Select Page

This past week we have been focusing on gender. Gender is a fundamental social division. All around us we see differences between men and women (and girls and boys). The way they dress. The activities they engage in. What they say. What they want out of life. We see gender differences in the college classroom — who tends to major in what subjects? We see gender differences at the workplace — who tends to hold positions of power and authority? We see gender differences in the home — who tends to do the majority of housework? These social arrangements, which create and sustain gender differences, end up having powerful effects on the lifestyles and life chances of individuals.ESSAY TOPICAre we ever not doing gender? From the moment we wake up until we go to bed, it seems like we are constantly doing gender. For this essay, I want you to walk me through a small segment of your day (when you wake up, when you walk to class, when you eat lunch, when you shop, when you drive or ride the bus, when you go out on a date, when you attend religious ceremonies, when you watch movies with friends, etc). Do not describe your whole day, but rather, choose some small segment (a strip) of your life to describe. During that small segment of your day, in what ways are you doing gender? How are you displaying your gendered identity? Given the situation you find yourself in, how are you conforming — or not — to gendered expectations of behavior? As you write up your response, please reference and integrate into your essay the reading by West and Zimmerman “Doing Gender” and/or Judith Lorber’s “Night to His Day”Your finished essays must be 500-600 words in total.


Don't use plagiarized sources. Get Your Custom Essay on
Essay on Doing Gender
Just from $10/Page
Order Essay

Unformatted Attachment Preview

5 Lorber! “Night to His Day”
“Night to His Day”:
The Social Construction of Gender
Judith Lorber .
Talking about gender for most people is the equivalent of fish talking about water.
Cender is so much the routine ground of everyday activities that questioning its
taken-far-granted assumptions and presuppositions is like thinking about whether
the sun will come up.1 Cender is so pervasive that in our society we assume it is
bred into our genes. Most people find it hard to believe that gender is constantly
created and re-created out of human interaction, out of social life, and is the texture
and order of that social life. Yet gender, like culture, is a human production that de­
pends on everyone constantly “doing gender” (West and ‘Zimmerman 1987)
An~ everyone “does gender” without thinking about it. Today, on the subway, I
saw a well-dressed man with a year-old child in a stroller. Yesterday, on a bus, I saw
a man with a tiny baby ina carrier on his chest. Seeing men taking care of small
children in public is increasircgly common-at least in New York City. But both
men were quite obviously stared at-and smiled at, approvingly. Everyone was
doing gender-the men who were changing the role of fathers and the other pas­
sengers, who were applauding them silently. But there was more gendering going
on that probably fewer people noticed. The baby was wearing a white crocheted
cap and white clothes. You couldn’t tell if it was a boy or a girl. The child in the
stroller was wearing a dark blue T-shirt and dark print pants. As they started to
leave the train, the father put a Yankee baseball cap 011 the child’s head. Ah, a boy,
I thought. Then I noticed the gleam of tiny earrings in the child’s ears, and as they
got off, I saw the little flowered sneakers and lace-trimmed socks. Not a boy after
all. Cender done.
Cender is such a familiar part of daily life that it usually takes a deliberate dis­
ruption of our expectations of how women and men are supposed to act to pay at­
tention to how it is produced. Cender signs and signals are so ubiquitous that we
usually fail to note them-unless they are missing or ambiguous. Then we are un­
comfortable until we have successfully placed the other person in a gender status;
otherwise, we feel socially dislocated….
From” ‘Night to His Day’: The Social ComtLlction of Gender,” in Paradoxes
Copyright 1994. Reprinted by permission of Yale University Press.
or Gender, pp. 13-36.
For the individual, gender construction starts with assignment to a sex categorYI
on the basis of what the genitalia look like at birth Z Then babies are dressed orl
adorned in a way that displays !Iw category because parents don’t want to be con-,
stantly askee; whether their baby IS a girl or a boy. A sex category becomes a gender
status through naming, dress, and the use of other gender markers. Once a child’s
gender is evident, others treat those in one gender differently from those in the
other, and the children respond to the different treatment by feeling different and
behaving differently. As soon as they can talk, they start to refer to themselves as
members of their gender. Sex doesn’t corne into play again until puberty, but by
that time, sexual feelings and desires and practices have been shaped by gendered
norms and expectations. Adolescent boys and girls approach and avoid each other
in an elaborately scripted and gendered mating dance. Parenting is gendered, with
different expectations for mothers and for fathers, and people of different genders
work at different kinds of jobs. The work adults do as mothers ar;,1 fathers and as
low-level workers and high-level bosses, shapes women’s and men’s life experi­
ences, and these experiences produce different feelings, consciousness, relation­
ships, skills-ways of being that we call feminine or masculine 3 All of these
processes constitute the social construction of gender.
