Gender and the Patriarchy


Chapter 3 in Difference Matters is all about gender. It covers a lot of territory, but starts by trying to distinguish gender from sex.

What is your sex? What is your gender? Do you think of them as two different ways to say the same thing about yourself Although many people use the terms interchangeably, gender and sex are distinct though related facets of identity. Sex is a biological classification. Humans universally tend to label a newborn as either “female” or “male.” They designate a baby’s sex based on
physiological features related to reproduction, including external genitalia, internal sex organs, chromosomes, and hormones. This classification system reflects an essentialist view that stable, innate differences exist between the two sexes. This logic supports the idea that females and males are polar opposites, and that they serve different, complementary roles in society, which leads us to the concept of gender. Gender classifications are based on a “web of socially constructed meanings that differentiate humans on the basis of perceived physical, social, and psychological characteristics.” Those classifications depend on societal views of relationships of female to woman and male to man. Thus, gender refers to cultural norms of femininity and masculinity. In current popular usage, the word gender encompasses both biological and sociocultural aspects of identity, while sex generally means sexual intercourse.

Allen, Brenda J. (2010-07-01). Difference Matters: Communicating Social Identity (Page 42). Waveland Pr Inc. Kindle Edition.

While the above gives us a good distinction between gender and sex, I did find myself reacting to part of the definition — the mention of “polar opposites”. Just like I disagreed with the concept of power including superior/inferior in our culture. I disagree with her use of “polar opposites” to describe male and female, though I do agree to the complementary roles. One of the weaknesses of the author’s logic so far seems to be this use system of dividing things into two and then making them opposites.

She says gender matters because it is a social construct built around our sex. These constructs create differences that affect the quality of life for each of us.

In the U.S. she says the ideology of patriarchy, or “rule by fathers” is the defining element of gender dynamics.

Patriarchy refers to the “structural dominance of men that is built into the institutions of society.” Patriarchal societies enact a hierarchy of gender in which “men as a category have systematic advantages over women whether men
desire these advantages or not.” In other words, most men enjoy masculine privilege. Moreover, due to persistent power relations, women and men reproduce and reinforce this gender hierarchy.

Allen, Brenda J. (2010-07-01). Difference Matters: Communicating Social Identity (Page 44). Waveland Pr Inc. Kindle Edition.

Note that the claim is made that all men have privilege, not that all men desire the privilege.

In explanation of how this was reinforced, she talks about  the “ideology of separate spheres”, the idea that women confined themselves to the private life of the home while men worked in the business world. Personally, I doubt this was ever the true idea in the U.S.

I agree with the separate spheres idea, but not in the way she presents it. Men handled business so women could handle society. A woman’s work was essential for the higher level businessman. He couldn’t be a success without a successful wife (for a light cultural study of this, watch the show “Bewitched” from the 1960s and 70s).

Also the separate spheres idea was more about the type of work, than that women didn’t work. Women in the middle-class farming communities worked alongside their husbands, as well as providing teachers and other professions necessary to maintain society. A form of segregation, yes, but women were always seen as an essential part of the workforce, with the word work loosely defined.  It took until after World War II for a certain level of affluence to remove middle-class women from the workforce.

When she gets to her section of gender and divisions of labor, she hits several themes that are common to people today: That some fields are dominated by men and some by women; and that there is a pay inequality between men and women. The conclusions are that the inequalities are solely because of the gender difference, and should be remediated.

But a couple of her statements point to elements that show more than what she is saying is actually going on. Sex segregation is the extent to which men or women congregate in certain careers. Traditionally female careers seem to be valued less. But jobs also change from one to the other, seemingly from male to female, and when they do, their perceived value always seems to go down. See her comments below:

Close inspection of sex segregation patterns reveals the influence of patriarchy. When the sex segregation of an occupation changes, it usually shifts from male to female domination rather than vice versa. For instance, men used to dominate clerking positions and elementary school teaching. Usually a job is resegregated from male to female domination due to a shortage of male workers. Men tend to leave jobs that have become less attractive due to decreased prestige, pay, or other job rewards. As women assume those jobs, the occupation often becomes less valued, thereby reinforcing the gender hierarchy.

Allen, Brenda J. (2010-07-01). Difference Matters: Communicating Social Identity (Page 48). Waveland Pr Inc. Kindle Edition.

But no study or comment is given as to why men are attracted to jobs with increased prestige, pay and other rewards. On the other hand, why do most women seem drawn to fields that have less of these quantities? Doubtless there is a gender issue involved, but is it necessarily discrimination against women and for men, i.e. patriarchy?

I found this blog that  put forward a very compelling suggestion for closing the gender pay gap, but I am not certain that the solution is one that most people would appreciate — because it basically says to get rid of marriage. How does marriage promote the pay gap? Do people just pay married men more than unmarried men? This blog writer says it goes back further than that:

What we need to do is remove the powerful incentives men and boys perceive to being the family breadwinner.  These incentives are the root cause of men choosing harder but higher paying majors, accepting a longer commute, working longer hours, choosing a more demanding or even dangerous work environment, etc.

The root cause of the pay differential is men putting themselves and their own convenience aside, choosing more personal sacrifice, specifically to earn more to be able to provide for others. Women are allowed to choose more comfortable careers because they don’t have that same drive to provide. Patriarchy it might be, but patriarchy of responsibility.

I will now take a turn off the last topic to talk about communication and gender. As I read the author’s comments about communications, it makes me wonder which gender I am supposed to be. I agree that I use the “masculine” trait of imparting knowledge more often than imparting relational cues. But I tend to be more collegial and less assertive with my comments, which apparently courts the “feminine” side of communication, attempting to create rapport. In particular, by acknowledgement of other’s contributions is highly feminine. Apparently men should only toot their own horn, not toot it for others.

There is a lot more to the chapter, but that is the part I found most interesting to comment on here.


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