Be sure that your initial post meets the full length requirement of 300 words, and that you incorporate at least two of this week’s required resources in your post, one of which should be the textbook. Include citations and a full reference to your chosen sources. (See the Required Resources page for all references in APA format). Read Chapters 5 and 6 of the textbook and What We Learn From 50 Years of Kids Drawing Scientists and Understanding Why Girls Underperform at Science.When you picture a scientist, what does that person look like?When you were a child, how did you picture scientists?What role does gender stereotyping play in the tendency for girls to grow up to be scientists?How does this vary around the world?What kind of cultural messages do we send to children by the way different professions are portrayed in the media, books, movies, and television?How can we help all children overcome stereotypes that may influence their educational performance?
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Gender and Culture Algerian woman wearing a veil.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock 5 Learning Objectives
After reading this chapter, you should be able to:
Distinguish between sex and gender.
Distinguish the various ways of defining sex.
List some of the common sexual differences in humans.
Discuss cultural differences that have existed in gender roles.
Explain the concept of third and fourth genders.
Discuss the relationships between gender, power, and honor.
Analyze and explain the causes of gender inequality.
Discuss the nature of sexual orientation and cultural responses to homosexuality.
This chapter focuses attention on gender, the social roles that are assigned and
learned based on cultural concepts about the nature of sex differences, and their
place in social life. In all cultures, gender roles have differed to some degree,
but the differences have not always entailed differences in access to social honor
and power. This chapter will discuss the difference between biological sex and
socially learned gender roles, the conditions on which access to honor and power
become differentiated by gender, the diversity of male and female roles in the
world’s many cultures, and the existence of cultures in which there are more
than two culturally identified genders. The biological nature and social roles
that pertain to sexual orientation will also be discussed.
5.1 Sex and Gender
The word “sex” is often used as a synonym for “gender” by the public, but
anthropologists give different meanings to each word. The term sex refers to
biological distinctions such as the chromosomal, hormonal, or physical differences
between males and females. Gender defines the social statuses and roles into
which people are socialized based on cultural concepts about the sexes. In this
chapter, we will look at some of the complexities of both sex and gender. Sexual
Humans are biological creatures as well as cultural beings. Biologically, most
humans are either male or female. Females and males differ biologically in
various ways. Chromosomally, women have two X chromosomes, and men have
an X and a Y. Because only males carry the Y chromosome, the sex of a child is
determined by whether it received an X or a Y chromosome from its father.
Males and females differ in both their primary sexual characteristics, such as
genitals and reproductive organs, and the secondary sexual characteristics that
develop during puberty, such as breasts in females and low-pitched voices and
a broad distribution of body hair in males. Anatomically, males in the human
species are, on average, slightly larger than females, a characteristic known as
sexual dimorphism. The sexes also generally differ in how strength is manifested.
Males typically are able to exert higher levels of energy for short periods, while
females tend to have greater endurance and are generally hardier. This distinction
can be noticed at all stages of development. For instance, females seem to have a
naturally higher life expectancy, although this is counteracted in many societies
by social conditions that increase women’s mortality rates. In anthropology, the
term sex is reserved for these kinds of biological distinctions.
It should be noted that while most individuals are male or female, this dichotomy
fails to capture the actual range of sexual variation within our species. Specifically,
there is a variety of types of intersexed persons: individuals whose physical
characteristics include both male and female sex traits. About 1% of live births
involve some degree of sexual ambiguity. The differences fall along a continuum
from individuals in whom most of the female characteristics may be present
along with a few of the male characteristics to individuals in whom most of the
male characteristics are present along with a few of the female traits. Classic
hermaphroditism is a particular case in which both male reproductive anatomy
(e.g., a penis and testicles) and female reproductive anatomy (e.g., a vagina and
ovaries) are present. There are also individuals in whom no reproductive anatomy
develops at all. Intersexed persons may also differ in physiological aspects that
do not correspond with their chromosomally defined sex. For instance, there are
individuals who, despite having both an X and a Y chromosome (the pattern
usually found in males), have a genetic mutation that causes their bodies to
develop with female rather than male characteristics. Gender
Gender is a social identity that consists of the social roles a person is expected to
play because of his or her sex. Whereas we are born with sexual characteristics,
our gender is something we must learn. All cultures recognize the existence of at
least two genders: Females are typically socialized into the roles that lead them
to have a social identity as “women,” while males learn men’s roles to become
“men.” However, there are cultures (discussed below) that recognize at least one
additional set of gender roles. A man smiles and poses as a bulldog licks his face.
