This was one of my earliest essays for Sociology. Overall, I enjoyed Sociology, which is the study of the development, structure, and functioning of human society; specifically, the study of social problems. And I guess I still do this – just less ‘academically’. Whats interesting about academics, is it’s all theory and quantifiable who-ha: which we all know, in the real world, doesn’t always amount to shit.
As I re-read this essay, I couldn’t help lol to myself. In the notes, my professor notes that I’m too ‘chatty’ and need to ‘adopt a more objective and analytical style of writing’. LOL … if he could only see Me now – he’d be cringing like fuck ;)
The other thing I noted whilst reading, was that I’ve always had an objection to being genderised, and in light of how the gender balance and definitions are still clearly changing, they are still, by enlarge, Fucked. I guess, throughout these early years of academic bullshit, I was trying to clarify and redefine my Voice … and figure out what I really believed. And I guess I didn’t realise then, that that was going to be a lifetime process; one I am still ‘clarifying’ and ‘redefining’.
Lastly, of notable pontification ;), is the over bearing ethnocentric theories that plague academics. This is definitely balancing out slightly, but is still way to over-represented in everything academic. Which makes Me wonder: Why on earth have ‘brownies’ like Me, wanted to be in such an unbalanced structure; recognised by an unbalanced structure; even listen to anything that this unbalanced structure, has to say? Anything that it defines Us as, is biased … completely and utterly biased.
Any-who … on too the main event.
Oh btw, I got B+ for this puppy ;)
“Gender and Sexuality: Outline and discuss the sociological claim that sexuality is socially constructed. What are some of the dangers of essentialist arguments (both biological and sociological)”
Word Count: 1, 820 (including references)
by kpm ©
“…New Zealand is a ‘gendered culture’, a culture in which the structures of masculinity and femininity are central to the formation of society as a whole.” (James & Saville-Smith 1989:6 cited by Novitz in Spoonley, Pearson and Shirley 1990: 100).
Within this essay i will attempt to discuss the sociological claim that sexuality is socially constructed, by first discussing the biological differences between men and women and second, how these differences are in turn developed into ‘beliefs’ and social differences that help construct our gender identities and thereafter, our sexual identities. To understand our sexuality we need to first understand our gender differences. I shall then attempt to discuss two essentialist arguments; that of the biological nature and then the sociological nature; to try and find out why sociologists are critical of both these essentialist perspectives.
The first difference that needs to be addressed is the biological differences between male and female, as these have been the base and foundation for most historical common sense theories, that have claimed that women are only good for a certain number of things, usually duties involving the more nurturing and maternal qualities (James and Saville-Smith 1989: 32). And that men are more suitable for other various ‘masculine’ roles in our society, involving such things as dominance, independence and rationality (Waring 1996: 12).
Women and men are biologically different, each having a different combination of chromosomes, and differing hormones for each located gender. Females have a menstruation process as a means to eventually becoming pregnant in order to reproduce the human species. Only women can become pregnant, give birth and, possibly, breast feed their infants; this is part of nature that is unique to women (Dann 1985: 51). A males sperm release is their biological contribution to the reproduction process. because of this biological phenomenon, of women being able to give birth, it has been presumed, traditionally, that women are therefore more suitable to stay within the confines of home and look after the young, clean the quarters and generally attend to the ‘softer’, more ‘feminine’ duties (Madden 1997: 38). Because men have traditionally been the hunters and gatherers outside of the home, and women have generally stayed within the home to look after the young, it was generally accepted that these were the ‘natural’ roles created for each gender. While this concept is generally the ‘norm’ in most societies, it can take on different forms within society during any given historical period (Novitz 1990: 98).
The differing gender roles, within the present day, have become less defined as only ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’. Because of the obvious biological and physical differences; women having a uterus, vagina and (usually) more enlarged breasts; men having none of the former (although, enlarged breasts could be a topic for debate i some men), and a penis; society has declared what is more suitable for the differing gender roles, so as to be more fitting with the differing physical apparatus. This can be seen in our advertising industry. Men and women are located their different ‘roles’, and merchandise is marketed t the various sexes based on our perceptions of each differing gender (Crews 1995: 9).
Unfortunately, because one has a penis, this does not necessarily make the owner of the penis more discerning or logical. As with the owner of the uterus; it does not necessarily make them more emotional or weak. These are ideologies (based on common-sense theories), which help to structure our differing roles within society (Abbott and Wallace 1990: 6).
But these firmly held beliefs have been the structure on which most Western societies have been built. These common sense theories have held significant relevance within our alleged ‘fabric’ of society, so much so, that these assumed differences have been taught, and are generally continuing to be taught, to the following generations; sometimes from the moment of conception (McLennan, Ryan and Spoonley 2000a: 60).
Our culture has everything to do with who we are and who we become, how we see the world around us and how we treat the people within that world. Being raised in a Pakeha home or a Maori home, whether your parents were heterosexual or homosexual, whether you were raised by a female or a male, or both – as a female or a male. All these ideals will bring to your view certain definitions of the space that you hold within the world. These create learned behaviours that will impact on the way you view your fellow man/woman, the opposite gender and whether you think all peoples are equals, or not. This in turn is propelled out into society where all your lives learning finally and hopefully has some type of meaning, relevance and importance. It is here that your vies are out into practice and they play a major role in how you treat others, how you expect to be treated, what you believe you are entitled to and what you believe others are entitled to.
