Main Body

Chapter 12. Gender, Sex, and Sexuality

A child is shown from behind sitting on stairs looking into a room.
Figure 12.1. Some children may learn at an early age that their gender does not correspond with their sex. (Photo courtesy of trazomfreak/flickr)

Learning Objectives

12.1. The Difference between Sex, Gender and Sexuality

  • Define and differentiate between sex,  gender, and sexuality.
  • Analyze the relationship between society and biology in formations of gender identity.
  • Understand and discuss the role of homophobia and heterosexism in society.
  • Distinguish between transgendered, transsexual, intersexual, and homosexual identities.
  • Analyze the dominant gender schema and how it influences social perceptions of sex and gender.

12.2. Gender

  • Explain the influence of socialization on gender roles in Canada.
  • Understand the effect of gender inequality in major North American institutions.
  • Describe the functionalist, critical and symbolic interactionist perspectives on gender.

12.3. Sex and Sexuality

  • Understand different attitudes associated with sex and sexuality.
  • Define sexual inequality in various societies.
  • Describe the functionalist, critical, symbolic interactionist, and queer theory perspectives on sex and sexuality.

Introduction to Gender, Sex, and Sexuality

In 2009, the 18-year old South African athlete, Caster Semenya, won the women’s 800-meter
world championship in Track and Field. Her time of 1:55:45, a surprising improvement from her 2008
time of 2:08:00, caused officials from the International Association of Athletics Foundation (IAAF) to
question whether her win was legitimate. If this questioning were based on suspicion of steroid use, the
case would be no different from that of Roger Clemens or Mark McGuire, or even Track and Field
Olympic gold medal winner Marion Jones. But the questioning and eventual testing were based on
allegations that Caster Semenya, no matter what gender identity she possessed, was biologically a male.

You may be thinking that distinguishing biological maleness from biological femaleness is surely a
simple matter — just conduct some DNA or hormonal testing, throw in a physical examination, and
you’ll have the answer. But it is not that simple. Both biologically male and biologically female people
produce a certain amount of testosterone, and different laboratories have different testing methods,
which makes it difficult to set a specific threshold for the amount of male hormones produced by a
female that renders her sex male. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) criteria for determining
eligibility for sex-specific events are not intended to determine biological sex. “Instead these
regulations are designed to identify circumstances in which a particular athlete will not be eligible (by
reason of hormonal characteristics) to participate in the 2012 Olympic Games” in the female category
(International Olympic Committee, 2012).

To provide further context, during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, eight female athletes with XY
chromosomes underwent testing and were ultimately confirmed as eligible to compete as women
(Maugh, 2009). To date, no males have undergone this sort of testing. Does this not imply that when
women perform better than expected, they are “too masculine,” but when men perform well they are
simply superior athletes? Can you imagine Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man, being examined by
doctors to prove he was biologically male based solely on his appearance and athletic ability?
Can you explain how sex, sexuality, and gender are different from each other?

In this chapter, we will discuss the differences between sex and gender, along with issues like gender identity and sexuality. What does it mean to “have” a sex in our society? What does it mean to “have” a sexuality? We will also explore various theoretical perspectives on the subjects of gender and sexuality.

12.1. The Difference between Sex, Gender, and Sexuality

A man and woman are shown walking in the wind, man in front of woman.
Figure 12.2. While the biological differences between males and females are fairly straightforward, the social and cultural aspects of being a man or woman can be complicated. (Photo courtesy of FaceMePLS/flickr)

When filling out a document such as a job application or school registration form you are often asked to provide your name, address, phone number, birth date, and sex or gender. But have you ever been asked to provide your sex and your gender? As with most people, it may not have occurred to you that sex and gender are not the same. However, sociologists and most other social scientists view sex and gender as conceptually distinct. Sex refers to physical or physiological differences between males and females, including both primary sex characteristics (the reproductive system) and secondary characteristics such as height and muscularity. Gender is a term that refers to social or cultural distinctions and roles associated with being male or female. Gender identity is the extent to which one identifies as being either masculine or feminine (Diamond, 2002). As gender is such a primary dimension of identity, socialization, institutional participation, and life chances, sociologists refer to it as a core status.

The distinction between sex and gender is key to being able to examine gender and sexuality as social variables rather than biological variables. Contrary to the common way of thinking about it, gender is not determined by biology in any simple way. For example, the anthropologist Margaret Mead‛s cross cultural research in New Guinea, in the 1930s, was groundbreaking in its demonstration that cultures differ markedly in the ways that they perceive the gender “temperments” of men and women; i.e., their masculinity and femininity (Mead, 1963). Unlike the qualities that defined masculinity and femininity in North America at the time, she saw both genders among the Arapesh as sensitive, gentle, cooperative, and passive, whereas among the Mundugumor both genders were assertive, violent, jealous, and aggressive. Among the Tchambuli, she described male and female temperaments as the opposite of those observed in North America. The women appeared assertive, domineering, emotionally inexpressive, and managerial, while the men appeared emotionally dependent, fragile, and less responsible.

The experience of transgendered people also demonstrates that a person’s sex, as determined by his or her biology, does not always correspond with his or her gender. Therefore, the terms sex and gender are not interchangeable. A baby boy who is born with male genitalia will be identified as male. As he grows, however, he may identify with the feminine aspects of his culture. Since the term sex refers to biological or physical distinctions, characteristics of sex will not vary significantly between different human societies. For example, it is physiologically normal for persons of the female sex, regardless of culture, to eventually menstruate and develop breasts that can lactate. The signs and characteristics of gender, on the other hand, may vary greatly between different societies as Margaret Mead’s research noted. For example, in American culture, it is considered feminine (or a trait of the female gender) to wear a dress or skirt. However, in many Middle Eastern, Asian, and African cultures, dresses or skirts (often referred to as sarongs, robes, or gowns) can be considered masculine. The kilt worn by a Scottish male does not make him appear feminine in his culture.

A painting of a ceremonial dance
Figure 12.3. George Catlin (1796-1872), Dance to the Berdache. Caitlin’s sketch depicts a ceremonial dance among the Sac and Fox Indians to celebrate the two-spirit person. (Photo couresy of Wikimedia Commons).

The dichotomous view of gender (the notion that one is either male or female) is specific to certain cultures and is not universal. In some cultures, gender is viewed as fluid. In the past, some anthropologists used the term berdache or two spirit person to refer to individuals who occasionally or permanently dressed and lived as the opposite gender. The practice has been noted among certain Aboriginal groups  (Jacobs, Thomas, and Lang, 1997). Samoan culture accepts what they refer to as a “third gender.” Fa’afafine, which translates as “the way of the woman,” is a term used to describe individuals who are born biologically male but embody both masculine and feminine traits. Fa’afafines are considered an important part of Samoan culture. Individuals from other cultures may mislabel them as homosexuals because fa’afafines have a varied sexual life that may include men or women (Poasa, 1992).

Making Connections: Social Policy and Debate

The Legalese of Sex and Gender

The terms sex and gender have not always been differentiated in the English language. It was not until the 1950s that American and British psychologists and other professionals working with intersex and transsexual patients formally began distinguishing between sex and gender. Since then, psychological and physiological professionals have increasingly used the term gender (Moi, 2005). By the end of the 2oth century, expanding the proper usage of the term gender to everyday language became more challenging — particularly where legal language is concerned. In an effort to clarify usage of the terms sex and gender, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in a 1994 briefing, “The word gender has acquired the new and useful connotation of cultural or attitudinal characteristics (as opposed to physical characteristics) distinctive to the sexes. That is to say, gender is to sex as feminine is to female and masculine is to male” (J.E.B. v. Alabama, 144 S. Ct. 1436 [1994]). Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had a different take, however. Viewing the words as synonymous, she freely swapped them in her briefings so as to avoid having the word “sex” pop up too often. It is thought that her secretary supported this practice by suggestions to Ginsberg that “those nine men” (the other Supreme Court justices), “hear that word and their first association is not the way you want them to be thinking” (Case, 1995).

In Canada, there has not been the same formal deliberations on the legal meanings of sex and gender. The distinction between sex as a physiological attribute and gender as social attribute has been used without controversy. However, things can get a little tricky when biological “sex” is regarded as simply a natural fact, especially in the case of transsexuals (Cowan, 2005).  For example, in British Columbia, people who have surgery to change their anatomical sex can apply through the provisions of the Vital Statistics Act to have their birth certificate changed to reflect their post-operative sex. If a person was born male, does this mean that after surgery that person is fully regarded as a female in the eyes of the law? In the 2002 case of Nixon v. Vancouver Rape Relief Society, a male to female transsexual, Kimberly Nixon brought an application to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal that she had been discriminated against by the Vancouver Rape Relief Society (VRR) when her application to volunteer as a helper was rejected. The controversy was not over whether Kimberly was a woman, but whether she was woman enough for the position. VRR argued that as Kimberly had not grown up as a woman, she did not have the requisite lived experience as a woman in patriarchal society to counsel women rape victims. The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal ruled against VRR, finding that they had discriminated against Kimberly as a transsexual. The ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court of British Columbia, which argued that the Act ‘‘did not address all the potential legal consequences of sex reassignment surgery’’ (Cowan, 2005, p. 87). The court acknowledged that the meaning of both sex and gender vary in different contexts. The case is currently under appeal.

These legal issues reveal that even human experience that is assumed to be biological and personal (such as our self-perception and behaviour) is actually a socially defined variable by culture. The question of “what makes a woman” in the case of Nixon v. Vancouver Rape Relief Society is a matter of legal decision making as much as it is a matter of biology or lived experience.