Culture defines masculine behavior, and that definition can vary among and
It is not surprising that the average differences between males and females figure
into gender stereotypes, preconceived ideas about how women and men differ in
their personality traits, behavioral skills, and predispositions. However, it is a
mistake to believe that biology is the cause of gender differences. In the first
place, biological differences are average distinctions between males and females
as groups, but there is a range of individual differences within both sexes, and
they overlap more than they differ in most characteristics. Thus, some males
may have greater endurance than most females, and some females may be able to
exert more strength than most males. If biology caused gender differences, then
they too would be merely statistical averages between what males and females
did socially. But gender differences do not simply arise out of our personal
predispositions to play various roles. Rather, gender stereotypes are cultural
guidelines that tell us how we are expected to act. It is our culture’s gender
stereotypes, not biology, that most directly channel us into our different gender
roles. Sometimes gender stereotypes become so important that people refuse
to acknowledge that individuals of one sex are capable of playing roles usually
expected of members of the other sex. Rigid enforcement of gender stereotypes
that prevents individuals from playing roles that are not typically assigned to
their own sex is called sexism.
As is true of other kinds of stereotypes, gender stereotypes can be wrong and
stifling to those whose characteristics do not fit them, but they sometimes reflect
common (though not universal) differences between the sexes. Some studies have
pointed to typical psychological differences between the sexes that conform to
some traditional Western stereotypes. For instance, Beatrice Whiting and John
Whiting (1975) carried out an in-depth study of children in six different societies,
where they found a number of psychological characteristics that cross-cut cultural
boundaries. For instance, boys and girls both showed dependence, but expressed
it in different ways: Girls tended to seek help and contact, while boys sought
attention and approval. They found no differences between boys and girls in
seeking and offering friendship to others, and they found that girls behaved
as actively as boys. Some differences in the behavior of boys and girls in the
six societies, however, were also discovered. Boys played more aggressively and
in larger groups than girls did, and older boys were more likely to respond to
aggression with aggression. Twenty-five years later, another team of researchers
studying children in four different cultures reached related conclusions with
regard to aggression. The boys they observed exhibited aggressive behaviors in
about 10% of their interactions with their peers, whereas the girls did so in only
6% of their interactions. This was a small but statistically significant difference
(Munroe et al., 2000). Thus, there appear to be some general psychological
characteristics that distinguish the sexes even in childhood and even across
cultures. The way in which gender stereotypes can become problematic, then, is
when they are treated as mandates or as necessarily valid for every individual, and
when the alleged attributes of one sex are socially privileged over the attributes
of the other sex.
5.2 Diversity in Male and Female Roles
Gender is culturally defined, and there are significant differences from culture
to culture in the specific roles of men and women. What is thought of as
masculine or feminine behavior in one culture may not be thought of in the
same way in another culture. Such differences are influenced by many factors
such as environmental resources, economics, kinship, politics, and religion. In
this section, we will explore diversity within gender. Socialization of Gender
Socialization of Gender Differences How do children learn about gender?
What are the rules that children learn about gender?
How do we project our ideas about gender on others?
Anthropologists have noted that in every society there are socialization practices
through which children learn what it takes to be a male or female participant
in their society. Socialization can occur both directly (e.g., parents teaching
their children how to behave in certain circumstances) and indirectly (e.g.,
children observing what other adults and children do). There is much at stake in
socialization practices. For example, the “incomplete” socialization of children
can be problematic: In some societies, people fear child soldiers or street children
because they are said to be unsocialized and thus immoral and threatening to
the status quo (Honwana, 2007; Kovats-Bernat, 2006).
In 1950, the well-known anthropologist Margaret Mead did fieldwork among
three New Guinea societies in which people are socialized into gender roles
that are quite different from the typical roles we find in North America. Her
descriptions of the Arapesh, Mundugumor, and Tschambuli (now called the
Chambri) make it clear that how people think about being masculine or feminine
is highly variable and determined by culture rather than by any absolute dictates
of biology. Although there were gender role differences among the Arapesh,
no basic temperamental differences were thought to exist between males and
females. Neither men nor women were believed to be driven by spontaneous
sexuality, and violence, though tolerated, was not linked to either sex. Men were
expected to be gentle, unacquisitive, and cooperative. Women were taught to
accept anything out of the ordinary without curiosity. From childhood on, they
were actively discouraged from asking questions about anything unusual and
from engaging in speculative thought, which was encouraged in boys.