Cendered roles change-today fathers are taking care of little children, girls
and boys are wearing unisex clothing and getting the same education, women and
men are working at the same jobs. Although many traditional social groups are
quite strict about maintaining gender differences, in other socia! groups they seem
to be blurring. Then why the one-year-old’s earrings? Why is it still so important to
mark a child as a girl or a boy, to make sure she is not taken for a boy or he for a
girl? What would happen if they were? They would, quite literally, have changed
places in their social world.
To explain why gendering is done from birth, constantly and by everyone, we
have to look not only at the way individuals experience gender but at gender as a so­
CIal institution. As a social institution, gender is one of the major ways that human
beings organize their lives. Human society depends on a predictable division of
labor, a designated allocation of SCarce goods, assigned responsibility for children
and others who cannot care for themselves, common values and their systematic
transmission to new members, legitimate leadership, music, art, stories, garnes, and
other symbolic productions. One way of choosing people for the different tasks of
society is on the basis of their talents, motivations, and competence-their demon­
strated achievements. The other way is on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity-as­
cribed membership in a category of people. Although societies vary in the extent to
which they use one or the other of these ways of allocating people to work and to
carry out other responsibilities, every society uses gender and age grades. Every soci­
ety classifies people as “girl and boy children,” “girls and boys ready to be married,”
and “fully adult women and men,” constructs similarities among them and differ­
ences between them, and assigns them to different roles and responsibilities.
Personality characteristics, feelings, motivations, and ambitions flow from these
different life experiences so that the me/nbers of these different groups become
I The Social Construction of Difference: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality
different kinds of people. The process of gendering and its outcome are legitimated
by religion, law, science, and the society’s entire set of values ….
Western society’s values legitimate gendering by claiming that it all comes
from physiology-female and male procreative differences. But gender and sex are
not equivalent, and gender as a social construction does not flow automatically
from genitalia and reproductive organs, the main physiological differences of fe­
males and males. In the construction of ascribed social statuses, physiological dif­
ferences such as sex, stage of development, color of skin, and size are crude
marke,s. They are not the source of the social statuses of gender, age grade, and
race. Social statuses are carefully constructed through prescribed processes of
teaching, learning, emulation, and enforcement. Whatever genes, hormones, and
biological evolution contribute to human social institutions is materially as well as
qualitatively transformed by social practices. Evcry social institution has a material
base, but culture and social practices transform that base into something with qual­
itatively different patterns and constraints. The economy is much more than pro­
ducing food and goods and distributing them to eaters and users; family and
kinship are not the equivalent of having sex and procreating; morals and religions
cannot be equated with the fears and ecstasies of the brain; language goes far be­
yond the sounds produced by tongue and larynx. No one eats “money” or “credit”;
the concepts of “god” and “angels” are the subjects of theological disquisitions; not
only words but objects, such as their flag, “speak” to the citizens of a country.
Similarly, gcnder cannot be equated with biological and physiological differ­
ences between human females and males. The building blocks of gender are so­
cially constructed statuses. Western socIeties have only two genders, “man” and
“woman.” Some societies have three genders- men, women, and berdaches or
hiiras or xaniths. Berdaches, hijras, and xaniths are biological males who behave,
dress, work, and are treated in most respects as social women; they are therefore not
men, nor are they female women; they are, in our language, “male women.”4 There
are Mrican and American Indian societies that have a gender status called manly
hearted Women- biological females who work, marry, and parent as men; their so­
cial status is “female men” (Amadiume 1987; Blackwood 1984). They do not have
to behave or dress as men to have the social responsibilities and prerogatives of hus­
bands and fathers; what makes them men is enough wealth to buy a wife.
Modern Western societies’ transsexuals and transvestites are the nearcst equiva­
lent of these crossover genders, but they are not institutionalized as third genders
(Bolin 1987). Transsexuals are biological males and females who have sex-change
operations to alter their genitalia. They do so in order to bring their physical
anatomy in congruence with the way they want to live and with their own sense of
gender identity. They do not become a third gender; they change genders.
