Gender and sex– They appear to be the same thing, but in reality they aren’t! This week we dive into the differences between gender and sex through the lense of sociology using work from Judith Butler, Simone de Beauvoir and other recent research. How have our notions of gender and sex changed over the years? Where are these two concepts headed? And how do our own identities influence the way we behave, feel, and think? Tune in to find out! (And come back next week for our follow-up discussion on feminism and intersectionality.)
Gender, Sex, Social Construction
- Judith Butler’s (1990) Gender Trouble is one of THE foundational texts if you want to get into gender and sex.
- Simone de Beauvoir’s (1949) The Second Sex is another key text to explore, as Butler builds her theories off of de Beauvoir’s work. It is in The Second Sex where de Beauvoir writes the famous line, “one is not born a woman, but, rather, becomes one.”
- New York Times article by Claire Cain Miller (Sept 14, 2018), “Many Ways to Be a Girl, But One Way to Be a Boy: The New Gender Rules”
- A pamphlet from the National Partnership for Women and Families that reports the following on the national gender wage gap:
- “Nationally, the median annual pay for a woman who holds a full-time, year-round job is $41,977 while the median annual pay for a man who holds a full-time, year-round job is $52,146. This means that, overall, women in the United States are paid 80 cents for every dollar paid to men, amounting to an annual gender wage gap of $10,169.”
- Duncombe and Marsden (1998) chapter “Stepford Wives and Hallow Husbands” in Emotions in Social Life
- Some interesting articles about femininity and the female gaze:
- Articles on the consequences of toxic masculinity:
6 thoughts on “SOC204 – The Spectrum: An Introduction to Sex and Gender”
Could the term ‘social justice warrior’ be the equivalent term of ‘toxic masculinity’?
On the other hand this term probably encapsulates the flack towards women espousing feminists view so perhaps not quite right…
We wouldn’t say those terms are equivalent. Social justice warrior is a politicized term used to satirize individuals (who tend to be of higher SES and class) who advocate— sometimes annoyingly— about social justice issues. Toxic masculinity is a term used to point out how patriarchy has lead to a society that, until very recently, allowed men to behave in ways that are damaging and problematic. While also currently politicized, it was not created as a satire or to make fun of someone’s political leanings. It is an apolitical term used to describe a social phenomenon.
I’m taking my first gender studies class this next semester, and I’m excited. We got into it a little bit in my introduction to anthropology class. My favorite part of that class was my professor saying that social constructions are natural in the sense that humans make them quite naturally. So in that bird’s eye sense, even toxic masculinity is a “natural” thing, even if it is ultimately not what is ideal. That kinda threw me for a loop, but it made sense. Especially given how much of the arguments against, say, gay marriage focus on what’s “natural” in the eyes of religion, or society, or however they define it. We like to put things in boxes, we evolved to categorize, and our language (theoretically, I think) kind of grew out of nomenclature. I’m not super well read in this area. Consciously changing what “naturally” was constructed feels like an attack to some people, and when worldviews are challenged it can be unnerving. I have to take a closer look at my own ideas of masculinity after this podcast.
Great work guys! I love these discussions.
Sorry for the late reply! Thanks so much for your comment, we’re glad to hear that you are enjoying the podcast!
It’s interesting to compare the perspectives of Sociology and Anthropology. From a sociological perspective, ‘natural’ means biological or instinctual. Concepts such as gender, ethnicity, masculinity, and femininity are social constructions, things that society came up with as a way to categorize and label people. Something like toxic masculinity is constructed out of a variety of different things. We would say that the act of categorizing people is more normalized rather than natural. Again, natural meaning innate to humanness. Categorizing things in the nomenclature way is by no means natural – that is a scientific process that became naturalized or normalized. That gets us into the whole conversation of classification systems versus naming systems, which human beings learned through a variety of social constructions.
Before we had the labels of ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’, people were still engaging in those behaviors. Once society constructed the labels to categorize such sexual or gender deviant individuals, it became a process of social control embedded in patriarchy and other forms of oppression. The strategic and premeditated nature of the process of creating a label really runs counter to the whole notion of that being a “natural” thing that humans do. So, in that sense, we wouldn’t say that toxic masculinity is “natural” as an anthropologist would say.
Of course, neither perspective is incorrect as these are just theoretical concepts and approaches to viewing society. It’s good to be aware of other perspectives, because each field of thought has something to offer. And then you can decide for yourself which makes the most sense to you and which camp you would fall into!
I’ll certainly have to look deeper into this, and work on my terminology. When I used the word nomenclature I guess it I just got the impression from my anthropology class that naming things helped “fuel the fire” of social constructions in early human civilization, not that the activities humans named didn’t exist before, but they got one level more meta/complex I guess. You could talk about tools in a more clear way, even if you had tools before. We talked a lot about early theories of the brain, the Universal Grammar debate, stuff like that. If the brain naturally has mechanisms to categorize things, like semantic processes I don’t really understand all that well, I guess I get confused by the “normalized” vs. “natural” terminology. If language ended up changing our brains, as much as our brains developed language (this is another debate I’m not well versed in) then categories, names, all that seems like it could almost squeeze into the sociological definition of “natural” meaning instinctual/biological. That’s probably a bridge too far though. Differing perspectives in differing schools of thought, as you said. Anthropology has always had the problem of potentially naturalizing things that are awful, like the eugenics movement was an anthropology thing I think. I like the term normalizing because maybe the core of what social constructions are is humans trying to take whatever they have decided to do, and make that the baseline from which they judge everything else. Like, ethnocentrism, I think?
Maybe what I was trying to get a pulse on was the basic idea of how to frame constructions that oppress…when it sometimes feels like that David Foster Wallace quote about the fish, where one fish says to two other fish “Hi! How’s the water today?” and after he leaves one fish turns to the other and says “what the hell is water?” Like I can’t possibly get a good view on the patriarchy because I’ve benefited/been steeped in it so much that it feels like water…
Ultimately my confusion between the two schools of thought is the difference between culture and social construction, because they seem so darn similar. I need to go re-listen to that podcast you guys did on American culture to see how sociologists define culture.
I’ll try to keep an open mind as I get further in my sociology degree, thanks for responding and helping me understand the sociological perspective a little more!