The people of a not-too-distant tribe from the Arapesh, the Mundugumor,
were quite different in their attitudes about the sexes. The Mundugumor were
headhunters and cannibals, and the life of a male was characterized by fighting
and the competitive acquisition of women through warfare. They assumed that
there was a natural hostility between members of the same sex. As a result,
inheritance of most property crossed sex boundaries with each generation from
father to daughter and from mother to son. Compatibly with their way of life,
both males and females were raised to have violent social personalities and to
place no value on sensuality. For instance, breast-feeding of infants was done in
a utilitarian way, with no hint of pleasure; nursing was carried out only to give
the baby food and never to comfort it from fright or pain. Preschool-aged boys
and girls in a classroom looking at a teacher.
Gender socialization begins at a very early age. Boys are often encouraged to be
outgoing, while girls are told to be more restrained.
Finally, the Chambri, a third nearby group, did distinguish personality differences
between men and women, although their expectations differed radically from
role expectations of men and women in North America. The Chambri preferred
marriages in which a man had many wives. Ancestry was traced through the
men of the family. Men owned the houses and the land and officially “owned”
their wives. But in practice, women held the main power in society. It was they
who made most of the economic decisions, and they took the initiative in social
life. For instance, Chambri women were socialized to be sexually aggressive,
while the men were not.
Despite the great differences in their beliefs about gender, the Arapesh, Mundugumor, and Chambri tribes lived within a hundred miles from one another. Such
extremely contrasting examples demonstrate that the personalities of men and
women in any one society are not unambiguous manifestations of inherent characteristics that are fixed by nature. Rather, they are manifestations of each
society’s culturally patterned role expectations— expectations that are fostered
through child socialization and throughout one’s adult life. Common Gender
Patterns in the Division of Labor
In spite of differences in how gender roles may be structured, there is a pattern
to differences in roles that are commonly assigned to women and men. A crosscultural study by Murdock and Provost (1973) revealed that throughout the
world, males are almost always responsible for hunting large land and sea animals
and game birds, and for trapping smaller animals. They are usually expected
to fish, to herd large animals, to collect wild honey, and to clear the land and
prepare it for planting. Women are usually involved in gathering wild plant
foods. Other food production activities, such as collecting shellfish; caring for
small animals; milking animals; and planting, tending, and harvesting crops, are
not consistently assigned to either men or women. As a matter of fact, such
tasks are often roles of either gender. Men usually butcher animals, while women
most often cook; prepare vegetable foods, drinks, and dairy products; launder;
carry water; and collect fuel. Preserving meat or fish for future use may be done
by either men or women or by both.
The common division of labor that Murdock and Provost reported for getting
and preparing food most often associates men with work that requires strength
or rapid bursts of energy and women with work in which lower levels of strength
are required for longer periods. This pattern seems to apply to other areas of
work as well. For instance, men typically do woodworking, including felling trees,
preparing wood, and building boats. They also are almost always the ones who
mine and quarry stone, smelt ores, and work with bone, horn, and shell. Men
usually build houses and make nets and ropes. On the other hand, spinning yarn
is almost always done by women. Either or both genders prepare skins and make
leather products, baskets, mats, clothing, or pottery. Whyte (1978) has added
to Murdock and Provost’s list by noting that it is almost always men who are
involved in warfare and who hold most positions of political leadership. Weisner
and Gallimore (1977) have noted that childcare is usually carried out by women.
According to J. K. Brown (1970), two other biological factors besides strength
and metabolism also have an influence on gender roles: pregnancy and lactation.
Since women of childbearing age in most parts of the world spend about half
of their time either pregnant or nursing children, it is easy to see why women’s
roles usually include most of the childcare responsibilities as well as other duties
that can be carried out while pregnant or tending children. By contrast, men’s
roles include many activities that take them away from home for long periods,
or activities that, although done near the home, must be done without the
interruption that childcare would involve. In addition, many male activities,
such as hunting large game, would be dangerous to children. While these things
do not preclude possibilities such as leaving children in the care of someone
else while a woman hunts, such practices are less cost effective than a gendered
division of labor in which men are the primary hunters while women typically
perform work that can be done while also being involved in childcare. It is the
social efficiency of this gendered division of labor— not a mandate of biology
itself—that has resulted in this pattern becoming typical of societies in which
hunting is important.
