stratified a system as it has been within other parts of American society.  Gender is not about power to the degree that it is in European cultural traditions. 

Many Native American tribes are matrilineal, which means that inheritance, property ownership and social status are organized around female lineage.  Matrilineal is not the same as matriarchal, which suggests a social structure of female power, or dominance.  However, matrilineality has certainly contributed to less status differentiation between men and women.  In general, Native Americans embrace a system of complementary gender relations with less thought of gender hierarchy, or stratification. 

In addition, Native American culture has not sought to stigmatize homosexuality or “other” gendered persons in the way that Western culture does. 

What distinguishes gender in American Indian cultures from that in Western culture is that the former is not limited to biology or power but integrated throughout the cultural system. 

You can view Nanda article as well as Gonzales and Kertesz’ article as examples of post-modernism since they discuss the discourses regarding these multiple genders. Europeans labeled the gender variants are “berdaches” which comes from an Arabic word meaning male prostitute.

Among Europeans and within social science disciplines, third and fourth gendered American Indians are commonly referred to as Berdaches.  But this is wrong – it comes from the Arabian word meaning “boy-slave kept for sexual purposes. This is not appropriate term for the phenomena of Native North American multiple-gender construction.

Berdaches has been mainly rejected but there is no unanimous agreement on what should replace.  One suggestion is to use the term “two-spirit,” which is a term that was coined in 1990 by urban American Indian gays and lesbians.  However, Gonzales and Kertisz, as well as others, say that this it is problematic because it can not be translated into a particular indigenous tribal language, for the Navajo, having two-spirits would be a person with a living and dead spirit, a terrible condition to be, while in Shoshone it would mean ghost, also a status that does not describe gender variants.

Today gender differentiation in Native American society is manifested in a sexual division of labor that is controlled largely by the values of mainstream society.  As a result of Euro-American repression and assimilation, the gender variant roles among Native Americans had virtually disappeared by the 1930s.

Gonzales and Kertesz 4 factors affecting gender roles and relations in Native American cultures:
1 the impact of colonial contact and Western political values
2. the interaction between cultural kinship systems and gender systems.
3. the concept of power as a dimension of roles and gender relations
4 the multiplicity of gender roles within tribal societies.

In addition, Renzetti and Curran also point out that gender can be regarded as a process rather than a stable social category. Among the Hua of Papua, New Guinea, gender is perceived as changing throughout an individual's life.  The Hua bestow high status on masculine people, but view them as physically weak and vulnerable.  Feminine people are regarded as invulnerable, but polluted.  When children are born, they are all at least partially feminine because the Hua believe that women transfer some of their own femininity to their offspring.  Thus, the more children a woman has, the more femininity she loses. After three births, she is not longer considered polluted.  She may participate in the discussions and rituals of men and share their higher status and authority but she must also observe their diet and sanitation customs since she has now become vulnerable. 
Hua men on the other hand, gradually lose their masculinity by imparting it to young boys during growth rituals. At this happens, they become regarded as physically invulnerable, but polluted.  Consequently old men work in the fields with young women and have little social authority.

Film “Rosie the Riveter”
WWII - Women have consistently taken on expanded role in wartime, by choice as well as necessity.
Office of War Information (1941) monitored public opinion to determine the degree of commitment and willingness to sacrifice for the war - women were less enthusiastic about the war. So, there was a coordinated effort to convince women that the war effort was necessary and that women should actively participate in war production.

The War Production Board and the War Manpower Commission were set up to convert to a wartime economy, coordinate labor for the various sectors of the economy, and allocate workers both war and civilian production.

At first defense employers were reluctant to hire women, but the production needs were so great and the propaganda so convincing that by July 1944 19 million women were employed, an increase of over 5 million at the start of the war.

The war allowed African-American women access to employment in defense plants that paid much more than the jobs like domestic work or food services jobs that they had held prior to the war.

Near the end of the war married women outnumbered single women in the labor force. By the close of the war 32% of women who worked in the major defense center had children under the age of 14. Day-care centers, foster home programs, and other variations of childcare were developed throughout the country. The Federal Works agency administered a program that enrolled 13,000 children in over 3,000 centers.

Rather than viewing such options as a menace to children and indictment for their mothers, such provisions were praised for allowing mothers of young children to enter the work force where they were needed.

However, the goal was to win the war and to return to the previous gender arrangements. Propaganda campaigns promoted the idea that women were in it only “for the duration” and they would reassume their domestic duties after the war, gladly giving up their jobs to the returning men. As we saw from the film, many women were not interested in giving up their jobs; they were in fact, fired from them. Because they were working-class women before the war, they continued to work after the war. Unfortunately, the jobs then that were available to them were low paying, unskilled labor. They could not play the dominant post-war female gender role.

The propaganda now portrayed women who wanted to work as selfish, egotistical women and “bad” mothers.

Some issues need to be pondered:

Virtually all societies manifest some amount of difference between women and men.

Virtually all exhibit some form of male domination, despite variations in gender definition.

The centrality of the gender division of labor. In almost every society, labor is divided by gender.

Why? Functionalism maintains that a sex-based division of labor was necessary for the preservation of the society.Such models assume that because the sex-based division of labor arose to meet certain social needs at one time, its preservation is an evolutionary imperative or at least an arrangement that is not to be trifled with casually.

