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Sociology of Gender Midterm II

The Gender Trap


From Emily Kanes book, The Gender Trap, we have come to learn that all
parents do fall into the gender trap. The gender trap, as explained by Kane
(2012), is unavoidable because gender is deep-seated in our society. That
leads us to attribute our thoughts and views of gender norms to nature,
failing to see it as a social construct being played out in an interlinked
structure.

The gender trap is seen as an issue because gendered parenting


emphasizes gender differences, which causes ongoing ramifications in
gender inequality at large. Kane (2012) argues that it is the continuing
relevance of gender as a social structure that limits opportunity, restricts
individual potential, and distributes social resources unequally (4). Women
are therefore subjected to subservience, be it at school or at work. Men are
also put at a disadvantage, as they are faced with the pressured
expectations of masculinity. Goffman (1997) describes these gender
outcomes as genderism. He argues that genderism reproduces the views
that gender lies in a clear dichotomy, leading it to the differentiation of
expectations for each gender line men to be seen as strong and women to
be understood as weak (325).

Kane (2012) categorized the parents that she had interviewed for the book
into five categories that had different characteristics and beliefs. The first
two she introduced were the Naturalizers and the Cultivators. Generally, the
Naturalizers steer their children towards gender normative behavior. They

Sociology of Gender Midterm II


understood the social costs of gender non-conforming behavior, and hence
discouraged such acts. When their children do start behaving according to
gender norms the parents would encourage such acts, and they saw it as
natural behavior in other words, they understood gender structures as
biological. As for the Cultivators, they too, encouraged gender normative
behavior. They viewed gendered upbringing as a responsibility and played a
more active role than Naturalizers did in their nurturing. They had the view
that social interactions had a strong influence in their childrens gendered
upbringing, and also believing that they had a large role to play toward
steering their children along gender lines. These two groups reflect
institutional reflexivity because the parents played an active role in
encouraging gender normative behavior. These parents constantly reproduce
and reinforce gender lines in their interaction with their children, causing
their children to form distinct beliefs and understandings of gender.

The third category of parents was known as the Refiners. These parents were
less keen on gender typing, and they try to broaden opportunities for their
children by allowing for activities that gender boundaries would usually limit.
This could be seen in the example of one of the parents in the Refiner
category, Lisa. In addition to buying gender typical toys such as toy trucks
for her boys, she encourages them to learn nurturing skills by also buying
dolls for them. She also allows her two boys to play with her makeup, and
she also told them that it is typically for girls but she is fine with it. As seen in
that example, refiners try to avoid doing gender for their children, striving
for gender neutrality. They adopt the mindset of following the lead as their

Sociology of Gender Midterm II


children grow. They took into account interactional and social forces as an
explanation when gendered behavior arose. But when their child adopts
gender normative behavior despite the gender resistant parenting, these
parents account for it with biological determinism. One good example in the
book of a parent that reproduced and resisted normative gender is the story
of Ben. A part of Bens house was under construction, during which he
shared a conversation with a construction worker named Fred. Bens son
Jacob, walks around the house in a princess dress, and this act was
questioned by Fred. Ben was thus faced with the issue of accountability, and
hence had to make up a joke that it is early training to become docile for his
sons wife. From this example, we can see that Ben displays gender
resistance in his parenting as he allowed for his son to play with dresses.
However, within the same setting, the reproduction of gender was acted
upon due to the accountability to others in society.

The fourth group of parents is the Innovators. This group of parents strongly
believed that they could nurture their children with gender non-conformity.
Anthony, one of the parents in the Innovators who has two sons and a
daughter, promotes gender neutrality by introducing toys such as play
kitchens and work benches to all his kids. He also allows for gender typical
behavior, but is careful to not assume gender typical activities for them. In
Anthonys case, he also ensures that his children do not fall under social
influences in gender categorization Anthony corrected his young son when
he recognized Barbie dolls as girl toys. Miriam is another parent categorized
under Innovators. She displayed gender resistance with little care for

Sociology of Gender Midterm II


accountability in many instances when carrying out activities with her
children. This is especially evident in how she voiced out for her boys during
their time in Plaster Creations, as one of their staff did not give the boys the
choice of having sparkles on their artwork. Despite the many aspects that
the Innovators have acted upon to avoid the gender trap, they still do fall
into it. Their lack of concern for accountability actually blinds them from the
understanding that individual decisions in upbringing their children gender
neutral does incur social costs. They are limited in their understanding, as
they do not see how gender is embedded in society on different levels in a
larger structure beyond the household.

Resisters, on the other hand, felt a great sense of accountability to others.


They were the most positive about gender-neutrality, occasionally producing
gender resistant parenting. They were sensitive to hegemonic masculinity,
and had a strong understanding of its prevalence in society. Resisters also
identified social and institutional forces as influential sources that may affect
their children. Knowing the many sources of influences, resisters tend to be
more guarded in the way they parent their children. One of the parents,
Sena, got extremely concerned when her daughter became too vain and
concerned about looks. She understood interactional and institutional forces
and also acknowledged that individualistic pressures on her daughter to be
non-conforming only had a limited effect. Sena also encourages her daughter
Lily to take on sports, making sure that she does not gender-categorize
sports. However, going back to the concern of accountability, Sena was
careful not to push gender boundaries too much. Another aspect of

Sociology of Gender Midterm II


accountability was that of gay parents. They were cautious not to push
gender atypical behavior because they felt the pressure of scrutiny because
of their homosexuality. It is because many Resisters themselves understood
intersectionality, in race, class or sexuality, they were conscious of the views
that others would have of them. However, the Resisters still fell into the
gender trap. They were very positive about social change, and believed that
they could create changes by their own display as well as how they taught
their children to resist gender. Their downfall was their confidence in their
capacity to create change, especially for those who had privilege in class and
race if they could not produce the differences they wanted to see in their
children, they accounted it to biology.