The common gender differences in tasks that seem unrelated to either strength
or childcare may simply be secondary effects of tasks that can be explained in
these ways. For instance, men’s involvement in making musical instruments is
probably influenced by their other work with wood, just as their work at making
nets and ropes may arise from the common use of these tools in activities such as
fishing, trapping, and smelting. Although men’s prominence in warfare may be
related to their typically greater size and proportion of muscle to body weight,
it is also true that many of men’s roles, such as hunting and fishing, take them
away from home to locations where strangers are more likely to be encountered
and where conflict is more likely to arise. The weapons of war are also typically
the same kinds of tools that men are accustomed to using in activities such
as hunting. In small-scale societies, the association of men with warfare most
certainly increases their likelihood of entering positions of political leadership
where decisions are made about matters such as relations with neighboring
groups of potential enemies. In sum, the predominant role of men in warfare
cannot be explained as simply a result of biological differences such as an innately
greater tendency toward violence in males. Social circumstances, not just biology,
clearly play a role. Gender Roles and Subsistence Mbuti Pygmy hunter with
spear and rolled up net for snaring game.
Randy Olson/National Geographic Stock
Foraging societies often divide roles by sex, with the men hunting and the women
gathering. Here, a Mbuti Pygmy hunter with a spear and rolled-up net for
snaring game hunts for dinner.
A look at the broad range of human cultures shows clearly that the U.S. division
of labor in which men are seen as “providers” who provide and control food and
other resources, while women focus on the household, is far from inevitable. This
is made apparent by studies of gender and subsistence. For example, Lee and
DeVore’s famous book Man the Hunter (1968a) construed hunting as exclusively
the role of men. However, the book has since been criticized for focusing on
hunting as the major form of subsistence and for its narrow definition of hunting,
which emphasized the killing of large aquatic and land animals. By contrast,
others have shown that even if women “hunt” less, they still make significant
contributions to subsistence and food production (Jarvenpa & Brumbach, 2006)
by, for example, processing the meat after the kill (Gifford-Gonzalez, 1993).
In fact, women in some foraging societies contribute as much as 80% of the
calories their families eat (Service, 1962; Lee & DeVore, 1968b; Tanaka, 1977).
However, on average, women’s subsistence production in all foraging societies
represents about 28% of the family’s food. Women’s subsistence contribution
tends to be larger than that in societies that practice horticulture or agriculture
without irrigation. Peggy Sanday (1973) has reported that women produce from
about 33% to about 45% of the subsistence in such societies. Moreover, in parts
of Africa, small subsistence farmers are mostly women, who play key role in
agricultural production, raising livestock, and processing food. In the Congo,
agricultural activities are dominated by women, who produce over 80% of the
food crops. In Morocco, over half of women are active in agriculture, and the
proportion of total agriculture work carried out by women is 45%, while men
carry out about 42%, and children carry out about 14%. Overall, in Africa,
women’s contribution to production of food crops range from 30% (Sudan) to
80% (Congo) (FAO, 1995).
However, more complex forms of food production technology, such as irrigationbased agriculture, are associated with heavy labor. The subsistence contribution
of women is low in societies that practice intensive agriculture and, in particular,
it is low where irrigation is part of the agricultural work. Although industrialized
technology reduces the amount of physical labor women must perform well
below the levels that are common in agrarian societies, the process of becoming
industrialized involves increased poverty and deprivation among women in the
lower social classes and rural women.
5.3 Supernumerary Genders
Although all cultures recognize at least two genders, there are some cultures in
which supernumerary genders—third or fourth genders—exist. These typically
involve a change of the usual association of men’s roles with the male sex and of
women’s roles with the female sex. Two examples of third and fourth genders
are the North American Indian Two Spirits (formerly known as berdache) and
the hijra of India. Indian person with ambiguous male features has a painted
face and wears a head-dress.
The hijra are considered genderless but perform roles of both genders. Two
A number of indigenous North American societies had a social status that has
come to be known as a Two Spirits (formerly called a berdache in anthropological
literature): a female, male, or intersexed person who had adopted gender roles
that mixed the characteristics of the two other genders. Two Spirits were
particularly common among men of Plains Indians tribes where warfare was an
almost sacred preoccupation and where the male role placed strong emphasis on
demonstrations of pride, bravery, and daring. This led some early anthropologists
to erroneously interpret the Two Spirits role as a cultural alternative for men who
lacked the skill for or interest in the aggressive pursuits of the traditional male
role (Hoebel, 1949). They assumed that such a man might instead opt for the
life of a Two Spirits by adopting the dress, work, and mannerisms of a woman.
