Gender & Society (SOC/WGS 474/574)
“The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn.”
When asked to describe yourself how do you respond? Chances are one of the first things you will say is “I am a woman” or “I am a man.” Your response conjures up a variety of physical characteristics, personality traits, and behavior patterns in the mind of the inquisitor. With no information other than your self-proclaimed status as a woman or a man, people make immediate assumptions about you. What does it mean to be a woman or a man in our society? What factors influence how we become who we are? What about the social structure supports and maintains notions of femininity and masculinity and the choices available to women and men? What if you don’t identify as a woman or a man?
We will examine the sex-gender system as it exists in the United States today. Social institutions such as education, the family, the media, work, and others designate gender differentiated traits, behaviors, and patterns of interactions for all people. We will explore who is privileged and who is disadvantaged in this sex/gender system and how the system is maintained.
Feminist scholars have shown that gender is not simply a matter of biology, the “natural,” or the functional, but that it is socially constructed and is deeply shaped by (and in turn helps shape) cross-cutting lines of difference and inequality---of social class, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and age (among others). We will pay close attention to how the experience of gender is shaped by these social positions.