Transvestites are males who live as women and females who live as men but do not
intend to have sex-change surgery. Their dress, appearance, and mannerisms fall
within the range of what is expected from members of the opposite gender, so that
they “pass.” They also change genders, sometimes temporarily, some for most of
their lives. Transvestite women have fought in wars as men soldiers as recently as
Lorber / “Night to His Day”
the nineteenth century; some married women, and others went back to being
women and married men once the war was over.’ Some were discovered when
their wounds were treated; others not until they died. In order to work as a jazz
musician, a man’s occupation, Billy Tipton, a woman, lived most of her life as a
man. She died recently at seventy-four, leaving a wife and three adopted sons for
whom she was husband and father, and musicians with whom she had played and
traveled, for whom she was “one of the boys” (New York Times 1989).6 There have
been many other such occurrences of women passing as men to do more presti­
gious or lucrative men’s work (Matthaei 1982, 192-93).7
Genders, therefore, are not attached to a biological substratum. Gender
boundaries are breachablc, and individual and socially organized shifts from one
gender to another call attention to “cultural, social, or aesthetic dissonances”
(Garber 1992, 16). These odd or deviant or third genders show us what we ordinar­
ily take for granted-that people have to learn to be women and men ….
For Individuals, Gender Means Sameness
Although the possible combinations of genitalia, body shapes, clothing, manner­
isms, sexuality, and roles could produce infinite varieties in human beings, the so­
cial institution of gcndcr depends on the production and maintenance of a limited
number of gender statuses and of making the members of these statuses similar to
each other. Individuals are born sexed but not gendered, and they have to be
taught to be masculine or feminineS As SImone de Beauvoir saId: “One is not
born, but rather becomes, :3 woman … ; it is civilization as a whole that produces
this creature … which is described as feminine.” (1953, 267).
Children learn to walk, talk, and gesture the way their social group says gnls
and boys should. Ray Birdwhistell, in his analysis of body motion as human com­
munication, calls these learned gender displays tertiary sex characteristics and ar­
gues that they are needed to distinguish genders because humans are a weakly
dimorphic species-their only sex markers are genitalia (1970, 39-46). Clothing,
paradoxically, often hides the sex but displays the gender.
In early childhood, humans develop gendered personality structures and sexual
orientations through their interactions with parents of the same and opposite gen­
der. As adolescents, they conduct their sexual behavior according to gendered
scripts. Schools, parents, peers, and the mass media guide young people into gen­
dered work and family roles. As adults, they take on a gendered social status in
their society’s stratification system. Gender is thus both ascribed and achieved
(West and Zimmerman 1987). ..
Gender norms are inscribed in the way people move, gesture, and even eat. In
one African society, men were supposed to eat with their “whole mouth, whole­
heartedly, and not, like women, just with the lips, that is halfheartedly, with reser­
vation and restraint” (Bourdieu [1980] 1990, 70). Men and women in this society
learncd to walk in ways that proclaimed their different positions in the society:
51> I The Social Construction of Difference: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality
The manly man, , , stands up straight into the face of the person he approaches, or
wishes to welcome, Ever on the alert, because ever threatened, he misses nothing of
what happens around him, , , , Conversely, a well brought-up woman, , , is expected
to walk with a slight stoop, avoiding every misplaced movement of her body, her
head or her arms, looking down, keeping her eyes on the spot where she will next
put her foot, especially if she happens to have to walk past the men’s assembly, (70)
, , , For human beings there is no essential femaleness or maleness, femininity
or masculinity, womanhood or manhood, but once gender is ascribed, the social
order constructs and holds individuals to strongly gendered norms and expecta­
tions, Individuals may vary on many of the components of gender and may shift
genders temporarily or permanently, but they must fit into the limited number of
gender statuses their society recognizes. In the process, they re-create their society’s
version of women and men: “If we do gender appropriately, we simultaneously sus­
tain, reproduce, and render legitimate the institutional arrangements. , .. If we fail
to do gender appropriately, we as individuals-not the institutional arrange­
ments-may be called to account (for our character, motives, and predisposi­
tions)” (West and Zimmerman 1987, 146).