More recent research suggests that this interpretation reflects colonial gender
constructs rather than indigenous models and oversimplifies a complex and highly
variable social reality. Most individuals who became Two Spirits did so not to
avoid unpleasant aspects of their assigned gender roles but to resolve their gender
dysphoria, or profound sense of mismatch between their birth sex and their
gender identity. In his survey of the literature and his own research among the
Lakota, Walter Williams (1992, 2010) found that most Native American societies
with Two Spirits provide some sort of social or spiritual acknowledgement or
legitimation of their gender role.
Far from being ridiculed or shunned by other members of their community, Two
Spirits held a sacred status in many Native American societies. Often they
played important ceremonial roles, and in some cases all shamans were required
to be Two Spirits. A female who became a Two Spirits actually moved up
the status hierarchy and might achieve wealth and social prominence by doing
so, as the change allowed her to participate in what were considered the more
advantageous male pursuits such as trade. A Two Spirits “man” might marry
and even rear children by having another man impregnate his wife, or a Two
Spirits “woman” might hire another woman as a surrogate mother. For an
illustration see Figure 5.1. The Hijra
Serena Nanda (1985, 1990) has described the hijra, a socially recognized third
gender in India. The hijra, most of whom live in cities in north India, are
regarded as neither male nor female, but their roles include elements of both.
Like the Two Spirits of the North American Indians, the hijra gender also includes
religious roles. As devotees of the Mother Goddess Bahuchara Mata, the hijra are
expected to undergo a surgical removal of their external genitalia and to live an
asexual life. Their sexual abstinence is believed to be a source of sacredness that
allows the hijra to give blessings of fertility, prosperity, and health or to cause
infertility through their curses. The hijra perform as musicians and dancers at
christenings and at weddings. In these roles, the hijra are spiritually identified
with the Hindu god Shiva, who also plays the roles of singer, dancer, eunuch,
and transvestite. However, much like the Native American Two Spirits, colonial
influences have transformed the hijra gender role and degraded the status of
hijras in modern Indian society. Hijras still perform many important social and
religious functions, but outside of those contexts they face ridicule, discrimination,
and sometimes violence. Some remain on good terms with their families, while
others have been ostracized. Most live in communal hijra households headed
by senior hijras called gurus. Earning a living can be extremely difficult for a
hijra, leading many to resort to panhandling and prostitution to generate income,
much of which they must hand over to their hijra guru to support the household.
Figure 5.1: The hijras and their patron goddess
Drawing of a Hijra goddess riding on the back of a chicken.
Hijras worship the Hindu goddess Bahuchara Mata. She was from the Charan
family, where the custom was to kill oneself rather than surrender to the enemy.
Legend has it that she and her sisters were on a journey when their caravan was
attacked by Bapiya. Seeing this, Bahuchara and her sisters cut their breasts off
and cursed Bapiya to impotency. The curse was only lifted when he worshipped
Bahuchara Mata by dressing and acting like a woman.
5.4 Gender, Power, and Honor
Studies by feminist anthropologists have revealed some important new insights
into the causes of inequality between women and men. Many societies that
anthropologists have studied have social organizations that include gender stratification, an ordering of men and women that involves different access to social
power and prestige. Sanday (1974) has suggested four measures of the social
power of women’s rank: (1) female control of material things such as land,
produce, and crafts outside the domestic unit; (2) demand for women’s produce
outside the family unit locally or in external markets; (3) women’s right to
participate in the political process in a way that influences policy affecting those
outside their domestic unit; and (4) the presence of female solidarity groups that
protect women’s political or economic interests. She found that women’s rank,
evaluated by these measures, varied considerably from society to society, and that
when women’s economic contribution to subsistence was very high or very low
compared to men’s, women’s power tended to be low. Most of the roles Sanday
associates with women’s status and power are in the public rather than domestic
sphere. Louise Lamphere (2001) explored the distinction between the public
and domestic sphere and found that its importance is greatly diminished in
foraging and horticultural societies, where many domestic activities are collective
or cooperative and most take place in public or communal spaces. Like Sanday,
she found that it is in this middle range, where men and women cooperated in
subsistence production and contributed more or less equally to the economy, that
women’s social power was greatest. This suggests that economic dependency
functions to perpetuate low levels of power for women, but when women become
the major economic mainstay of families, men tend to find other spheres for
exerting their social power.