In conclusion, the gender trap is one that is inevitable despite the changes
that the different groups of parents try to create. They need to understand
that gender is socially constructed, and that biology only accounts for
minimal difference. Also, it is important for them to understand that the
binary system of gender is built up on the individual, interactional and
institutional level. This means that to create changes, all levels must be
challenged and it is beyond the control of just one agent of change in society.

Sociology of Gender Midterm II


Hegemonic Masculinity and the Fag Discourse
Hegemonic masculinity is understood as the socially dominant form of
masculinity, and is viewed as the most valued form of social construction. It
is defined by two features the exclusion of femininity and the rejection of
homosexuality leading to the emphasis of heterosexuality. Pascoe (2012)
identifies and describes concepts of masculinity in her book Dude, Youre a
Fag, and we learn about how masculinity is reenacted in high schools in
America in current times.

Pascoe (2012) carried out her research stint in a working-class suburban high
school in north central California, under the pseudonym of River High School.
It was there that she observed that white high school boys used the term
fag very loosely and frequently. The word fag was traditionally used to
describe a homosexual or gay male. However, by todays terms, fag
encompasses descriptions of guys that did not display masculinity. The
failure to display masculinity is a fear shared by many high school boys and
hence, they regulate their own behavior to ensure that they do not fall into
fag behavior. The deliberate and conscious act of doing so became what is
known as the fag discourse. This arose because boys were afraid of being
labeled as a fag to avoid it they directed the term to other boys by pointing
out any behavior that may be seen as less masculine. This led to the term
being regarded as a hot potato. The insult was thrown around these boys
and this caused the boys to constantly police each others behavior. The
definition of fag therefore included many behaviors: being incompetent,
revealing too much emotion, or even being conscious of clothing were some

Sociology of Gender Midterm II


of them. Interestingly, being homosexual did not mean that those guys were
effeminate. As such, the use of the word fag had a shift of meaning entirely.
One extreme case was that of Ricky, an effeminate and homosexual boy in
school. Because he had broken both rules of hegemonic masculinity, he
was subjected to constant insults and acts of bullying.

The term fag did not have the same effect for African Americans. The term
fag was largely used by white guys, but the characteristics in which they
had defined for that term did not have the same meaning for African
American boys. African American men have a different set of expectations of
masculinity, due to their hypersexualization in America. The two main
aspects that would have been seen as unmasculine in white guys but not in
African Americans is in the increased focus given to clothes and dancing. A
well-dressed African American who was good at hip-hop was thus highly
regarded. On the other hand, white boys were conscious as to avoid being
conscious of their appearance, and dancing was seen as extremely feminine.
The fag discourse, however, denoted a harsher tone when used by African
American boys. Pascoe observed this in an occurrence whereby Kevin, an
African American boy, used the term faggot in a confrontation. Kevin was
then faced with punishment from the school authorities. Pascoe concluded
from this observation that teachers were more intentional in their
punishment when dealing with African Americans.

Compulsive heterosexuality was identified as another aspect of masculinity


in River High. It is understood as a display of heterosexual domination of

Sociology of Gender Midterm II


men over women. It also caused some competitiveness in these guys in their
display of compulsive sexuality by comparing their sexual conquests. It
highlights the male dominance and the female subservience in the
description of their acts. Pascoe views it as the high school boys way to act
out their will onto girls, therefore highlighting their control over them. It was
seen as an achievement, as a conquest that they aimed to win. It also
therefore became a form of peer pressure, and boys will constantly try to
report to each other about their sexual achievements.
Another aspect of compulsive heterosexuality could be seen in the gendered
rituals of touch. Girls had a larger boundary that was accepted when it came
to touching each other from hugging to linking hands. Boys did not have
that freedom when it came to same-sex touching, only for instances such as
sports. Cross-sex touching, however, showed other intentions. It displayed an
act of male dominance over girls who were deemed as submissive in these
gendered rituals of touch. Touching could begin as flirtatious and escalate to
violent interactions whereby the guy exerted his strength onto the girl. It
reflected the constructed idea that men had access to women despite
womens rejection. However, it has been observed that when these touching
acts had been ritualized, mens concept of dominance becomes increasingly
empowered. Another observation is that girls in high school actually actively
contribute to boys compulsive heterosexuality. It may seem that it is to their
disadvantage. However, because of how male dominance is celebrated in
this context, being seen as weak would actually increase their status as girls.
These girls would exaggerate their physical weakness and highlight their

Sociology of Gender Midterm II


sexual availability, displaying the concept of female submissiveness to fuel
compulsive heterosexuality.

Hegemonic masculinity in high school can henceforth be seen as a display of


masculine and heterosexual behavior. It is constantly reproduced and
supported by both boys and girls, and hence they do not see it as an issue. It
is a form of accountability that they have to accomplish, especially when
they are in a group as they are accountable to each other for their behavior.
This constant reenactment of hegemonic masculinity in a group mutually
reinforces their views of dominance over women, which could potentially
lead to inhumane crimes such as gang rape.