Sexuality

Sexuality refers to a person’s capacity for sexual feelings and their emotional and sexual attraction to a particular sex (male or female). Sexuality or sexual orientation is typically divided into four categories: heterosexuality, the attraction to individuals of the opposite sex; homosexuality, the attraction to individuals of one’s own sex; bisexuality, the attraction to individuals of either sex; and asexuality, no attraction to either sex. Heterosexuals and homosexuals may also be referred to informally as “straight” and “gay,” respectively. North America is a heteronormative society, meaning it supports heterosexuality as the norm, (referred to as heteronormativity). Consider that homosexuals are often asked, “When did you know you were gay?” but heterosexuals are rarely asked, “When did you know that you were straight?” (Ryle, 2011).

According to current scientific understanding, individuals are usually aware of their sexual orientation between middle childhood and early adolescence (American Psychological Association, 2008). They do not have to participate in sexual activity to be aware of these emotional, romantic, and physical attractions; people can be celibate and still recognize their sexual orientation. Homosexual women (also referred to as lesbians), homosexual men (also referred to as gays), and bisexuals of both genders may have very different experiences of discovering and accepting their sexual orientation. At the point of puberty, some may be able to claim their sexual orientations while others may be unready or unwilling to make their homosexuality or bisexuality known since it goes against North American society’s historical norms (APA, 2008).

Alfred Kinsey was among the first to conceptualize sexuality as a continuum rather than a strict dichotomy of gay or straight. To classify this continuum of heterosexuality and homosexuality, Kinsey created a six-point rating scale that ranges from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual (see Figure 12.4). In his 1948 work Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, Kinsey writes, “Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats … The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects” (Kinsey et al, 1948).

A scale from 0-6 with 0 being exclusively heterosexual and 6 being exclusively homosexual.
Figure 12.4. The Kinsey scale indicates that sexuality can be measured by more than just heterosexuality and homosexuality.

Later scholarship by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick expanded on Kinsey’s notions. She coined the term “homosocial” to oppose “homosexual,” describing nonsexual same-sex relations. Sedgwick recognized that in North American culture, males are subject to a clear divide between the two sides of this continuum, whereas females enjoy more fluidity. This can be illustrated by the way women in Canada can express homosocial feelings (nonsexual regard for people of the same sex) through hugging, hand-holding, and physical closeness. In contrast, Canadian males refrain from these expressions since they violate the heteronormative expectation. While women experience a flexible norming of variations of behaviour that spans the heterosocial-homosocial spectrum, male behaviour is subject to strong social sanction if it veers into homosocial territory because of societal homophobia (Sedgwick, 1985).

There is no scientific consensus regarding the exact reasons why an individual holds a heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual orientation. There has been research conducted to study the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, but there has been no evidence that links sexual orientation to one factor (APA, 2008). Research, however, does present evidence showing that homosexuals and bisexuals are treated differently than heterosexuals in schools, the workplace, and the military. The 2009 Canadian Climate Survey reported that 59% of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered) high school students had been subject to verbal harassment at school compared to 7% of non-LGBT students; 25% had been subject to physical harassment compared to 8% of non-LGBT students; 31% had been subject to cyber-bullying (via internet or text messaging) compared to 8% of non-LGBT students; 73% felt unsafe at school compared to 20% of non-LGBT students; and 51% felt unaccepted at school compared to 19% of non-LGBT students (Taylor and Peter, 2011).

Much of this discrimination is based on stereotypes, misinformation, and homophobia  an extreme or irrational aversion to homosexuals. Major policies to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation have not come into effect until the last few years. In 2005, the federal government legalized same-sex marriage. The Civil Marriage Act now describes marriage in Canada in gender neutral terms: “Marriage, for civil purposes, is the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others” (Civil Marriage Act, S.C. 2005, c. 33). The Canadian Human Rights Act was amended in 1996 to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, including the unequal treatment of gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals. Organizations such as Egale Canada (Equality for Gays And Lesbians Everywhere) advocate for LGBT rights, establish gay pride organizations in Canadian communities, and promote gay-straight alliance support groups in schools. Advocacy agencies frequently use the acronym LGBTQ, which stands for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered,” and “queer” or “questioning.”

Gender Roles

As we grow, we learn how to behave from those around us. In this socialization process, children are introduced to certain roles that are typically linked to their biological sex. The term gender role refers to society’s concept of how men and women are expected to act and how they should behave. These roles are based on norms, or standards, created by society. In Canadian culture, masculine roles are usually associated with strength, aggression, and dominance, while feminine roles are usually associated with passivity, nurturing, and subordination. Role learning starts with socialization at birth. Even today, our society is quick to outfit male infants in blue and girls in pink, even applying these colour-coded gender labels while a baby is in the womb.

One way children learn gender roles is through play. Parents typically supply boys with trucks, toy guns, and superhero paraphernalia, which are active toys that promote motor skills, aggression, and solitary play. Girls are often given dolls and dress-up apparel that foster nurturing, social proximity, and role play. Studies have shown that children will most likely choose to play with “gender appropriate” toys (or same-gender toys) even when cross-gender toys are available because parents give children positive feedback (in the form of praise, involvement, and physical closeness) for gender-normative behaviour (Caldera, Huston, and O’Brien, 1998). See Chapter 5 (Socialization) for further elaboration on the socialization of gender roles.

A young boy sits on the shoulders of a man who holds him in place.
Figure 12.5. Fathers tend to be more involved when their sons engage in gender appropriate activities such as sports. (Photo courtesy of stephanski/flickr)

The drive to adhere to masculine and feminine gender roles continues later in life. Men tend to outnumber women in professions such as law enforcement, the military, and politics. Women tend to outnumber men in care-related occupations such as child care, health care, and social work. These occupational roles are examples of typical Canadian male and female behaviour, derived from our culture’s traditions. Adherence to these occupational gender roles demonstrates fulfillment of social expectations, but not necessarily personal preference (Diamond, 2002).

Gender Identity

Canadian society allows for some level of flexibility when it comes to acting out gender roles. To a certain extent, men can assume some feminine roles and characteristics and women can assume some masculine roles and characteristics without interfering with their gender identity. Gender identity is an individual’s self-conception of being male or female based on his or her association with masculine or feminine gender roles.

As opposed to cisgendered individuals, who identify their gender with the gender and sex they were assigned at birth, individuals who identify with the gender that is the opposite of their biological sex are transgendered. Transgendered males, for example, although assigned the sex ‘female’ at birth, have such a strong emotional and psychological connection to the forms of masculinity in society that they identify their gender as male. The parallel connection to femininity exists for transgendered females. It is difficult to determine the prevalence of transgenderism in society. Statistics Canada states that they have neither the definitive number of people whose sexual orientation is lesbian, gay, or bisexual, nor the number of people who are transgendered (Statistics Canada, 2011). However, it is estimated that 2 to 5% of the U.S. population is transgendered (Transgender Law and Policy Institute, 2007).

Transgendered individuals who wish to alter their bodies through medical interventions such as surgery and hormonal therapy — so that their physical being is better aligned with their gender identity — are called transsexuals. They may also be known as male-to-female (MTF) or female-to-male (FTM) transsexuals. Not all transgendered individuals choose to alter their bodies: many will maintain their original anatomy but may present themselves to society as the opposite gender. This is typically done by adopting the dress, hairstyle, mannerisms, or other characteristic typically assigned to the opposite gender. It is important to note that people who cross-dress, or wear clothing that is traditionally assigned to the opposite gender, are not necessarily transgendered. Cross-dressing is typically a form of self-expression, entertainment, or personal style, not necessarily an expression of gender identity (APA, 2008).

There is no single, conclusive explanation for why people are transgendered. Transgendered expressions and experiences are so diverse that it is difficult to identify their origin. Some hypotheses suggest biological factors such as genetics, or prenatal hormone levels, as well as social and cultural factors, such as childhood and adulthood experiences. Most experts believe that all of these factors contribute to a person’s gender identity (APA, 2008).

It is known that transgendered and transsexual individuals experience discrimination based on their gender identity. People who identify as transgendered are twice as likely to experience assault or discrimination as non-transgendered individuals; they are also one and a half times more likely to experience intimidation (National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 2010). Organizations such as the Canadian Professional Association for Transgender Health (CPATH), Trans Pulse, and the National Center for Trans Equality work to support and prevent, respond to, and end all types of violence against transgendered, transsexual, and homosexual individuals. These organizations hope that by educating the public about gender identity and empowering transgendered and transsexual individuals, this violence will end.

The Dominant Gender Schema

Chaz Bono in a suit and tie
Figure 12.6. Chaz Bono is the transgendered son of Cher and Sonny Bono. Being transgendered is not about clothing or hairstyles; it is about self-perception. (Photo courtesy of Greg Hernandez/flickr)

As sociological research points out, the naturalness with which one assumes a gender identity of being either masculine or feminine, or a sexual identity of being sexually attracted to either men or women, has a significant social component. Gender and sexual identities are deep identities in the sense that one does not seem to choose them. They seem to “come over” one, sometimes at a very early age, and thereafter appear for most people to be fixed. Nevertheless they are sustained by social norms and conventions. This social aspect of gender or sexual identity is revealed especially through the research tradition in sociology that focuses on those who break the rules of society. By studying those who break the rules, the rules themselves and what they entail become visible. In the study of gender and sexuality, the experience of intersexuals, transgendered individuals, transsexuals, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, fetishists, and sexual “perverts,” etc. are invaluable for understanding what it means to have a gender or a sexuality. These individuals make up a minority of the population, but their lives and struggles reveal the existence of the social norms and processes of which others are often unaware.