Other researchers have found that women enjoy relatively high status in societies
that trace descent through females and have a matrilocal postmarital residence
pattern (Friedl, 1975; Martin & Voorhis, 1975; Peletz, 1988). Blackwood’s (2000)
research in the Minangkabau villages of Sumatra suggests that this is partly
due to the support woman receive from their kinswomen and partly to the
greater control they have over property. Men in this type of society are removed
from their own kin groups, which weakens their power base by loosening their
ties to their kinsmen. In societies that trace descent through men and have a
patrilocal postmarital residence pattern, men’s ties with their male kinfolk are
much stronger. These types of arrangements are often associated with external
trade and warfare. Under such circumstances, men have greater power and
honor, and women have significantly lower status. However, even in societies
with patrilineal descent and patrilocal residence, social mechanisms sometimes
exist that enhance women’s power and influence. Among the Igbo of Nigeria, for
example, women control market exchanges of the fruits of their own and their
husbands’ labor. As a result, they enjoy higher status than typical of women
in horticultural societies with patrilineal descent and patrilocal postmarital
residence (Njoku, 1990). Toyin Falola (1995) found that Yoruba women, like
their Igbo neighbors, derive considerable power and influence from their market
trading activities, despite the patrilineal/patrilocal emphasis in their society.
The Politics of Gender Stratification
Widowed Women Working in Guatemalan Factories
Think about the different gender roles women have in Guatemala. Why and how would the gender
Although examples such as those above illustrate that gender equality is possible,
most societies in the world customarily provide men with greater access than
women to positions of social and economic power and honor, especially in the
public arena outside the domestic setting. Egalitarian societies are most common
among the socially less complex, nonindustrialized societies of the world; yet even
in such societies, men and women may have distinct social roles and be treated
slightly differently. Nevertheless, most human beings live in nonegalitarian
societies in which differences between men and women in social power and honor
tend to be more pronounced. The social organization of such societies often
includes gender stratification. When there is no significant gender stratification,
men and women are more or less equal in the deference and respect they receive
and in their abilities to influence political decision making. Gender equality
can exist even when women do not normally hold political offices. However,
where gender stratification is significant, women’s social power or honor, or
both, are low. Sanday (1981) examined a cross-cultural sample of societies for
which information was available on male aggression against women and women’s
access to economic and political power. She found that male aggression toward
women and lack of access for women to either economic or political power was
characteristic of 28% of the societies she studied. In 32% of the societies, there
was gender equality in which male aggression against women was absent, and
women had access to both economic and political power. In the remaining 40%,
there were two patterns: one in which male aggression coexisted with women’s
access to economic and/ or political power and another in which male aggression
was absent, and females had access to economic power but not political power.
In the United States, positions of political leadership are not equally held by
women and men, although there certainly have been changes in that direction
since women won the vote nationally in 1920. In 2013, women represent 18% of
the House of Representatives and 20% of the Senate. Women represent a somewhat higher percentage of state legislatures, the nationwide figure being 24.5%.
