Gender Structures


Gender Structures Essay, Research Paper

Gender Structures

Much controversy surrounds the notion of gender. Theorist after theorist continue to fight with questions regarding its development, its behavior in society, degree distinction, resulting effects, as well as its very existence/legitimacy as a whole. Yet often in examining gender, these theorist limit their focus to individuals, individual interactions and societal interactions ignoring an essential factor in its determination. The examination of these theorists often overlook the prevailing influence of various institutions, the household or the workplace for example in shaping and defining gender. The term ?institution? classically signifies custom, routine and repetition entailing a structured and patterned way of life. ?The practice of sexual politics bears mostly on institutions, discriminatory hiring in companies, nonsexist curricula in schools etc.

Gender relations are not only present in major institutions but also that they are systematically important to them. In the school system, for example, a perfectly potential institution, the politics of gender play an active role. Through various activities offered by and run within the school, like dancing, sports, debate, art, and other extracurricular activities a distinct practice can be noted that begins to define and divide gender roles, conceiving rigid spheres of masculinity and femininity for its students to live by. Even the staff at such schools are subjected to certain gender regimes within their working environments. Practices ranging from class room attitude, discipline, and choice of subject matter, to administration and advancement through promotion, contribute in creating and shaping gender boundaries, a distinct separation between masculinity and femininity, a sexual division of labor under which the staff must function.

In the realm of the family, gender has a marked role. Family is both an essential component and product of society. It is characterized by many deep, emotional and complex relationships. The sexual division of labor and gender structures plays a very precise role in family functions and well recognized throughout society as a factor. According to Professor Dunn September 15, 1999 ?We live in a patriarchy society where male domination rule and has been ruling for years?. Some people might say ?Men contribute less labor in the home while enjoying the services women provide as wives thus concentrating their efforts in paid employment?. The sexual division sheds light on a woman?s role in society and is ultimately determined by the man in his role and more importantly his wage, which itself is determined by his place in a capitalistic society. The notion of ?women subordinated to men reappears in a long series of sociological researches on families in different countries, together with the ideology of masculine authority that support it?.

Career and wage influence domestic power, which in turn influences the division of labor. It is the male that attains the fruitful career, for it is his role in the family, while the wife is responsible for maintaining and sustaining the family in ways not fully recognized by but essential to capitalism. Women are limited in their career pursuits by responsibilities at home and dependency on the husband. This ultimately results in the polarization of male and female ability and behavior. Woman, limited by society and its treatment of men are forced to assume characteristics associated with family life and domesticity. The character of women is therefore confined to what restrictions and opportunities it is presented with by men. Society and family perpetuates this injustice and therefore creates a distinct separation in roles and enacts a specific gender structure by which men and women are essentially confined.

The state, though not always recognized as instrumental in determining the role of gender, plays a dominant role in developing and continuing gender differences. Men are often in positions of power while women, on the other hand, are seen occupying less influential and more submissive roles. State elite?s are the preserve of men. The diplomatic, colonial and military policy of major states are formed in the context of ideologies of masculinity that put a premium on toughness and force. States attempt to control sexuality, and in a sense, define gender. Such attempts can be characterized by laws against homosexuality and various restrictions on sex including consensual age, etc.

Power in the state is strategic because there is more at issue than a simple distribution of benefits, the state has a prominent role in creating and maintaining social patterns. Bureaucracy, the state and its functions, is central to the bond between the structure of power and the division, namely the sexual division of labor and are therefore directly responsible for gender boundaries. With selective recruitment and promotion, these structures form an integrated mechanism of gender relations that result in exclusion of women from positions of authority and the subordination of the areas of work in which most are concentrated. The state also maintains power over gender structures in its control of various institutions and relations. Marriage and mothering are ways in which the state establishes and maintains a gender order. In its regulation of these two relations, the state is able to create and maintain such gender/social categories as husbands, wives, mothers, and homosexual. Through these administered identities, the state is able to determine and control gender structure through political policy, enforcement and manipulation of law.

Another frequently ignored yet equally important institution is that of the street. Mass culture and the various social interactions that take place within it. The street, though seemingly irrelevant at first, is very much a factor in determining the structure of gender. The street is full of varying levels of social relationships and serves as a rather insightful subject of examination. The role of a women is very much limited in the street. Most activities that take place in the street with a few exceptions include shopping, walking, and prostitution. Other than that, for the most part, the street is a setting for much intimidation of women. As a result of various threats, including vocal, physical harassment, and rape among others, the street is somewhat free of women during the night, although times are changing. Thus for the most part, the street is a male dominated and controlled environment. The street is also an environment of heavy advertising of in the form of billboards, posters and shop windows. The content of which is very sex typed. These advertisements, in their explicit dependency on sexuality as a tool for selling, often discredit women in their crude and superficial treatments of them. In doing so, women are poorly denied respect and intellectual worth. Yet expressions of sexuality are not limited to advertising in the streets. The styles of behavior expressed by people in their clothing, speech, and body movements speak a great deal of masculinity and femininity and further mark and display gender differences. The street is one of the great theaters of sexuality and styles of masculinity and femininity. The street therefore, in all its features, maintains a division of labor and structure of power, and is similar in many ways to the family and state as an institution. The working of the street in all its intricacies then help further shape and define gender structure in society.

Ultimately, it is three institutions that best help outline and determine the structure and working of gender within a society. Maintaining divisions of labor and power structures, all three serve as tremendous influences on its growth and dominance. Each serve to help determine trends in masculinity and femininity, and are key factors in the examination of gender.

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