Part of having a sexuality or a gender has to do with the “naturalness” with which an individual assumes one of the most fundamental identities that define their place in the world. However, having a gender or sexual identity only appears natural to the degree that one fits within the dominant gender schema (Devor, 2000). The dominant gender schema is an ideology that, like all ideologies, serves to perpetuate inequalities in power and status. This schema states that: a) sex is a biological characteristic that produces only two options, male or female, and b) gender is a social or psychological characteristic that manifests or expresses biological sex. Again, only two options exist, masculine or feminine: “All persons are either one gender or the other. No person can be neither. No person can be both. No person can change gender without major medical intervention” (Devor, 2000).

For many people this is natural. It goes without saying. However, if one does not fit within the dominant gender schema, then the naturalness of one’s gender identity is thrown into question. This occurs, first of all, by the actions of external authorities and experts who define those who do not fit as either mistakes of nature or as products of failed socialization and individual psychopathology. Gender identity is also thrown into question by the actions of peers and family who respond with concern or censure when a girl is not feminine enough or a boy is not masculine enough. Moreover, the ones who do not fit also have questions. They may begin to wonder why the norms of society do not reflect their sense of self, and thus begin to feel at odds with the world.

As the capacity to differentiate between the genders is the basis of patriarchal relations of power that have existed for 6,000 years, the dominant gender schema is one of the fundamental organizing principles that maintains the dominant societal order. Nevertheless, it is only a schema: a cultural distinction that is imposed upon the diversity of world. With respect to the biology of gender and sexuality, Anne Fausto-Sterling (2000) argues that a body’s sex is too complex to fit within the obligatory dual sex system, and ultimately, the decision to label someone male or female is a social decision.

Fausto-Sterling’s research on hermaphrodite or intersex children — the 1.7% of children who are born with a mixture of male and female sexual organs — indicates that there are at least five different sexes:

  1. male;
  2. female;
  3. herms: true hermaphrodites with both male and female gonads (i.e., testes and ovaries);
  4. merms: male pseudo-hermaphrodites with testes and a mixture of sexual organs; and
  5. ferms: female pseudo-hermaphrodites with ovaries and a mixture of sexual organs.

Nevertheless, because assigning a sex identity is a fundamental cultural priority, doctors will typically decide “nature’s intention” with respect to intersex babies within 24 hours of an intersex child being born. Sometimes this decision involves surgery, which has scarred individuals for life (Fausto-Sterling, 2000).

Similarly, with respect to the variability of gender and sexuality, the experiences of gender and sexual outsiders — homosexuals, bisexuals, transsexuals, women who do not look or act “feminine” and men who do not look or act “masculine,” etc. — reveal the subtle dramaturgical order of social processes and negotiations through which all gender identity is sustained and recognized by others (refer to the dramaturgical analysis of Erving Goffmann from Chapter 22). Because we do not usually have the capacity to “look under the hood” to clinically determine the sex of someone we encounter, we read their gender from their “gender display”– their “conventionalized portrayals” of the “culturally established correlates of sex” (Goffman, 1977). Gender is a performance which is enhanced by props like clothing and hairstyle, or mannerisms like tone of voice, physical bearing, and facial expression.

For a movie star like Marilyn Munroe, the gender display is exaggerated almost to the point of self-satire, whereas for gender blending women — women who do not dress or look stereotypically like women — the gender display can be (unintentionally) ambiguous to the point where they are often mistaken for men (Devor, 2000). The signs of gender need to be communicated in an unambiguous manner for an individual to “pass” as a member of their assigned gender. This is often a problem for transgendered and transsexual individuals and the cause of considerable stress and anxiety.

Making Connections: Sociology in the Real World

Intersexed Individuals and the Case of John/Joan

Part of the rationale of using surgery to “correct” the sexual ambiguity of intersex children is the idea that not having a clear biological sex assignment will produce psychological pathology later in life. Secondly, the rationale is based on the idea that gender or sexual identity is fundamentally malleable (Fausto-Sterling, 2000). The practice is based on the logic of the nurture side of the long-standing debate about whether nature or nurture determines psycho-sexual development.

The nurture side argues that gender is neutral at birth and is subsequently moulded by sex assignation and child rearing (i.e., “environment”) into a stable gender identity as the child matures. This is the principle behind using surgery to modify indefinite sexual organs. It is understood that having an unambiguous penis or vagina is a clear symbolic marker of gender identity in ones relationship to self and others. Whereas gender formation during childhood is malleable, gender ambiguity later in life is pathological and therefore surgery at an early age is required to avoid psychosexual problems in teenage and adult life.

The nature side, on the other hand, argues that gender is not neutral at birth. Gender is predetermined by the in utero hormonal processes that lead to the sexual development of the foetus. Even in intersex children, there is a distinct psychosexual predisposition to one gender or the other. Early in foetal development hormones act directly to organize the brain along gender lines, and the release of hormones at puberty produce sex-specific characteristics and behaviours.

The life of David Reimer, known in the literature of the 1960s and 1970s as the John/Joan case, was used for many years as a demonstration of the validity of nurture arguments over nature arguments. In some respects it seemed like a perfect case to test the two propositions. David Reimer was born in Winnipeg, in 1965, as a male identical twin. However, as a result of a circumcision accident at age 7 months he lost his penis. Experts counseled that David should be surgically altered and raised as a girl. At age two David, known as “John” in the literature, had his testes removed and he became “Joan.” Her mother was cited in the literature as saying that Joan loved wearing dresses, hated getting dirty, and enjoyed having her hair set. As Joan’s biologically identical male twin continued to mature in a manner typical to boys, it seemed to demonstrate the dominant influence of gendered patterns of child-rearing on the formation of gender identity. Joan was being raised as a girl, her male sex organs had been surgically altered, and her transition from boy to girl seemed unproblematic. From the point of view of the nurture side of the debate, the case demonstrated that gender identity was primarily learned (Fausto-Sterling, 2000).

However, in 1980, a BBC documentary doing a follow up on the famous case discovered that by the time Joan was thirteen she was not well adjusted to her sex assignment (Fausto-Sterling, 2000). She peed standing up, walked like a boy, wanted to be a mechanic and thought boys had better lives than girls. Eventually it came out that she had eventually had her breasts removed, had a surgically reconstructed penis implanted, and had married a woman and was fathering his wife’s child. Contradicting the original findings, John/Joan’s mother reported that Joan had consistently resisted attempts to socialize her as a girl. Sadly, following a period of severe depression, David Reimer killed himself at the age of 38. The failure of the sex reassessment lent credence to the nature side of the debate. It seemed to demonstrate that humans are not psycho-sexually neutral at birth, but are biologically predisposed to behave in a male or female manner.

The literature is not conclusive. There have been other reports of individuals in similar circumstances rejecting their sex assignments but in the case of another Canadian child whose sex reassessment occurred at seven months, much earlier than David Reimer’s, gender identity was successfully changed (Bradley et. al., 1998). Nevertheless, while this subject identified as a female, she was a tomboy during childhood, worked in a blue-collar masculine trade, did have love affairs with men but at the time of the report was living as a lesbian. The authors argue that her gender identity was successfully changed through surgery and socialization, even if her gender role and sexual orientation were not.

Fausto-Sterling’s (2000) conclusion is that gender and sex are fundamentally complex and that it is not a simple question of either nurture or nature being the determinant factor. This complexity has practical implications for how to respond to the birth of intersex children. In particular, she outlines practical medical ethics for sexually ambiguous children:

  1. Let there be no unnecessary infant surgery: do no harm;
  2. Let physicians assign a provisional sex based on known probabilities of gender identity formation; and
  3. Provide full information and long-term counseling to the parents and child.

Fausto-Sterling argues that it is important to recognize the variability of sex and gender beyond the two-sex system.

12.2. Gender

Woman in 1950s or 1960s dress putting coffee on buffet in a formally set family dining room.
Figure 12.7. Traditional images of North American gender roles reinforce the idea that women should be subordinate to men. (Photo courtesy of Sport Suburban/Flickr)

Gender and Socialization

The organization of society is profoundly gendered, meaning that the “natural” distinction between male and female, and the attribution of different qualities to each, underlies institutional structures from the family, to the occupational structure, to the division between public and private, to access to power and beyond. Patriarchy is the set of institutional structures (like property rights, access to positions of power, and relationship to sources of income) which are based on the belief that men and women are dichotomous and unequal categories. How does the “naturalness” of the distinction between male and female get established? How does it serve to organize everyday life?

The phrase “boys will be boys” is often used to justify behaviour such as pushing, shoving, or other forms of aggression from young boys. The phrase implies that such behaviour is unchangeable and something that is part of a boy’s nature. Aggressive behaviour, when it does not inflict significant harm, is often accepted from boys and men because it is congruent with the cultural script for masculinity. The “script” written by society is in some ways similar to a script written by a playwright. Just as a playwright expects actors to adhere to a prescribed script, society expects women and men to behave according to the expectations of their respective gender role. Scripts are generally learned through a process known as socialization, which teaches people to behave according to social norms.

Socialization

Children learn at a young age that there are distinct expectations for boys and girls. Cross-cultural studies reveal that children are aware of gender roles by age two or three. At four or five, most children are firmly entrenched in culturally appropriate gender roles (Kane, 1996). Children acquire these roles through socialization, a process in which people learn to behave in a particular way as dictated by societal values, beliefs, and attitudes. For example, society often views riding a motorcycle as a masculine activity and, therefore, considers it to be part of the male gender role. Attitudes such as this are typically based on stereotypes — oversimplified notions about members of a group. Gender stereotyping involves overgeneralizing about the attitudes, traits, or behaviour patterns of women or men. For example, women may be thought of as too timid or weak to ride a motorcycle.