However, only five states, or 10%, had women governors. So, both nationally
and at the state level, women’s perspectives are underrepresented, including
on legislation regarding gender issues such as marriage, divorce, abortion, and
contraception. These figures were in keeping with the worldwide average. Data
compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union in February 2013 revealed that 20.4%
of all national-level parliamentarians were women. The Nordic countries had the
highest number of women lawmakers at 42%, and the Pacific countries (12.7%)
and Arab states (15.7%) had the lowest. The number across the Americas
was 23.9%, and across Europe (excluding the Nordic countries) it was 21.9%
(Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2013). Marriage and Divorce Rights
In a number of countries, arranged marriages are still practiced. For example, in
some Islamic countries, where marriage is treated as a legal matter controlled by
families, daughters may have little influence on the spousal choice made by their
fathers, and divorce is the sole prerogative of the husband. Where marriage is
legally treated as a contractual relationship that government sanctions between
the spouses themselves, marriage law may not necessarily view marriage as an
equal partnership. This is particularly true where the marriage of young girls
to adult males is permitted by law. For instance, according to Yara Jarallah
(2008), about 40% of Nepalese girls are married by age 14. Fifty of the world’s
200 countries currently permit men to legally marry more than one woman. A
dozen other countries, in which such marriages are not performed, recognize
them if they were performed in other countries. Spousal and Partner Violence
While physical abuse by partners, both in and out of marriage, is the most
common form of violence against women worldwide, there are many other
sources of physical harm that commonly impact women more than men. For
example, Mitra Das (1989) has documented the rise in frequency of dowryrelated wife burnings in parts of India. Decades ago, dowries in India were gifts
that a woman received from her parents when she married. Now, the dowry
gifts are paid to her in-laws, who many times perceive them to be inadequate,
instead of to the bride. Dowry deaths allow the family to acquire another dowry
when the husband remarries. These incidences, often caused by setting fire to
a kerosene-doused woman, are described as “kitchen accidents.” Das argues
that dowry deaths developed because of the economic changes that resulted
from industrialization, which has particularly affected lower-income families, for
whom large dowries have become increasingly important. More recently, some
anthropologists have questioned Das’s assumptions that industrialization and
modernization caused the rise of dowry deaths. Oldenburg (2002) examines
instead how British colonialism led to massive social and economic changes,
resulting in the devaluation of women vis-à-vis men. In particular, British
policies gave men more control over land and property, leaving women with little
control over economic resources and converting dowry from a women-centered
“safety net” to a “noose” controlled by in-laws.
Despite the passage of the Prohibition of Dowry Act in 1961, the category of
“dowry death” has become more well known and pervasive since the 1980s, when
there were approximately 400 dowry deaths. According to India’s National
Crime Records Bureau, dowry deaths have been steadily increasing from about
4,648 dowry deaths in 1995 to about 8,391 dowry deaths in 2010, even though
the payment of a dowry has been officially prohibited since 1961. Reproductive
A right to control one’s own reproductive life is not universally recognized by
law in state societies. It is limited in various ways in most of the countries
of the world today. For instance, Mosher (1983) has documented the strong
governmental role in limiting family size in the People’s Republic of China.
Under a 1979 legal policy that limited each family to having only one child,
women who become pregnant a second time have been put under strong pressure
to terminate their pregnancies. In some instances women have been coerced into
undergoing unwanted abortions as late as in the 7th month of pregnancy. This
policy was widely resisted in China, especially in rural areas where children were
viewed as an economic asset. Since 1985, the state has allowed people in some
rural areas to have two children, and during the 1980s nearly half of all births
reported in these areas were second or later children (but three or more children
can result in fines). Recently, there has been much speculation that the Chinese
government would terminate its one-child policy for all citizens, but as of this
writing, the policy has not been officially changed, and the Chinese government
continues to limit population growth in the world’s most populated country.
In Puerto Rico, Diana Russell and Nicole Van de Ven (1976) reported that during
the 1960s, the government policy of controlling population growth had resulted
in 35% of women of childbearing age being sterilized, in most cases without the
use of the sterilization consent form required by law. Research indicated that
19.5% of these women reported health complications, and 10% reported that
their relationships suffered as a result of their sterilization.
While some countries have imposed limitations on women’s reproductive rights,
other governments have limited or denied women’s access to contraceptive
information and abortion. For instance, such a policy took an extreme form
in Romania under the regime of Nicolae Ceauçescu. Due to its concern about
the nation’s low birth rate, the government practically mandated pregnancy, in
the late 1960s. Romanian law forbade sexuality education, contraception, and
abortion. Women who failed to conceive were fined a “celibacy tax” of up to 10%
of their salaries, and pregnant women who miscarried were suspected of having
had an abortion and were summoned for questioning. These policies ended
in December 1989 when Ceauçescu was overthrown. Although the Romanian
policies represent an extreme, government efforts to increase population are
still pursued in many countries, including the United States, through policies
that restrict or deny family planning services to women. Singapore, which has
been experiencing a declining Native-born population and growing immigrant
population, is providing financial and other incentives to encourage Singaporean
families to have more children. Its objective is to increase its population from
the current level of 5.3 million to 6.9 million by 2030 (Hodel, 2013). Patriarchy
A fundamental concept for understanding male dominance in gender-stratified
societies is the idea of patriarchy, a form of society in which men customarily
have greater access to social power and prestige than do women. The culture
and customs of a patriarchal society assume that male privilege is normal, and
both men and women in such societies may resist challenges to patriarchal
institutions. Enculturation into a system of customs in which male privilege is
the norm can make it difficult for members—both men and women—to perceive
or acknowledge that some of their customs function in ways that disadvantage
One reason that gender stratification may be accepted as normal is that it is
simply one part of a more pervasive system of social ranking in the societies in
which it exists. Where gender stratification exists, the privileges of power and
prestige are unequally divided in a variety of other ways as well: race, ethnic
origins, religion, and various other social statuses. Gender is but one of the
many ways in which inequality can be manifested.
