Sociology #2: Gender and Sexuality

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 ;)

note: “you can’t just make blank statements without support …” You can now – It’s called FaceBook ;)

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 ;)

oossh Me ;)


“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’.

17 years later, and I still like to stir the proverbial ‘genderised’ pot ;)


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.

kpm ©




Sociology ~ Small Groups.


“Summarise in your own words what you consider to be the key concepts and ideas necessary to describe the composition, formation and structure of a small group”

Word Count: 1,005

by kpm ©

Groups form for  variety of reasons. Some form voluntarily and some involuntarily. Forsyth (2006: 3) defines groups as being “two or more individuals who are connected to one another by social relationships”. This social connection or relationship involves features such as communication, influence, interaction, interdependence, significance and shared identification (Forsyth 2006: 4). This essay then, will describe the composition, formation and structure of small groups.


According to Forsyth (2006: 5), groups can be categorised into two types of groups – primary and secondary. The first usually has to do with an inadvertent inclusion involving elevated contact and unification (Forsyth 2006: 5). Family and friends would fir into this type of group. Cooley (1909) suggests that the secondary group are more complex structures as they are more formally organised than primary groups and their duration is not fixed therefore the emotional ties are not as great (Forsyth 2006: 6). Planned and emergent groups stem from secondary groups involving deliberate formation and spontaneous formation respectively, dependent on the task and situation at hand. A group’s size can therefore vary from a membership of two individuals to a membership of thousands of individuals (Forsyth 2006: 3). Forsyth (2006: 3) suggests also that larger groups are made up of smaller groups. What ultimately makes a group however, is their connection to each other.

Individuals join groups then for various reasons. Inclusion, involving belonging, is one of these. This is linked to self-esteem, identity, emotional gratification and socialisation (Forsyth 2006: 70 – 72). These are linked to individualism and collectivism. Individualism involves independence and autonomy. Collectivism involves the holistic well being and interests of the group or collective community (Forsyth 2006: 77). Collectivism is reflected in old Maori society where the benefit of the whole is an integral part of their societal makeup (Marsden 1988: 11). The individual is part of the collective so what benefits the collective also benefits the individual and vice versa.

However, how a person defines themselves and where they attain their identity from, will play a part in how they view individualism or collectivism. Those who find their identity within belonging to a group will seek out this type of acceptance and interaction. Those that are more interested in personal attainment and achievement will not find as much gratification within the group setting (Forsyth 2006: 77). However most people would find themselves gravitating towards communion, rather than solitude.

Group attachment then is largely dependent on whether a person’s personality type reflects introversion (solitary, gentle) or extroversion (sociable, expressive). Those that seek relationship and connection then may seek out groups to belong to, to fulfil needs relating to affiliation, intimacy and power (Forsyth 2006: 105). In contrast, those that may have had previous bad experiences in groups, or joining groups, or those that have an introverted personality type, may find group connection threatening thus avoiding this type of connection (Forsyth 2006: 107 – 108).

However, proximity also has relevance in the formation of a group as it increases the likelihood of interaction and involvement with others (Forsyth 2006: 125). Also similarity increases the likelihood and maintenance of contact and interaction (Forsyth 2006: 126 – 127). In contrast, complementation can also increase the likelihood of formation in that difference can be a preference instead of a deterrent (Forsyth 2006: 127). Reciprocity and gain will also play a part in group formation and whether an individual remains in that group or not and with time cohesion is developed through commonality and unity (Forsyth 2006: 156). The cohesiveness of a group will influence their interaction and organisation which in turn influences the overall effectiveness of a group or team (Forsyth 2006: 162).

Within each group, small or otherwise, it’s structure is made up of norms, roles and the links made between its members. Norms are what standardise the group’s behaviour and define what is appropriate and what is not (Forsyth 2006: 171). These norms are not always prescribed as such, but are made known as a general standard which should be adhered to. Members of a group will slowly conform or reform their behaviour to match the consensual prescribed norms of the group (Forsyth 2006: 172 – 173).

Within the group members roles are sometimes deliberate and sometimes evolving and casual (Forsyth 2006: 177). Role differentiation develops as a member becomes more involved within the group and their role becomes more specific or specialised (Forsyth 2006: 177). Also as new roles emerge, existing roles change.

Within a group then the role of a leader is fairly prominent and necessary but similar roles are performed by those who may possess organisational skills or proficiency in a certain area (Forsyth 2006: 177). Task roles are performed by those who are able to organise and endorse the achievement of certain group objectives (Forsyth 2006: 178). Within this mix, members find their place and perform their roles accordingly. While performing these roles group members become connected to other members (Forsyth 2006: 183).

However the performance of certain roles can mean that there develops in-group competition for certain positions which hold more group status. This can cause in-group stress and conflict (Forsyth 2006: 183). Also when the responsibilities of a certain roles are not clear, role ambiguity can be experienced (Forsyth 2006: 184). Also when many roles are required to be fulfilled by one member, role conflict may occur due to the many responsibilities that are placed on that member (Forsyth 2006: 184). These role conflicts can therefore affect the individuals performance thus the groups relationships and connections, ultimately affecting performance of the group as a whole (Forsyth 2006: 185 – 186). Because the connection of the group helps to form the structure of the group the relations between it’s members are vital and can be strained when too much responsibility is placed on the few or there is in house disagreement or stress. Also such things as the ‘pecking order’ of a group (Forsyth 2006: 188), group expectations (Forsyth 2006: 189) and status generalisation (Forsyth 2006: 191) can cause in group conflict and stress. However this is where a group’s communication network is vital. How a group exchanges information impacts on the group as a whole. When a group is organised his communication is usually more structured but even if it is not, a method of communication exchange will certainly develop (Forsyth 2006: 198).


So in conclusion, the formation of a group is dependent upon an individual’s personality and their propensity for belonging to a group. How a group assembles and organises itself into its various roles and positions will determine the effectiveness of that group and the group’s communication networks are what maintain the group’s effectiveness, or not.

just a little reminder ….


Forsyth, D R., (2006). Group Dynamics. 4th Edition. Thompson Wadsworth: Australia.

Marsden, M. (1988). Resource Management Law Reform, Working Paper No. 29, Part A.  The Natural World and Natural Resources: Māori Value Systems and Perspectives. Ministry for the Environment: Wellington.