A woman riding a pink motorcycle.
Figure 12.8. Although our society may have a stereotype that associates motorcycles with men, female bikers demonstrate that a woman’s place extends far beyond the kitchen in modern Canada. (Photo courtesy of Robert Couse-Baker/Flickr)

Gender stereotypes form the basis of sexism. Sexism refers to prejudiced beliefs that value one sex over another. Sexism varies in its level of severity. In parts of the world where women are strongly undervalued, young girls may not be given the same access to nutrition, health care, and education as boys. Further, they will grow up believing that they deserve to be treated differently from boys (Thorne, 1993; UNICEF, 2007). While illegal in Canada when practised as discrimination, unequal treatment of women continues to pervade social life. It should be noted that discrimination based on sex occurs at both the micro- and macro-levels. Many sociologists focus on discrimination that is built into the social structure; this type of discrimination is known as institutional discrimination (Pincus, 2008).

Gender socialization occurs through four major agents of socialization: family, education, peer groups, and mass media. Each agent reinforces gender roles by creating and maintaining normative expectations for gender-specific behaviour. Exposure also occurs through secondary agents such as religion and the workplace. Repeated exposure to these agents over time leads men and women into a false sense that they are acting naturally rather than following a socially constructed role.

Family is the first agent of socialization. There is considerable evidence that parents socialize sons and daughters differently. Generally speaking, girls are given more latitude to step outside of their prescribed gender role (Coltrane and Adams, 2004; Kimmel, 2000; Raffaelli and Ontai, 2004). However, differential socialization typically results in greater privileges afforded to boys. For instance, sons are allowed more autonomy and independence at an earlier age than daughters. They may be given fewer restrictions on appropriate clothing, dating habits, or curfew. Sons are also often free from performing domestic duties such as cleaning or cooking, and other household tasks that are considered feminine. Daughters are limited by their expectation to be passive, nurturing, and generally obedient, and to assume many of the domestic responsibilities.

Even when parents set gender equality as a goal, there may be underlying indications of inequality. For example, when dividing up household chores, boys may be asked to take out the garbage or perform other tasks that require strength or toughness, while girls may be asked to fold laundry or perform duties that require neatness and care. It has been found that fathers are firmer in their expectations for gender conformity than are mothers, and their expectations are stronger for sons than they are for daughters (Kimmel, 2000). This is true in many types of activities, including preference of toys, play styles, discipline, chores, and personal achievements. As a result, boys tend to be particularly attuned to their father’s disapproval when engaging in an activity that might be considered feminine, like dancing or singing (Coltrane and Adams, 2008). It should be noted that parental socialization and normative expectations vary along lines of social class, race, and ethnicity. Research in the United States has shown that African American families, for instance, are more likely than Caucasians to model an egalitarian role structure for their children (Staples and Boulin Johnson, 2004).

The reinforcement of gender roles and stereotypes continues once a child reaches school age. Until very recently, schools were rather explicit in their efforts to stratify boys and girls. The first step toward stratification was segregation. Girls were encouraged to take home economics or humanities courses and boys to take shop, math, and science courses.

Studies suggest that gender socialization still occurs in schools today, perhaps in less obvious forms (Lips, 2004). Teachers may not even realize that they are acting in ways that reproduce gender-differentiated behaviour patterns. Yet, any time they ask students to arrange their seats or line up according to gender, teachers are asserting that boys and girls should be treated differently (Thorne, 1993).

Even in levels as low as kindergarten, schools subtly convey messages to girls indicating that they are less intelligent or less important than boys. For example, in a study involving teacher responses to male and female students, data indicated that teachers praised male students far more than their female counterparts. Additionally, teachers interrupted girls more and gave boys more opportunities to expand on their ideas (Sadker and Sadker, 1994). Further, in social as well as academic situations, teachers have traditionally positioned boys and girls oppositionally — reinforcing a sense of competition rather than collaboration (Thorne, 1993). Boys are also permitted a greater degree of freedom regarding rule-breaking or minor acts of deviance, whereas girls are expected to follow rules carefully and to adopt an obedient posture (Ready, 2001). Schools reinforce the polarization of gender roles and the age-old “battle of the sexes” by positioning girls and boys in competitive arrangements.

Mimicking the actions of significant others is the first step in the development of a separate sense of self (Mead, 1934). Like adults, children become agents who actively facilitate and apply normative gender expectations to those around them. When children do not conform to the appropriate gender role, they may face negative sanctions such as being criticized or marginalized by their peers. Though many of these sanctions are informal, they can be quite severe. For example, a girl who wishes to take karate class instead of dance lessons may be called a “tomboy” and face difficulty gaining acceptance from both male and female peer groups (Ready, 2001). Boys, especially, are subject to intense ridicule for gender nonconformity (Coltrane and Adams, 2008; Kimmel, 2000).

Mass media serves as another significant agent of gender socialization. In television and movies, women tend to have less significant roles and are often portrayed as wives or mothers. When women are given a lead role, they are often one of two extremes: a wholesome, saint-like figure or a malevolent, hypersexual figure (Etaugh and Bridges, 2003). This same inequality is pervasive in children’s movies (Smith, 2008). Research indicates that of the 101 top-grossing G-rated movies released between 1990 and 2005, three out of four characters were male. Out of those 101 movies, only seven were near being gender balanced, with a character ratio of less than 1.5 males per 1 female (Smith, 2008).

Television commercials and other forms of advertising also reinforce inequality and gender-based stereotypes. Women are almost exclusively present in ads promoting cooking, cleaning, or child care-related products (Davis, 1993). Think about the last time you saw a man star in a dishwasher or laundry detergent commercial. In general, women are underrepresented in roles that involve leadership, intelligence, or a balanced psyche. Of particular concern is the depiction of women in ways that are dehumanizing, especially in music videos. Even in mainstream advertising, however, themes intermingling violence and sexuality are quite common (Kilbourne, 2000).

Social Stratification and Inequality

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Figure 12.9. Emily Murphy (1868-1933) was the first female magistrate in Canada and the British Commonwealth. She was one of the “Famous Five” who challenged the law that women were not “persons” and therefore not eligible for appointment to the Canadian Senate. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

How do the distinctions between male and female, and the social attribution of different qualities to each, serve to organize our institutions (the family, occupational structure, and the public/private divide, etc.)? How do these distinctions organize differential access to rewards, privileges, and power? In society, how and why are women not treated as the equals of men?

Stratification refers to a system in which groups of people experience unequal access to basic, yet highly valuable, social resources. According to George Murdock’s classic work, Outline of World Cultures (1954), all societies classify work by gender. When a pattern appears in all societies, it is called a cultural universal. While the phenomenon of assigning work by gender is universal, its specifics are not. The same task is not assigned to either men or women worldwide. But the way each task’s associated gender is valued is notable. In Murdock’s examination of the division of labour among 324 societies around the world, he found that in nearly all cases the jobs assigned to men were given greater prestige (Murdock and White, 1969). Even if the job types were very similar and the differences slight, men’s work was still considered more vital.

Canadian society is also characterized by gender stratification. Evidence of gender stratification is especially keen within the economic realm. In Canada, women’s experience with wage labour includes unequal treatment in comparison to men in many respects:

  • Women continue to do more of the unpaid labour in the household — meal preparation and cleanup, childcare, elderly care, household management, and shopping — even if they have a job outside the home. In 2010, women spent an average 50 hours a week looking after children compared to 24.4 hours a week for men, 13.8 hours a week doing household work compared to 8.3 hours for men, and, of those caring for elderly family members, 49% of women spent more than 10 hours a week caring for a senior compared to 25% for men (Statistics Canada, 2011). This double duty keeps working women in a subordinate role in the family structure and prevents them from achieving the salaries of men in the paid workforce (Hochschild and Machung, 1989).
  • Women’s participation in the labour force has been increasing from 42% of women in 1976 to 58% of women in 2009 (Statistics Canada, 2011). Women now make up 48% of the total labour force (compared to 37% in 1976). They continue to dominate in “pink collar” occupations and part-time work, which are low paying, low status, often unskilled jobs that offer little possibility for advancement. In 2009, 67% of women still worked in traditionally “feminine” occupations like teaching, nursing, clerical, administrative or sales, and service jobs. 70% of part-time and 60% of minimum wage workers were women (Ferrao, 2010).
  • Despite women making up nearly half (48%) of payroll employment, men vastly outnumber them in authoritative, powerful, and, therefore, high-earning jobs (Statistics Canada, 2011). Women’s income for full-year, full-time workers has remained at 72% of the income of men since 1992. This in part reflects the fact that women are more likely than men to work in part time or temporary employment. The comparison of average hourly wage is better: Women earned 83% of men’s average hourly wage in 2008, up from 76% in 1988 (Statistics Canada, 2011). However, as one report noted, if the gender gap in wages continues to close at the same glacial rate, women will not earn the same as men until the year 2240 (McInturff, 2013).

The reason for the gender gap in wages is fourfold. Firstly, there is gender discrimination in hiring and salary. Women and men are often not rewarded equally for the same work despite the fact discrimination on the basis of sex is unconstitutional in Canada. Secondly, as we noted above, men and women tend to be concentrated in different types of work which are not equally paid. Often because of choices made in high school and postsecondary education, women are limited to pink collar types of occupation. Thirdly, the unequal distribution of domestic duties, especially child and elder care, women are unable to work the same number of hours as men and experience disruptions in their career path. Fourthly, the work typically done by women is arbitrarily undervalued with respect to the work typically performed by men. It is certainly questionable that early childhood education occupations dominated by women involve less skill, less training, or less significance to society than many trades dominated by men, but there is a clear disparity in wages between these typically gender segregated types of occupation.

