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Gender and Sociology

Sociology 101
Our own understanding of gender most clearly comes from our
societys presentation of gender, gender roles, and gender stereotypes.

Sociology is an integral part of gender in how it relates to culture and the

social order. Social expectations influence those of gender and the reverse
can occur as gender roles change and diversify. Here, we examine gender as
it applies to the three basic theories of sociology: symbolic interaction,
functionalism, and social conflict.
When meeting another for the first time, a person can automatically
determine the others gender with a single glance or sentence. This is done
through subtle cues transferred through symbolic interaction. Many things
can serve as symbols, from physical traits to body language, tone, and more.
Physical traits are often be the most obvious indicator of gender, as both
boys and girls are given certain clothes, toys, etc. from the time they are
young. From infancy, parents dress their children in colors and styles that will
make their childs gender obvious; most notable is the trend of girls in pink
and boys in blue. Even babies dressed in gender-neutral clothing often have
some indication of their gender; girls can have earrings or headbands while
boys do not, and even diapers often indicate gender (Corrado, 2009).
Gender-typical dress tends to carry on throughout adolescence and
adulthood, as start girls wearing dresses and high heels while boys wear
suits and ties. Personality traits can also indicate a persons gender, although
these tend to be less clear than physical indicators. From childhood, boys are
often raised to be assertive and rambunctious while girls are taught to be
quiet and gentle (Giddens, Duneier, Appelbaum & Carr, 2011). Other traits
are also stereotypically feminine or masculine; for example, being

affectionate, compassionate, loyal, and soft-spoken are generally classified

as womens traits, whereas leadership, being competitive, individualistic, and
analytical are mens traits (Giddens, Duneier, Appelbaum & Carr, 2011).
Exhibiting such traits can be a symbol that indicates gender, along with more
obvious physical characteristics like dress, hairstyle, etc. Such symbols
contribute to the functioning of society by indicating a persons gender,
which can lead to predictions about their behavior, personality, and life
choices. All of this is processed in a single glance, making judgments clearer
when meeting someone new for the first time.
The functionalism theory can be applied by looking at gender divisions
and unions among young, elementary-age children. The social activity the
children are engaging in would be something simple, such as playing on a
school playground. Social structures are often divided by gender; from
preschool on, children tend to interact more with others of the same gender,
a tendency that increases throughout elementary school. Ratings of the
opposite gender also decrease during this time, and children become
increasingly negative toward the opposite gender (Lewis & Phillipsen, 1998).
The classroom or school is the social institution where children interact with
same- and opposite-gender peers. The manifest function of gender division
in schools is simply to separate the genders; since most children have
developed a disdain for the other gender by late kindergarten, they want to
be separated (Sparks, 2012). The latent function is a creation of two
separate cultures, that of boys and that of girls. This also can reinforce

gender stereotypes, as girls learn only what girls are supposed to do and
boys learn only what boys are supposed to do, with no mixing of gender
roles. This contributes to the functioning of society by creating gender
divisions between children that will carry on into their teen and adult years,
even when children begin to fully interact with the opposite gender (Sparks,
When considering the relation of genders within the social conflict
theory of sociology, it is obvious to almost anyone that males are the group
with much of the power while women considered weaker and less able.
These and other stereotypes can be partially explained by human evolution:
men mated with as many females as possible in order to ensure the
continuation of his genes, but did not contribute much to the raising of the
child, instead hunting, gathering, defending the women and children, etc.
Women, on the other hand, raised the children and learned to be gentle and
nurturing to them (Hopcroft 2009). Men tend to be domineering over women,
even thought they may not be trying to do so; experiments with mixed-sex
groups consistently show that women generally defer to men, while the
reverse does not occur (in single-sex groups, deference does not occur in
either males or females) (Hopcroft 2009). Gender roles contribute to the
functioning of society by determining how each gender is supposed to act
and what roles in life are appropriate for each gender. For example, men hold
the majority of leadership and management roles, as well as demanding
careers that require a lot of intelligence and effort, such as those in

engineering, the sciences, and technology development (Page, Bailey & Van
Delinder, 2009). This leaves women at a disadvantage in terms of career
advancement and wage earning (Sayer, 2005). These and other class
differentials, along with the gender stereotypes that promote weakness in
women and dominance by men, confirm that women are the less powerful
group. Many women seek to end this inequality; from long before the
landmark Nineteenth Amendment to womens mass migration into the
workforce in the 1960s and beyond, feminism has been on the rise. Women
desire equality in respect to men and are fighting to obtain it, while men
(and some conservative women) believe women should be subordinate to
men, causing tension between the genders (Gay, 2012).
Societys understanding of gender and the expectations and roles of
each gender have changed dramatically over the past century. Gender is
forever entwined with sociology, as sociology determines what society has
deemed normal and deviant behaviors, including those surrounding and
about each gender and the concept as a whole. As these sociological
perspectives continue to change and evolve, so will our understanding of
gender and its application to the theories of sociology.

Works Cited
Corrado, C. (2009). Gender identities and socialization. In J. O'Brien
(Ed.), Encyclopedia of Gender and Society (Vol. 1). Thousand Oaks, CA:
Sage Publications, Inc.
Gay, R. (2012). Bad feminist. Virginia Quarterly Review.
Giddens, A., Duneier, M., Appelbaum, R. P., & Carr, D. (2011). Gender
inequality. In K. Bakeman (Ed.),Essentials of Sociology (4 ed.). New
York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc.
Hopcroft, R. L. (2009). Gender inequality in interaction- an evolutionary
account. Informally published manuscript, University of North Carolina
at Charlotte, Charlotte, NC, Available from ERIC.
Lewis, T. E., & Phillipsen, L. C. (1998). Interactions on an elementary school
playground: Variations by age, gender, race, group size, and
playground area. Child Study Journal.
Page, M. C., Bailey, L. E., & Van Delinder, J. (2009). The blue blazer club:
Masculine hegemony in science, technology, engineering, and math
Sayer, L. C. (2005). Gender, time and inequality: Trends in women's and
men's paid work, unpaid work and free time. Informally published
manuscript, Ohio State University.

Sparks, S. D. (2012). Researchers cite social benefits in coed

classes. Education Week, 31(30).