But we know that this sexual division of labor have changed and will continue to change. The gender-based division of labor has become a part of our culture, not a part of our physical constitution.

If a sex-based division of labor has outlived its social usefulness or its physical imperatives it must be held in place by something else; the power of one sex over the other. Where did that power come from? How has it developed? How does it vary from culture to culture? What factors exaggerate it: what factors diminish it?

Theories of Gender Differentiation and Male Domination

Several theorists have tried to explain the sexual division of labor and gender inequalities by reference to large, structural forces that transform societies’ organizing principles.

Frederich Engels (Marixism, the forerunner of conflict theory) suggested that the three chief institutions of modern Western society – a capitalist economy, the nation-state, and the nuclear family – emerged at roughly the same historical moment – and all as a result of the development of private property. Capitalism meant private property, which required the establishment of clear lines of inheritance. This requirement led, in turn, to new problems of sexual fidelity if a man were to pass his property on to his son, he had to be sure that his son was, indeed his. Out of this need to transmit inheritance across generations of men the traditional nuclear family emerged, with monogamous marriage and the sexual control of women by men. And if inheritance were to be stable, these new patriarchs needed to have clear, binding laws, vigorously enforced, that would enable them to pass their legacies onto their sons without interference from others. This required a centralized political apparatus (the nation-state) to exercise sovereignty over local and regional power that might challenge them.

Some evidence to support Engels’ theory – Eleanor Leacok’s work on the Labrador Peninsula. Karen Sacks’ work on 4 African cultures

When women and me share access to the productive elements of the society, the result is a higher level of sexual egalitarianism.

Other anthropologists trace the origins of male domination to the imperatives of warfare in primitive society. How does a culture create warriors who are fierce and strong? Best way reward all men with the services of women, excluding only the most inadequate or cowardly. Warrior societies tend to practice female infanticide. Warrior societies also tend to exclude women from the fighting force, since their presence would reduce the motivation of the soldiers and upset the sexual hierarchy. Males come to control the society’s resources, and as a justification for this develop patriarchal religion as an ideology that legitimates their domination over women.

Two other groups of scholars use different variables to explain the differences between women and men. Descent theorists like Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox stress the invariance of the mother-child bond. Men, by definition, lack the tie that mothers have with their children. How the can they achieve that connection to the next generation, the connection to history and society? They form it with other men in the hunting group. Male solidarity and monogamy are the direct result of men’s need to connect with social life.

Alliance theorists like Claude Levi-Strauss are less concerned with the need to connect males to the next generation than they are with the ways that relationships among men come to organize social life, He argues that men turn women into sex objects whose exchange (as wives) cements the alliances among men.

Determinants of Women’s Status –
Virtually every society of which we have knowledge reveals some differentiation between women and men, and virtually every society exhibits patterns of gender inequality and male domination. Gender differences and gender inequality may be more or less pronounced.

What then are the factors that seem to determine women’s status in society? Some suggested factors.

The more a society needs physical strength and highly developed motor skills, the larger will be the differences in socialization between males and females.

It also seems to be the case that the larger the family group the larger the differences between women and men. In part this is because the isolation of the nuclear family means that males and females will need to take the other’s roles on occasion, so that strict separation is rarely enforced.

One of the key determinants of women’s status has been the division of labor around childcare. Women’s role in reproduction has historically limited their social and economic participation. While no society assigns all child-care functions to men, the more that men participate in childcare and the more free women are from childbearing responsibility, the higher women’s status tends to be.

Relationships between children and their parents have also been seen as keys to women’s status. Sociologist Scott Coltrane found that the closer the relationship between father and son, the higher the status of women is likely to be. Coltrane found that in cultures where fathers are relatively uninvolved, boys define themselves in opposition to their mothers and other women and therefore are prone to exhibit traits of hypermasculinity, to fear and denigrate women as way to display masculinity. The more mothers and fathers share child rearing, the less men belittle women. (think Chodorow)

The more men spend with their children, the less gender inequality is present in that culture. Conversely the more free women are from childcare – the more that childcare is parceled out elsewhere and the more that women control their fertility – the higher will be their status.

Coltrane also found that women’s status depended upon their control over property especially after marriage. When she retained control over her property after marriage, a woman’s status was invariably higher.

Daphne Spain argues that cultures in which men developed the most elaborate sex-segregated rituals were those cultures in which women’s status was lowest. (male bonding)

All forms of spatial segregation between males and females are associated with gender inequality.

We can summarize the findings of cross-cultural research on female status and male dominance. “First, male dominance is lower when men and women work together, with little sexual division of labor. Sex segregation of work is the strongest predictor of women’s status. Second, male dominance is more pronounced when men control political and ideological resources that are necessary to achieve the goals of the culture and when men control all property. Third, male dominance is “exacerbated under colonization” – both capitalist penetration of the countryside and industrialization generally lower women’s status. Male dominance is also associated with demographic imbalances between the sexes: The higher the percentage of marriageable men to marriageable women, the lower is women’s status. And finally environmental stresses tend to exaggerate male domination” (Carol Travis)
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Last updated  2017/05/12 10:31:09 EDTHits  656