The gendered practices of everyday life reproduce a society’s view of how
women and men should act (Bourdieu [1980] 1990). Gendered social arrange­
ments are justified by religion and cultural productions and backed by law, but the
most powerful means of sustaining the moral hegemony of the dominant gender
ideology is that the process is made invisible; any possible alternatives are Virtually
unthinkable (Foucault 1972; Gramsci 1971)9
For Society, Gender Means Difference
The pervasiveness of gender as a way of structuring social life demands that gender
statuses be clearly differentiated. Varied talents, sexual preferences, identities, per­
sonalities, interests, and ways of interacting fragment the individual’s bodily and
social experiences. Nonetheless, these are organized in Western cultures into two
and only two socially and legally recognized gender statuses, “man” and
“woman.”lO In the social construction of gender, it does not matter what men and
women actually do; it does not even matter if they do exactly the same thing. The
social institution of gender insists only that what they do is perceived as different.
If men and women are doing the same tasks, they are usually spatially segre­
gated to maintain gender separation, and often the tasks are given different job ti­
tles as well, such as executive secretary and administrative assistant (Reskin 1988).
If the differences between women and men begin to blur, society’s “sameness
taboo” goes into action (Rubin 1975, 178). At a rock and roll dance at West Point
in 1976, the year women were admitted to the prestigious military academy for the
first time, the school’s administrators “were reportedly perturbed by the sight of
mirror-image couples dancing in short hair and dress gray trousers,” and a rule was
5 Lorber / “Night to His Day”
established that women cadets could dance at these events only if they wore skirts
(Barkalow and Raab 1990, 53).11 Women recruits in the U,S. Marine Corps are re­
quired to wear makeup-at a minimum, lipstick and eye shadow-and they have
to take classes in makeup, hair care, poise, and etiquette. This feminization is part
of a deliberate policy of making them clearly distinguishable from men Marines.
Christine Williams quotes a twenty-five-year-old woman drill instructor as saying:
“A lot of the recruits who come here don’t wear makeup; they’re tomboyish or ath­
letic. A lot of them have the preconceived idea that going into the military means
they can still be a tomboy. They don’t realize that you are a Woman Marine”
If gender differences were genetic, physiological, or hormonal, gender bending
and gender ambiguity would occur only in hermaphrodites, who are born with
chromosomes and genitalia that are not clearly female or male. Since gender dif­
ferences are socially constructed, all men and all women can enact the behavior of
the other, because they know the other’s social script: ” ‘Man’ and ‘woman’ are at
once empty and overflowing categories. Empty because they have no ultimate,
transcendental meaning. Overflowing because even when they appear to be fixed,
they still contain within them alternative, denied, or suppressed definitions,”
(Scott 1988,49)….
For one transsexual man-to-woman, the experience of living as a woman
changed hislher whole personality. As James, Morris had been a soldier, foreign
correspondent, and mountain climber; as Jan, Morris is a successful travel writer.
But socially, James was superior to Jan, and so Jan developed the “learned helpless­
ness” that is supposed to characterize women in Western society:
We are told that the social gap between the sexes is narrowing, but I can only report
that having, in the second half of the twentieth century, experienced life in both
roles, there seems to me no aspect of existence, no moment of the day, no contact,
no arrangement, no response, which is not different for men and for women, The
very tone of voice in which I was now addressed, the very posture of the person next
in the queue, the very feel in the air when I entered a room or sat at a restaurant
table, constantly emphasized my change of status.
And if other’s responses shifted, so did my own. The more I was trea ted as
woman, the more woman I became. I adapted willy-nilly. If I was assumed to be
incompetent at reversing cars, or opening bottles, oddly incompetent I found my­
self becoming. If a case was thought too heavy for me, inexplicably I fouIld it so
myself,. . Women treated me with a frankness which, while it was one of the
happiest discoveries of my metamorphosis, did imply membership of a camp, a
faction, or at least a school of thought; so I found myself gravitating always towards
the female, whether in sharing a railway compartment or supporting a political
cause, Men treated me more and more as junior, , .. and so, addressed every day
of my life as an inferior, involuntarily, month by month I accepted the condition.
I discovered that even now men prefer women to be less informed, less able, less
talkative, and certainly Jess self-centered than they are themselves; so I gerrerally
obliged them. (1975,165-66)]1
I The Social Construction o(Difference: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality
5 Lorber I “Night to His Day” 61
Gender as Process, Stratification, and Structure
characteristics of these c::ltegories define the Other as that which lacks the valuable
As a social institution, gender is a process of creating distinguishable social statuses
for the assignment of rights and responsibilities. As part of a stratification system
that ranks these statuses unequally, gender is a major building block in the social
structures built on these unequal statuses.
As a process, gender creates the s …
Purchase answer to see full

Order your essay today and save 10% with the discount code ESSAYHSELP