Which brings us to the next part of our discussion, which is that of the social construction of gender. Because we are taught what is deemed ‘normal’, from the womb, we are therefore slowly conditioned into believing what is appropriate behaviour for our gender type, and what is not. This can be seen in the different ways that girls and boys are treated (McLennan et al 2000b: 61). A boy could being encouraged to play with trucks and not dolls, to act staunch and not cry. A girl child being frowned upon for rolling in the mud. She is encouraged, though, to be soft and gentle and is more likely to gain sympathy when she has hurt herself.
In turn, these learned behaviours are part of societies conditioning and help to construct the gender mentality that each person acquires throughout their lifetime. These conditionings help to construct our sexuality. We may pick up messages early on in our lives, that heterosexuality is the ‘norm’ and that being homosexual is not quite ‘natural’ (Kirkman in McLennan, Ryan and Spoonley 2000a: 64). This is, however, rather unfortunate for those who do not fit into this narrow model of sexuality. While not every person alive is practising homosexuality, it is still, in this present day, considered to be ‘abnormal’ behaviour; as the heterosexual behaviour is what is deemed ‘natural’. This can be seen in the way that the New Zealand government treated the issue of homosexuality through the 1985-1986 homosexual law reform bill. This bill was to a) decriminalise male homosexual acts and b) overt discrimination against gay men and lesbians. The first part of the bill was passed into law in 1986, and the second part was made part of an amendment to the Human Right Act passed in 1993. While it is not a direct intention to criticise the good that this Act has done, it would appear that any type of reformation of any homosexual act already establishes that there is an inequality within the government, and the wider society, pertaining to this issue. It can also be seen in the way many religious establishments have viewed ad treated homosexual practices, and those that have those practices as their preference (Kirkman in McLennan et al 2000b: 65). Once instance of this would be the rather large petition that was presented to government, by fundamentalist christians, at the time the law reform bill was being passed.
There are also some of the population who are gender neutral or ‘intersexed’; bearing both, or a mixture of male and female genitalia and/or chromosomes. For these individuals, in a society like the present one, it is still expected that they should choose one particular gender, and sexual identity and stick with that. There is not much room for tolerance for those who would choose to remain gender neutral; not choosing to live as a male or female, but as both, or neither (McLennan et al 2000c: 61).
Sociologists have been critical of the sexual essentialist theories, of which there are two. That of the biological and the sociological nature. The biological essentialist argument is on that looks at certain biological aspects of the body to confirm that heterosexuality is ‘normal’. It states that homosexuality is not the ‘most common’ form of sexuality and therefore is ‘unnatural’. Because, however, homosexuality is not the ‘most common’ form of sexuality, doesn’t necessarily deem it as ‘abnormal’ or ‘unnatural’. This view was established through the belief that only sex which results in possible ‘reproduction’, is ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ sex. This biological view is also grounded in the alleged fact that because animals don’t practice homosexual sex, then it must be unnatural for human beings to practice homosexual sex. This view ignores the obvious. Humans do plenty of things that animals don’t. Does this then make all our extra-curricular activities unnatural?
The sociological argument involves the belief that our sexual identity is shaped through our culture. Meaning that who we are as individuals will then shape what we prefer sexually. Ultimately, who we are sexually; either homosexual or heterosexual. This kind of ‘identity’ forming view has three elements to it. Firstly, it is believed that we are shaped by our sexual practice; then our sexual desire which finally forms our sexual identity. The problem with this line of thought is that it doesn’t always fit with reality. We may practice heterosexual sex but have homosexual desires that we never fulfil. This would make us both heterosexual openly; but homosexual – inwardly. These desires and practices may also change as we ourselves develop and change. The sociological essentialist view does not take into consideration theses changes. Our identities; sexual as well; are very personal and subject to change.
So in conclusion, it has become apparent that our socially constructed mentalities, have a huge part to play in the significance of our gender roles within society. These in turn have a major significance on how our sexual identities are constructed and how we view others with sexual identities and preferences that are different from our own. It seems that neither of these ‘law reforms’ would be needed if our society, and our varying religious organisations, were actually established on ‘equality’ as is so often claimed to be the case. It would be nice to live within a world that tolerates all manners and form of life; all preferences and opinions. Whether this day will actually come or not is a matter for our present and future theorists and reformers. Government mentalities need to be broadened, the individual rights of each person needs to be respected and the teaching of our children needs to be overhauled and reformed.
It is a hope, a possibility, that our future generations are going to be able to live in social and sexual freedom, having no negative influences that may try to conform them to a specific way of living, all for the sake of supposed ‘normalcy’ and ‘decency’.
Abbott, P and Wallace, C. 1990, ‘An Introduction To Sociology – Feminist Perspectives’, Routledge, London and New York.
Crews, S. 1995. ‘The Symbolic Body: ‘Masculinities’ And ‘Feminities’ In Magazine Advertising’, Massey University, Palmerston North.
Dann, C. 1985, ‘Up From Under – Women And Liberation In New Zealand 1970-1985’, Allen and Unwin New Zealand Limited, Wellington.
James B, and Saville-Smith, K. 1989 (second edition), ‘Gender, Culture And Power’, Oxford University Press, Auckland.
McLennan, G and Ryan, A and Spoonley, P. 2000, ‘Exploring Society – Sociology For New Zealand Students’, (quoted Kirkman, A. “Becoming Sexual: Heterosex As ‘Natural’ And ‘Normal’“), Pearson Education New Zealand Limited, Auckland.
Madden, R. 1997, ‘Dynamic And Different: Mana Wahine’, Campus Press, Palerston North.
Spoonley, P and Pearson, D and Shirley, I. 1990, ‘New Zealand Society’, (quoted Novitz, R. ‘Gender’), The Dunmore Press Limited, Palmerston North.
Waring, M. 1996, ‘Three Masquerades – Essays On Equality, Work And Human Rights’, Auckland University Press, Auckland.