Beyond the economic sphere, there has been a long history of power relations based on gender in Canada. When looking to the past, it would appear that society has made great strides in terms of abolishing some of the most blatant forms of gender inequality (see timeline below) but the underlying effects of male dominance still permeate many aspects of society. The issue remains especially pertinent with regard to political representation. As elected representatives, the ratio of women to men in federal parliament and provincial legislatures is about 1 in 4, or 25% (McInturff, 2013).

  • Before 1859 — Married women were not allowed to own or control property
  • Before 1909 — Abducting a woman who was not an heiress was not a crime
  • Before 1918 — Women were not permitted to vote (propertied women’s right to vote was taken away in New France in 1849)
  • Before 1929 — Women were not legally considered “persons”
  • Before 1953 — Employers could legally pay a woman less than a man for the same work
  • Before 1969 — Women did not have the right to a safe and legal abortion (Nellie McClung Foundation, N.d.)
A woman kneeling on bathroom floor scrubbing a toilet.
Figure 12.10. In some cultures, women do all of the household chores with no help from men, as doing housework is a sign of weakness which is considered by society as a feminine trait. (Photo courtesy of Evil Erin/Flickr)

Making Connections: Sociological Research

Is the Patriarchy Dead?

It is becoming more common to hear post-feminist arguments that in liberal democracies like Canada, the war against patriarchy (i.e., male rule) has more or less been won. The days in which women were not permitted to work or hold a credit card in their own name are over. Today women are working outside the home more than ever, they are narrowing the wage gap with men (albeit slowly), and they are surpassing men in getting university degrees. They are now as free as men to have a credit card and get into debt. These arguments are more complicated than the post-feminist slogan “patriarchy is dead” suggests, but it is clear that the question of gender inequality is more ambiguous than it once was.

Table 12.1. Women’s wages as a percentage of men’s in Canada, from 1988 to 2008.

[Skip Table]

Year Age Group
Total 25 to 29 30 to 34 35 to 39 40 to 44 45 to 49 50 to 54
1988 0.757 0.846 0.794 0.768 0.736 0.681 0.645
1993 0.794 0.905 0.886 0.772 0.762 0.700 0.709
1998 0.811 0.901 0.851 0.805 0.808 0.750 0.749
2003 0.825 0.920 0.868 0.843 0.804 0.768 0.771
2008 0.833 0.901 0.858 0.837 0.825 0.784 0.807
Change: 1988 to 2008 0.076 0.056 0.064 0.068 0.089 0.103 0.162

Source Statistics Canada, 2011.

As noted above, women’s annual income (for full-time employees) remains at 72% of that earned by men. However, this figure is misleading because it does not take into account that men on average work 3.7 hours more a week than women (Statistics Canada, 2011, p. 167). Table 12.1 (above) compares men’s and women’s hourly wage and shows that between 1988 and 2008, the wage gap has narrowed for each of the age groups. On average, women went from earning 76% of men’s hourly wage to 83%. Young women ages 25 to 29 now earn 90% of young men’s hourly wage. As the Statistics Canada report says, “younger women are more likely to have high levels of education, work full-time, and be employed in different types of jobs than their older female counterparts” (Statistics Canada, 2011), which accounts for the difference between the age groups.

However, is this a good news story? First, the difference between the 72% figure (gender difference in annual income) and the 83% figure (gender difference in hourly wage) reveals, for reasons which are unclear from the statistics, that women are not working in occupations that pay as well or offer as many hours of work per week as men’s occupations. Second, the gender gap is closing in large part because men’s wages have remained flat or decreased. In particular, young men who worked traditionally in high paying manufacturing jobs have seen declines in union coverage and real wages (Drolet, 2011, p. 8). Third, even though young women have higher levels of education than young men, and even though they choose to work in higher paying jobs in education and health than previous generations of women, they still earn 10% less per hour than young men. That is still a substantial difference in wages that is unaccounted for. Fourth, the real problem is that although men and women increasingly begin their careers on equal footing, by mid-career, when workers are beginning to maximize their earning potential, women fall behind and continue to do so into retirement. Why?

Theoretical Perspectives on Gender

Sociological theories serve to guide the research process and offer a means for interpreting research data and explaining social phenomena. For example, a sociologist interested in gender stratification in education may study why middle-school girls are more likely than their male counterparts to fall behind grade-level expectations in math and science. Another scholar might investigate why women are underrepresented in political office, while another might examine how women members of Parliament are treated by their male counterparts in meetings.

Structural Functionalism

Structural functionalism provided one of the most important perspectives of sociological research in the 20th century and has been a major influence on research in the social sciences, including gender studies. Viewing the family as the most integral component of society, assumptions about gender roles within marriage assume a prominent place in this perspective.

Functionalists argue that gender roles were established well before the preindustrial era when men typically took care of responsibilities outside of the home, such as hunting, and women typically took care of the domestic responsibilities in or around the home. These roles were considered functional because women were often limited by the physical restraints of pregnancy and nursing, and unable to leave the home for long periods of time. Once established, these roles were passed on to subsequent generations since they served as an effective means of keeping the family system functioning properly.

When changes occurred in the social and economic climate of Canada during World War II, changes in the family structure also occurred. Many women had to assume the role of breadwinner (or modern hunter and gatherer) alongside their domestic role in order to stabilize a rapidly changing society. When the men returned from war and wanted to reclaim their jobs, society fell into a state of imbalance, as many women did not want to forfeit their wage-earning positions (Hawke, 2007).

Talcott Parsons (1943) argued that the contradiction between occupational roles and kinship roles of men and women in North America created tension or strain on individuals as they tried to adapt to the conflicting norms or requirements. The division of traditional middle-class gender roles within the family — the husband as breadwinner and wife as homemaker — was functional for him because the roles were complementary. They enabled a clear division of labour between spouses, which ensured that the ongoing functional needs of the family were being met. Within the North American kinship system, wives’ and husbands’ roles were equally valued according to Parsons. However, within the occupational system, only the husband’s role as breadwinner was valued. There was an “asymmetrical relation of the marriage pair to the occupational structure” (p. 191). Being barred from the occupational system meant that women had to find a functional equivalent to their husbands’ occupational status to demonstrate their “fundamental equality” to their husbands. As a result, Parson theorized that these tensions would lead women to become expressive specialists in order to claim prestige (e.g., showing “good taste” in appearance, household furnishings, literature, and music), while men would remain instrumental or technical specialists and become culturally narrow. He also proposed that the instability of women’s roles in this system would lead to excesses like neurosis, compulsive domesticity, garishness in taste, disproportionate attachment to community or club activities, and the “glamour girl” pattern: “the use of specifically feminine devices as an instrument of compulsive search for power and exclusive attention” (p. 194).

Critical Sociology

According to critical sociology, society is structured by relations of power and domination among social groups (e.g., women versus men) that determine access to scarce resources. When sociologists examine gender from this perspective, we can view men as the dominant group and women as the subordinate group. According to critical sociology, social problems and contradictions are created when dominant groups exploit or oppress subordinate groups. Consider the women’s suffrage movement or the debate over women’s “right to choose” their reproductive futures. It is difficult for women to rise above men, as dominant group members create the rules for success and opportunity in society (Farrington and Chertok, 1993).

Friedrich Engels, a German sociologist, studied family structure and gender roles in the 1880s. Engels suggested that the same owner-worker relationship seen in the labour force is also seen in the household, with women assuming the role of the proletariat. Women are therefore doubly exploited in capitalist society, both when they work outside the home and when they work within the home. This is due to women’s dependence on men for the attainment of wages, which is even worse for women who are entirely dependent upon their spouses for economic support. Contemporary critical sociologists suggest that when women become wage earners, they can gain power in the family structure and create more democratic arrangements in the home, although they may still carry the majority of the domestic burden, as noted earlier (Risman and Johnson-Sumerford, 1998).

Feminist Theory

Feminist theory is a type of critical sociology that examines inequalities in gender-related issues. It also uses the critical approach to examine the maintenance of gender roles and inequalities. Radical feminism, in particular, considers the role of the family in perpetuating male dominance. In patriarchal societies, men’s contributions are seen as more valuable than those of women. Women are essentially the property of men. Through the feminist struggles for women’s emancipation in post-feudal modern society, the property relationship has been formally eliminated. Nevertheless, women still tend to be relegated to the private sphere, where domestic roles define their primary status identity. Whereas men’s roles and primary status is defined by their activities in the public or occupational sphere.

As a result, women often perceive a disconnect between their personal experiences and the way the world is represented by society as a whole. Dorothy Smith referred to this phenomenon as bifurcated consciousness (Smith, 1987). There is a division between the directly lived, bodily experience of women’s worlds (e.g., their responsibilities for looking after children, aging parents, and household tasks) and the dominant, abstract, institutional world to which they must adapt (the work and administrative world of bureaucratic rules, documents, and cold, calculative reasoning). There are two modes of knowing, experiencing, and acting that are directly at odds with one another (Smith, 2008). Patriarchal perspectives and arrangements, widespread and taken for granted, are built into the relations of ruling. As a result, not only do women find it difficult to find their experiences acknowledged in the wider patriarchal culture, their viewpoints also tend to be silenced or marginalized to the point of being discredited or considered invalid.

Sanday’s study of the Indonesian Minangkabau (2004) revealed that in societies that some consider to be matriarchies (where women are the dominant group), women and men tend to work cooperatively rather than competitively, regardless of whether a job is considered feminine by North American standards. The men, however, do not experience the sense of bifurcated consciousness under this social structure that modern Canadian females encounter (Sanday, 2004).

Symbolic Interactionism

Symbolic interactionism aims to understand human behaviour by analyzing the critical role of symbols in human interaction. This is certainly relevant to the discussion of masculinity and femininity. Imagine that you walk into a bank, hoping to get a small loan for school, a home, or a small business venture. If you meet with a male loan officer, you may state your case logically by listing all of the hard numbers that make you a qualified applicant as a means of appealing to the analytical characteristics associated with masculinity. If you meet with a female loan officer, you may make an emotional appeal by stating your good intentions as a means of appealing to the caring characteristics associated with femininity.

