Femininity and masculinity are socially constructed practices that reinforce gender inequality. Among the most popular variations of the social constructionist theories is the gender role theory as an early form of social constructionism (Gergen, 1985). The focus on power and hierarchy reveals inspiration stemming from a Marxist framework, utilized for instance by materialist feminism, and Foucault’s writings on discourse.
Sex is the biological differences between male and female contradicting with gender which is the culturally and socially constructed differences between female and males based on meanings, beliefs and practices that a group associates with feminity or masculinity. Emerging from the criticism of Objectivity, Social Constructionism challenges concepts of knowledge put forward by Positivism, which states that the reality and empirically-proved truths are independent of the mind.
For example, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker writes that “some categories really are social constructions: they exist only because people tacitly agree to act as if they exist. ” In fact, there are few scientific studies that currently support a biological basis for substantial differences between the way women and men think. Rather, research indicates there is more variation among women or men on cognitive, emotional and psychological variables than between the two groups (Fausto-Sterling, 1992). Despite this however, the idea persists that women and men are vastly different in their thinking.
Hegemonic femininity, also referred to as “emphasized femininity” by some theorists, is a concept that was developed in tandem with hegemonic masculinity “to acknowledge the asymmetrical position of masculinities and femininities in a patriarchal gender order” (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005). This theory purports that males possess physical strength, the ability to use interpersonal violence in the face of conflict, and authority while females are physically vulnerable, unable to use violence effectively, and compliant (Schippers, 2007).
In order for men to maintain superiority and social dominance over women, the constructs of masculinity then must remain unavailable to women. To achieve this, any feminine characteristic that does not fall in line with hegemonic femininity then must be defined as “deviant and stigmatized” (Schippers, 200). Women themselves have been made to submit to this stereotype hence leaving men to make decisions for them. Sociologists have criticized this as a misconception of meaning of gender to imply sex. Gender s not a personal trait; it is “an emergent feature of social situations: both as an outcome of and a rationale for various social arrangements, and as a means of legitimating one of the most fundamental divisions of society. ” (West & Zimmerman, 1977). The notion of womanhood or femininity is accomplished through an active process of creating gender through interacting with others in a particular social context. The perception of sexuality by others is an extension of others’ perceptions of one’s gender.
Gender is never fully acquired – it has to be constantly performed and reenacted in social interactions hence gender is an accomplishment, (Alsop, Fitzsimmons & Lennon, 2002). It is frequently difficult to sort out how much of a measured difference between the sexes can be attributed to one’s biological composition and how much of the difference may be attributed to learned behavior. How do we know if the behavior is truly sex-based? In other words, is there something on the X or Y chromosome that predisposes men and women to be better in doing certain activities ?
Or, could it be that people tend to be better at things they have practiced more and for which they’ve received positive reinforcement over the years? If there are no proves of chromosomal relationships or any biological connections between feminity or masculinity and activities performed. Fathers of evolution studies like Charles Dawin proved that the act of being able to perform certain activities is based on learned practice and not man or woman distinction. This stereotype has greatly led to gender disparity and the world is trying to fight the monster created by our fore fathers misconceptions.
National news accounts of hazing and important evidence point toward gender differences in hazing activities. In general, a common conclusion drawn is that hazing among men is more likely to be violent in nature and hazing among women is more likely to be psychological in nature. For example, The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Kentucky (Woolhouse, 2000) quoted Gary Powell, a Maryland attorney who has represented fraternities and sororities charged with hazing as saying “females tend to be less physically violent than those involving males. Such perspectives align with and also reinforce predominant understandings of differences between women and men. Analyzing the phenomenon of hazing through the lens of gender theory provides some helpful insights on both similarities and differences in hazing behaviors between female and male groups. Gender theory contends that versions of masculinity and femininity are largely learned through a process of socialization rather than essential to one’s biological sex, (Jennifer Coates, 1996).
Nevertheless, particular versions of femininity and masculinity rise to ascendancy during particular social periods. Bem (1993) points out that even while the predominant versions of masculinity and femininity may shift periodically, they generally operate as two poles of a gender binary where the masculine is positioned as active and the feminine as passive. In other words, that which is culturally defined as masculine oppositionally defines feminine.
Active/passive, strong/fragile, aggressive/submissive, independent/dependent, and invincible/vulnerable are further examples of gender binaries that depict masculinity and femininity as polar opposites of a vast gender divide. While this particular construction is rooted in perceptions of ideal womanhood for white women specifically, it is relevant to all women because it remains a powerful and pervasive image or standard against which all women are often compared. Over the past few decades many writers have documented the differential treatment of boys and girls and the probable implications.
Feminist scholars have long paved the way for considering how girls have been placed at a disadvantage as a consequence of gender stereotyping ( Pipher,1995). Studies in educational settings have documented gender bias, most often unintentional; teachers who simply give boys more quality attention that is likely to promote cognitive development and substantive learning. According to the Sadkers’(1994) research, even though girls and boys are sitting in the same classrooms day after day, on average, boys are receiving a better quality education than the girls.
Studies have also documented how children themselves police each other’s behavior according to stereotypes (Thorne, 1997). For instance, if a young boy plays with a doll in the presence of older boys, it is likely that he will be teased and will quickly learn that having a doll is outside the bounds of acceptable masculine behavior. Sexual objectification is one of the worst results of the gender fallacy. Most societies have taken women to be sex objects.
Issues of rape are more rampant in women; women are perceived to be physically and emotionally weak hence being subjected to intimidation by men. I want to be clear here that I do not consider these vulnerabilities to be innate to girls/women or boys/men, but rather a consequence of complex and powerful social forces that contribute to sustaining unequal power relations as a consequence of sexism, racism, homophobia, poverty and other systems of disadvantage that render certain groups of individuals vulnerable in particular ways.
Conclusion Theories that imply that gendered behavior is totally or mostly due to social conventions and culture fall into the Nature versus nurture debate. Much empirical research has been done on to what extent gendered behavior stems from biological factorsAttending to the cultural construction of gender, homophobia, and the influences of race and social class is key to promoting more complex understandings and developing effective solutions to the problem of gender disparity.
Interventions in all arenas need to take gender theory into account in order to design educational and policy initiatives that will work, (Jeremy Earp 2001). Making masculinity visible is the first step to understanding how it operates in the culture and how definitions of manhood have been linked, often unconsciously, with dominance and control.
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