Because the meanings attached to symbols are socially created and not natural, and fluid, not static, we act and react to symbols based on the current assigned meaning. The word gay, for example, once meant “cheerful,” but by the 1960s it carried the primary meaning of “homosexual.” In transition, it was even known to mean “careless” or “bright and showing” (Oxford American Dictionary, 2010). Furthermore, the word gay (as it refers to a homosexual) carried a somewhat negative and unfavourable meaning 50 years ago, but has since gained more neutral and even positive connotations.

These shifts in symbolic meaning apply to family structure as well. In 1976, when only 27.6% of married women with preschool-aged children were part of the paid workforce, a working mother was still considered an anomaly and there was a general view that women who worked were “selfish” and not good mothers. Today, a majority of women with preschool-aged children are part of the paid workforce (66.5%), and a working mother is viewed as more normal (Statistics Canada, 2011).

Sociologist Charles H. Cooley’s concept of the “looking-glass self” (1902) can also be applied to interactionist gender studies. Cooley suggests that one’s determination of self is based mainly on the view of society (for instance, if society perceives a man as masculine, then that man will perceive himself as masculine). When people perform tasks or possess characteristics based on the gender role assigned to them, they are said to be doing gender (West and Zimmerman, 1987). Whether we are expressing our masculinity or femininity, West and Zimmerman argue, we are always “doing gender.” Thus, gender is something we do or perform, not something we are.

Making Connections: Sociological Research

Being Male, Being Female, and Being Healthy

In 1971, Broverman and Broverman conducted a groundbreaking study on the traits mental health workers ascribed to males and females. When asked to name the characteristics of a female, the list featured words such as unaggressive, gentle, emotional, tactful, less logical, not ambitious, dependent, passive, and neat. The list of male characteristics featured words such as aggressive, rough, unemotional, blunt, logical, direct, active, and sloppy (Seem and Clark, 2006). Later, when asked to describe the characteristics of a healthy person (not gender specific), the list was nearly identical to that of a male.

This study uncovered the general assumption that being female is associated with being somewhat unhealthy or not of sound mind. This concept seems extremely dated, but in 2006, Seem and Clark replicated the study and found similar results. Again, the characteristics associated with a healthy male were very similar to that of a healthy (genderless) adult. The list of characteristics associated with being female broadened somewhat but did not show significant change from the original study (Seem and Clark, 2006). This interpretation of feminine characteristics may help us one day to better understand gender disparities in certain illnesses, such as why one in eight women can be expected to develop clinical depression in her lifetime (National Institute of Mental Health 1999). Perhaps these diagnoses are not just a reflection of women’s health, but also a reflection of society’s labeling of female characteristics, or the result of institutionalized sexism.

12.3. Sex and Sexuality

A bride and groom holding hands walking through a park.
Figure 12.11. Sexual practices can differ greatly among groups. Recent trends reveal that married couples have sex more frequently than do singles, and that 27% of married couples in their 30s have sex at least twice a week (NSSHB, 2010). (Photo courtesy of epSos.de/Flickr)

Sexual Attitudes and Practices

In the area of sexuality, sociologists focus their attention on sexual attitudes and practices, not on physiology or anatomy. As noted above, sexuality is viewed as a person’s capacity for sexual feelings and the orientation of those feelings. Studying sexual attitudes and practices is a particularly interesting field of sociology because sexual behaviour is a cultural universal. Throughout time and place, the vast majority of human beings have participated in sexual relationships (Broude, 2003). Each society, however, interprets sexuality and sexual activity in different ways. Many societies around the world have different attitudes about premarital sex, the age of sexual consent, homosexuality, masturbation, and other sexual behaviours that are not consistent with universally cultural norms (Widmer, Treas, and Newcomb, 1998). At the same time, sociologists have learned that certain norms (like the disapproval of incest) are shared among most societies. Likewise, societies generally have norms that reinforce their accepted social system of sexuality.

What is considered “normal” in terms of sexual behaviour is based on the mores and values of the society. Societies that value monogamy, for example, would likely oppose extramarital sex. Individuals are socialized to sexual attitudes by their family, education system, peers, media, and religion. Historically, religion has been the greatest influence on sexual behaviour in most societies, but in more recent years, peers and the media have emerged as two of the strongest influences — particularly with North American teens (Potard, Courtois, and Rusch, 2008). Let us take a closer look at sexual attitudes in Canada and around the world.

Sexuality around the World

Cross-national research on sexual attitudes in industrialized nations reveals that normative standards differ across the world. For example, several studies have shown that Scandinavian students are more tolerant of premarital sex than are North American students (Grose, 2007). A study of 37 countries reported that non-Western societies — like China, Iran, and India — valued chastity highly in a potential mate, while Western European countries — such as France, the Netherlands, and Sweden — placed little value on prior sexual experiences (Buss, 1989).

Even among Western cultures, attitudes can differ. For example, according to a 33,590-person survey across 24 countries, 89% of Swedes responded that there is nothing wrong with premarital sex, while only 42% of Irish responded this way. From the same study, 93% of Filipinos responded that sex before age 16 is always wrong or almost always wrong, while only 75% of Russians responded this way (Widmer, Treas, and Newcomb, 1998). Sexual attitudes can also vary within a country. For instance, 45% of Spaniards responded that homosexuality is always wrong, while 42% responded that it is never wrong; only 13% responded somewhere in the middle (Widmer, Treas, and Newcomb, 1998).

Of industrialized nations, Sweden is thought to be the most liberal when it comes to attitudes about sex, including sexual practices and sexual openness. The country has very few regulations on sexual images in the media, and sex education, which starts around age six, is a compulsory part of Swedish school curricula. Sweden’s permissive approach to sex has helped the country avoid some of the major social problems associated with sex. For example, rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease are among the world’s lowest (Grose, 2007). It would appear that Sweden is a model for the benefits of sexual freedom and frankness. However, implementing Swedish ideals and policies regarding sexuality in other, more politically conservative, nations would likely be met with resistance.

Sexuality in Canada

Canada is often considered to be conservative and “stodgy” compared to the United States, which prides itself on being the land of the “free.” However, the United States is much more restrictive when it comes to its citizens’ general attitudes about sex. In the 1998 international survey noted above, 12% of Canadians stated that premarital sex is always wrong, compared to 29% of Americans. The average among the 24 countries surveyed on this question was 17%. Compared to 71% of Americans, 55% of Canadians condemned sex before the age of 16 years, 68% compared to 80% (U.S.) condemned extramarital sex, and 39% compared to 70% (U.S.) condemned homosexuality (Widmer, Treas, and Newcomb, 1998). A 2013 international study showed that to the question “Should society accept homosexuality?” 80% of Canadians said “yes” compared to 14% who said “no.” Whereas, in the United States 60% said “yes” and 33% said “no” (Pew Research Center, 2013).

North American culture is particularly restrictive in its attitudes about sex when it comes to women and sexuality. It is widely believed that men are more sexual than women. In fact, there is a popular notion that men think about sex every seven seconds. Research, however, suggests that men think about sex an average of 19 times per day, compared to 10 times per day for women (Fisher, Moore, and Pittenger, 2011).

The belief that men have — or have the right to — more sexual urges than women creates a double standard. Ira Reiss, a pioneer researcher in the field of sexual studies, defined the double standard as prohibiting premarital sexual intercourse for women but allowing it for men (Reiss, 1960). This standard has evolved into allowing women to engage in premarital sex only within committed love relationships, but allowing men to engage in sexual relationships with as many partners as they wish without condition (Milhausen and Herold, 1999). Due to this double standard, a woman is likely to have fewer sexual partners in her lifetime than a man. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 2011 survey, the average 35-year-old woman has had three opposite-sex sexual partners while the average 35-year-old man has had twice as many (Centers for Disease Control, 2011). In a study of 1,479 Canadians over the age of 18, men had had an average of 11.25 sexual partners over their lifetime whereas women had an average of 4 (Fischtein, Herold, and Desmarais, 2007).

Making Connections: Big Picture

The History of Homosexuality: Making Up People?

A drawing of two men kissing
Figure 12.12. Two men in Florence kissing. Bartolomeo Cesi, 1600. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

One of the principal insights of contemporary sociology is that a focus on the social construction of different social experiences and problems leads to alternative ways of understanding them and responding to them. The sociologist often confronts a legacy of entrenched beliefs concerning innate biological disposition, or the individual psychopathology of persons who are considered abnormal. The sexual or gender “deviant” is a primary example. However, as Ian Hacking (2006) observes, even when these beliefs about kinds of persons are products of objective scientific classification, the institutional context of science and expert knowledge is not independent of societal norms, beliefs, and practices. The process of classifying kinds of people is a social process that Hacking calls “making up people” and Howard Becker (1963) calls “labeling.”

A homosexual was first defined as a kind of person in the 19th century: the sexual “invert.” This definition was “scientific,” but in no way independent of the cultural norms and prejudices of the times. The idea that homosexuals were characterized by an internal, deviant “inversion” of sexual instincts depended on the new scientific disciplines of biology and psychiatry (Foucault, 1980). The homosexual’s deviance was defined first by the idea that heterosexuality was biologically natural (and therefore “normal”) and second by the idea that, psychologically, sexual preference defined every aspect of the personality. Within the emerging field of psychiatry, it was possible to speak of an inverted personality because a lesbian woman who did not play the “proper” passive sexual role of her gender was masculine. A gay man who did not play his “proper” active sexual role was effeminate. After centuries during which an individual’s sexual preference was largely a matter of public indifference, in the 19th century, the problem of sexuality suddenly emerged as a biological, social, psychological, and moral concern.

The new definitions of homosexuality and sexual inversion led to a series of social anxieties that ranged from a threat to the propagation of the human species, to the perceived need to “correct” sexual deviation through psychiatric and medical treatments. The powerful normative constraints that emerged based largely on the 19th century scientific distinction between natural and unnatural forms of sexuality lead to the legacy of closeted sexuality and homophobic violence that remains to this day. Nevertheless, they depend on the concept of the homosexual as a specific kind of person.

As Hacking (2006) points out, the category of classification, or the label that defines different kinds of people, actually influences their behaviour and self-understanding. It is a “self-fulfilling prophecy” (see Chapter 22). They begin to experience the world and live in society in a different manner than they did previously. Ironically, the gay rights movement has built on the same biological and psychiatric definitions of the homosexual as a kind of person so to reverse the negative consequences of homophobic culture. Redefining the meaning of being a homosexual type of person advances the social acceptance of gays and lesbians. To some degree the gay rights movement has accepted the idea of the homosexual as a kind of person, and they have self-identified as such, but the outcome of this relabeling has not yet completely reversed the negative connotations of being gay.

Sociological Perspectives on Sex and Sexuality

Sociologists representing all three major theoretical perspectives study the role that sexuality plays in social life today. Scholars recognize that sexuality continues to be an important factor in social hierarchies and relations of power and that the manner in which sexuality is constructed has a significant effect on perceptions, interactions, health, and outcomes.

Structural Functionalism

When it comes to sexuality, functionalists stress the importance of regulating sexual behaviour to ensure marital cohesion and family stability. Since functionalists identify the family unit as the most integral component in society, they maintain a strict focus on it at all times and argue in favour of social arrangements that promote and ensure family preservation.

Functionalists such as Talcott Parsons (1955) have long argued that the regulation of sexual activity is an important function of the family. Social norms surrounding family life have, traditionally, encouraged sexual activity within the family unit (marriage) and have discouraged activity outside of it (premarital and extramarital sex). From a functionalist point of view, the purpose of encouraging sexual activity in the confines of marriage is to intensify the bond between spouses and to ensure that procreation occurs within a stable, legally recognized relationship. This structure gives offspring the best possible chance for appropriate socialization and the provision of basic resources.

From a functionalist standpoint, homosexuality poses a potential dysfunction in terms of both the procreative role of the family and the unifying myths that the traditional family provides.  Strictly speaking, homosexual couples cannot have children together so, for them at least, procreation would cease. (It is of course not the case that homosexuals are unable to marry or procreate with members of the opposite sex as this has occurred throughout history). Similarly, the deep connection — between the traditional family form, religion, cultural practices and beliefs — provides a unifying force of social cohesion that gay marriage threatens. Thus, homosexuality disrupts the existing functional order. The functions of the traditional family structure need to be served or satisfied by different family structures for a working social equilibrium to be restored. This analysis suggests that sociologists need to examine new structural forms that provide the functional equivalents of traditional marriage structures: the increasing legal acceptance of same-sex marriage; the emergence of new narratives about what makes a marriage legitimate (e.g., the  universality of the “love bond” rather than the rites of tradition); and the rise in gay and lesbian couples who choose to bear and raise children through a variety of available resources.

Critical Sociology

From a critical perspective, sexuality is another area in which power differentials are present and where dominant groups actively work to promote their worldview as well as their economic interests. Homosexuality was criminalized in Canada in 1841. At the time of Confederation in 1867, sodomy was prohibited, and in 1890 the Canadian Criminal Code made “acts of gross indecency” between men illegal. Acts of “gross indecency” between women were not prohibited until 1953. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, homosexuals were even treated as national security risks; hundreds of gays and lesbians lost their civil service jobs or were purged from the military, and thousands were kept under surveillance (Kinsman, 2000).

It was not until 1969 that the Criminal Code was amended to relax the laws against homosexuality. As then Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau said in 1967 when the amendments were introduced, “Take this thing on homosexuality. I think the view we take here is that there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation. I think that what’s done in private between adults doesn’t concern the Criminal Code. When it becomes public this is a different matter, or when it relates to minors this is a different matter” (CBC, 2012). It was not until 2005 that same-sex couples were given the right to marry. Critical sociology asks why homosexuality, and other types of sexuality, have been the subject of persecution by the dominant sexual majority.

From a critical sociology point of view, a key dimension of social inequality based on sexuality has to do with the concept of “sexuality” itself. Sexuality is caught up in the relationship between knowledge and power. As we noted above, the homosexual was first defined as a “kind of person”  in the 19th century: the sexual “invert.” This definition was “scientific,” (at least in terms of the science of the time), but it was in no way independent of the cultural norms and prejudices of 19th century society. It was also not independent of the modern expansion of what Michel Foucault calls “micro-powers” over an increasing range of facets of the life of individuals. The early biologists, medical scientists, and psychologists viewed “sexuality” as a hidden agency that defined the viability of an individual’s personality, and posed a threat at various levels to the survival and health of the population. Abnormal sexuality was associated with mental disease, threats to institutional stability, and biological pathologies within the reproduction of the species. The idea that there was a division between healthy normal sexualities and dangerous deviant sexualities — a division that required the expertise of the medical and psychological establishment to diagnose and determine — became a kind of “Trojan horse” in which the problem of sexuality entered into people’s lives. As a public concern, sexuality became a danger to be controlled, surveilled, corrected, and in the worst cases, institutionalized. As Foucault (1980) describes, the sexual lives of children, “perverts,” married couples and the population as a whole became increasingly subject to interventions by doctors, psychiatrists, police, government administrators, moral crusaders, and families.

Part of the power issue involved in having a sexuality or a gender therefore has to do with the normality of one’s sexual identity and who determines what is normal or not. The norms defined by social custom, moral tradition, and scientific knowledge determine the degree of ease in which we can live within our own bodies and assume gender and sexual identities. As we noted above, having a gender or sexual identity is only experienced as normal or natural to the degree that one fits within the dominant gender schema — the ideological framework that states that there are only two possible sexes, male and female, and two possible genders, masculine and feminine. Sexuality is a component of the dominant gender schema in as far as — in heteronormative society — to be male is to be attracted to females and to be female is to be attracted to males. The dominant gender schema therefore provides the basis for the ways inequalities in power and status are distributed according to the degree that individuals conform to its narrow categories.

In contrast, Devor (2000) argues:

we live in a world which is far more diverse than any number of simplistic dichotomies can describe. I have become convinced that not only can men and women live in bodies of any sex, but that we, as a society, go against reality when we insist that there are only two genders, only two sexes, and only slight variations on two basic sexualities. I have learned from speaking with transgendered and transsexed people that we diminish ourselves as a society by failing to avail ourselves of the special gifts and lessons we can receive from the transgendered, transsexed and intermediately sexed people among us.

Symbolic Interactionism

Interactionists focus on the meanings associated with sexuality and with sexual orientation. Since femininity is devalued in North American society, those who adopt such traits are subject to ridicule; this is especially true for boys or men. Just as masculinity is the symbolic norm, so too has heterosexuality come to signify normalcy.

The experiences of gender and sexual outsiders — homosexuals, bisexuals, transsexuals, women who do not look or act “feminine,” men who do not look or act “masculine,” etc. — reveal the subtle dramaturgical order of social processes and negotiations through which all gender identity is sustained and recognized by others. From a symbolic interactionist perspective, “passing” as a “normal” heterosexual depends on one’s sexual cues and props being received and interpreted by others as passable.

The coming-out process of homosexuals is described by Vivienne Cass as a series of social stages that the individual is obliged to negotiate with others (Devor, 1997): first, a period of identity confusion in which the person attempts to deny or resist the growing suspicion that he or she is homosexual; second, a period of identity comparison in which the person examines the series of available identity options to see which one explains his or her sense of self best; third, a period of identity tolerance in which the person recognizes “I probably am gay” and seeks out more information and contacts; fourth, a period of identity acceptance in which the person carefully manages sexual information or claims public acknowledgment of his or her sexual identity; fifth, a period of identity pride in which the person identifies strongly with his or her reference group and minimizes the value of others; and sixth, a period of identity synthesis in which the person’s sexuality is naturalized, becoming “no big deal.” Of course the transition between these stages is not predetermined, and it is possible to remain stuck in one stage or even to go backwards. For the homosexual, these transitions are fraught with difficulty.

To what degree does the same process apply to heterosexuals? Although the idea of coming out as a heterosexual, or as a masculine man or a feminine woman, might seem absurd, this absurdity is grounded in the norms of heteronormative society that are so deeply entrenched as to make them appear natural. The social processes of acquiring a gender and sexual identity, or of “having” a gender or a sexuality, are essentially the same; yet, the degree to which society accepts the resulting identities is what differs.

Interactionists are also interested in how discussions of homosexuals often focus almost exclusively on the sex lives of gays and lesbians; homosexuals, especially men, may be assumed to be hypersexual and, in some cases, deviant. Interactionism might also focus on the slurs used to describe homosexuals. Labels such as “queen” and “fag” are often used to demean homosexual men by feminizing them. This subsequently affects how homosexuals perceive themselves. Recall Cooley’s “looking-glass self,” which suggests that self develops as a result of one’s interpretation and evaluation of the responses of others (Cooley, 1902). Constant exposure to derogatory labels, jokes, and pervasive homophobia would lead to a negative self-image, or worse, self-hate. The CDC reports that homosexual youths who experience high levels of social rejection are six times more likely to have high levels of depression and eight times more likely to have attempted suicide (CDC, 2011).

Queer Theory

Queer theory is a perspective that problematizes the manner in which we have been taught to think about sexual orientation. By calling their discipline “queer,” these scholars are rejecting the effects of labelling; instead, they embrace the word “queer” and have reclaimed it for their own purposes. Queer theorists reject the dominant gender schema and the dichotomization of sexual orientations into two mutually exclusive outcomes, homosexual or heterosexual. Rather, the perspective highlights the need for a more flexible and fluid conceptualization of sexuality — one that allows for change, negotiation, and freedom. The current schema used to classify individuals as either “heterosexual” or “homosexual” pits one orientation against the other. This mirrors other oppressive schemas in our culture, especially those surrounding gender and race (Black versus White, male versus female).

Queer theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick argued against North American society’s monolithic definition of sexuality — against its reduction to a single factor: the sex of one’s desired partner. Sedgwick identified dozens of other ways in which people’s sexualities were different, such as:

  • Even identical genital acts mean very different things to different people.
  • Sexuality makes up a large share of the self-perceived identity of some people, a small share of others.
  • Some people spend a lot of time thinking about sex, others little.
  • Some people like to have a lot of sex, others little or none.
  • Many people have their richest mental/emotional involvement with sexual acts that they do not do, or do not even want to do
  • Some people like spontaneous sexual scenes, others like highly scripted ones, others like spontaneous-sounding ones that are nonetheless totally predictable.
  • Some people, whether homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual, experience their sexuality as deeply embedded in a matrix of gender meanings and gender differentials. Others of each sexuality do not. (Sedgwick, 1990)

In the end, queer theory strives to question the ways society perceives and experiences sex, gender, and sexuality, opening the door to new scholarly understanding.

Throughout this chapter, we have examined the complexities of gender, sex, and sexuality. Differentiating between sex, gender, and sexual orientation is an important first step to a deeper understanding and critical analysis of these issues. Understanding the sociology of sex, gender, and sexuality will help to build awareness of the inequalities experienced by subordinate groups such as women, homosexuals, and transgendered individuals.

Key Terms

bifurcated consciousness: The experience of a division between the directly lived, bodily world of women’s lives and the dominant, masculine, abstract, institutional world to which they must adapt.

cisgendered: A term that refers to individuals whose gender identity matches the gender and sex they were assigned at birth

doing gender: When people perform tasks based upon the gender assigned to them by society.

dominant gender schema: An ideological framework that states that there are only two possible sexes, male and female, and two possible genders, masculine and feminine.

double standard: A concept that prohibits premarital sexual intercourse for women, but allows it for men.

gender: A term that refers to social or cultural distinctions of behaviours that are considered male or female.

gender identity: An individual’s sense of being either masculine or feminine.

gender role: Society’s concept of how men and women should behave.

heteronormativity: The belief and practice that heterosexuality is the only normal sexual orientation.

homophobia: An extreme or irrational aversion to homosexuals.

intersex:  Individuals with a mixture of male and female sexual organs or physical characteristics.

queer theory: A scholarly discipline that questions fixed (normative) definitions of gender and sexuality.

sex: A term that denotes the presence of physical or physiological differences between males and females.

sexism: The prejudiced belief that one sex should be valued over another.

sexuality: A person’s capacity for sexual feelings and the orientation of their emotional and sexual attraction to a particular sex (male or female).

transgendered: A term that refers to individuals who identify with the behaviours and characteristics that are the opposite of their biological sex.

transsexuals: Transgendered individuals who alter their bodies through medical interventions such as surgery and hormonal therapy.

Section Summary

12.1. The Difference between Sex, Gender, and Sexuality
The terms “sex” and “gender” refer to two different identifiers. Sex denotes biological characteristics differentiating males and females, while gender denotes social and cultural characteristics of masculine and feminine behaviour. Sex and gender are not always synchronous. Individuals who strongly identify with the opposing gender are considered transgendered.

12.2. Gender
Children become aware of gender roles in their earliest years. They come to understand and perform these roles through socialization, which occurs through four major agents: family, education, peer groups, and mass media. Socialization into narrowly prescribed gender roles results in the stratification of males and females. Each sociological perspective offers a valuable view for understanding how and why gender inequality occurs in our society.

12.3. Sex and Sexuality
When studying sex and sexuality, sociologists focus their attention on sexual attitudes and practices, not on physiology or anatomy. Norms regarding gender and sexuality vary across cultures. In general, Canada tends to be less conservative than the United States in its sexual attitudes. As a result, homosexuals still continue to face opposition and discrimination in most major social institutions, but discrimination based on sexual orientation is legally prohibited in the Canadian constitution. Gays and lesbians are able to get married in Canada, and school boards across the country have instituted anti-bullying policies to prevent the targeting of LGBT students.

Section Quiz

12.1. The Difference between Sex, Gender, and Sexuality
1. The terms “masculine” and “feminine” refer to a person’s _________.

  1. Sex
  2. Gender
  3. Both sex and gender
  4. None of the above

2. _______ is/are an individual’s self-conception of being male or female based on his or her association with masculine or feminine gender roles.

  1. Gender identity
  2. Gender bias
  3. Sexual orientation
  4. Sexual attitudes

3. Research indicates that individuals are aware of their sexual orientation ___________________.

  1. At infancy
  2. In early adolescence
  3. In early adulthood
  4. In late adulthood

4. A person who is biologically female but identifies with the male gender and has undergone surgery to alter her body is considered _____________________.

  1. Transgendered
  2. Transsexual
  3. A cross-dresser
  4. Homosexual

5. Which of following is correct regarding the explanation for transgenderism?

  1. It is strictly biological and associated with chemical imbalances in the brain.
  2. It is a behaviour that is learned through socializing with other transgendered individuals.
  3. It is genetic and usually skips one generation.
  4. Currently, there is no definitive explanation for transgenderism.

12.2. Gender
6. Which of the following is the best example of a gender stereotype?

  1. Women are typically shorter than men.
  2. Men do not live as long as women.
  3. Women tend to be overly emotional, while men tend to be level-headed.
  4. Men hold more high-earning, leadership jobs than women.

7. Which of the following is the best example of the role peers play as an agent of socialization for school-aged children?

  1. Children can act however they wish around their peers because children are unaware of gender roles.
  2. Peers serve as a support system for children who wish to act outside of their assigned gender roles.
  3. Peers tend to reinforce gender roles by criticizing and marginalizing those who behave outside of their assigned roles.
  4. None of the above.

8. To which theoretical perspective does the following statement most likely apply: Women continue to assume the responsibility in the household along with a paid occupation because it keeps the household running smoothly (i.e., in a state of balance)?

  1. Conflict theory
  2. Functionalism
  3. Feminist theory
  4. Symbolic interactionism

9. Only women are affected by gender stratification.

  1. True
  2. False

10. According to the symbolic interactionist perspective, we “do gender” _____________________.

  1. During half of our activities
  2. Only when it applies to our biological sex
  3. Only if we are actively following gender roles
  4. All of the time, in everything we do

12.3. Sex and Sexuality
11. What Western country is thought to be the most liberal in its attitudes toward sex?

  1. United States
  2. Sweden
  3. Mexico
  4. Ireland

12. Compared to most Western societies, U.S. sexual attitudes are considered _____________.

  1. Conservative
  2. Liberal
  3. Permissive
  4. Free

13. Sociologists associate sexuality with _______________________.

  1. Heterosexuality
  2. Homosexuality
  3. Biological factors
  4. A person’s capacity for sexual feelings

14. Which theoretical perspective stresses the importance of regulating sexual behaviour to ensure marital cohesion and family stability?

  1. Functionalism
  2. Conflict theory
  3. Symbolic interactionalism
  4. Queer theory

[Quiz answers at end of chapter]

Short Answer

12.1. The Difference between Sex, Gender, and Sexuality

  1. Why do sociologists find it important to differentiate between sex and gender? What importance does the differentiation have in modern society?
  2. How is children’s play influenced by gender roles? Think back to your childhood. How “gendered” were the toys and activities available to you? Do you remember gender expectations being conveyed through the approval or disapproval of your playtime choices?

12.2. Gender

  1. In what way do parents treat sons and daughters differently? How do sons and daughters typically respond to this treatment?
  2. What can be done to lessen the effects of gender stratification in the workplace? How does gender stratification harm both men and women?

12.3. Sex and Sexuality

  1. Identify three examples of how Canadian society is heteronormative.
  2. Consider the types of derogatory labelling that sociologists study and explain how these might apply to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Further Research

12.1. The Difference between Sex, Gender, and Sexuality
For more information on gender identity and advocacy for transgendered individuals see the Global Action for Trans Equality website: http://openstaxcollege.org/l/trans_equality.

12.2. Gender
For more gender-related statistics, see the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at http://www.cdc.gov/ and browse through to pictures like “gender and education” and “gender and health.” (Include quotation marks when searching.)

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Solutions to Section Quiz

1 B, | 2 A, | 3 B, | 4 B, | 5 D, | 6 C, | 7 C, | 8 B, | 9 B, | 10 D, | 11 B, | 12 A, | 13 D, | 14 A, [Return to Quiz]

Image Attributions

Figure 12.3. Dance to the Berdache by George Catlin (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Catlin_-_Dance_to_the_berdache.jpg) is in the public domain (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Public_domain)

Figure 12.8. Pink by Robert Couse Baker (https://www.flickr.com/photos/29233640@N07/3951652557/in/gallery-42031937@N04-72157623838686839/) used under CC BY 2.0 license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

Figure 12.9. Emily Murphy. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:EmilyMurphy.jpg)

Figure 12.12. Two men in Florence kissing. Bartolomeo Cesi, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Twoflorencemenkiss.jpg)

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Chapter 12. Gender, Sex, and Sexuality by William Little is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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