It should not be assumed that all gender stratification necessarily implies an
extreme degree of female subordination. As with other forms of ranking, customary gender differences may be minor and without great emphasis on their
importance, or there may be major disparities in the ranking of men and women
with rigid enforcement of the distinctions. In extreme cases women may be
stigmatized as inferior and spiritually dangerous to men, and rape, physical
and psychological abuse, and other gendered abuses of power may function to
perpetuate the subordination of women. Carole Sheffield (1987) described forms
of “sexual intimidation” involving customs that employ violence against females
and thereby help maintain male control and domination of females. Some forms
of sexual intimidation, such as the physical and psychological abuse of women,
are widely associated with gender stratification, while others such as purdah, the
sati, and footbinding (discussed later in this section) are forms that developed
within specific cultural contexts. Physical Abuse
The physical abuse of women is a major worldwide problem. Such abuse—which
ranges from beatings to rape—appears to be increasing in many countries. South
Africa is believed to have one of the world’s highest rates of domestic violence;
it is estimated that a woman is raped every 36 seconds there (Onyejekwe,
2004). In rural parts of Egypt, 80% of women report that beatings are quite
common, according to the United Nations Population Fund (United Nations,
2008). Domestic abuse problems are also present in industrialized societies. In
the United States, for example, the Department of Justice reports that about
1.3 million women are physically assaulted by an intimate partner each year,
and that one in four women will experience domestic violence over her lifetime
(Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000). Overall, gender-based violence is said to affect
as many as one third of women worldwide, leaving many of them traumatized
for life and constituting a serious human rights and public health problem,
according to the Pan American Health Organization (2003). To address this
problem, many countries have passed laws to define and prohibit domestic
abuse. In addition, nongovernmental and women’s organizations have formed to
support the victims. However, while it is tempting to see domestic violence as an
individual problem, located within households, anthropologists often link such
violence to wider social and political transformations that can disrupt gender
relations and families. Rape as Social Control
In some societies, rape or the threat of rape has been used as a mechanism for
controlling women’s behavior. For instance, Thomas Gregor (1982) described
the Mehinaku of central Brazil, who segregated men and women and had a very
strict division of labor by gender. The men’s house was a sacred place and a
social club from which women were excluded. When women violated rules that
forbade them from observing the sacred things of men, the Mehinaku used gang
rape as punishment.
Among the Cheyenne Indians of the North American Plains, a wife who committed adultery could be punished by gang rape at the husband’s request. He could
invite the 30 to 40 unmarried men who were members of his military association
but not members of his wife’s clan to rape her. If she survived the ordeal, she
was stigmatized for the rest of her life.
“Mass rape” is also a war crime. Hayden (2000) argues that, in the context
of ethnonational conflicts, rape becomes a tool to separate a heterogeneous
population, at the same time that the territory in which they live is also being
divided. For example, during the 1990s’ “ethnic cleansing” war in Bosnia, an
estimated 60,000 Bosnian Muslim women were raped. In this case, rape may
have been a weapon of war aimed at making the victims hate the aggressors.
Mass rape, during wartime, can also be a form of political power, as Littlewood
(1997) argues. It can be a way to punish and humiliate a specific community,
and can even escalate to forms of genital mutilation directed at both women and
men. Footbinding Foot Of Chinese Woman Bound Into Tiny Red Embroidered
The patriarchic custom of footbinding made it difficult for Chinese women to
work and walk.
Until the 1920s many Chinese families bound the feet of their young daughters
very tightly to keep them small into adulthood, a trait that was regarded as
beautiful, in a practice known as footbinding. According to Howard Levy (1966),
this typically painful custom began within the upper class and demonstrated
that a man should support a wife who could not walk well enough to work. Small
feet became symbols of aristocracy and beauty, so the practice spread into the
middle and even working classes. Normal feet, like those of farm women who
had to work, were ridiculed as ugly. The process of binding involved extreme
pain and led to permanent deformation of the woman’s feet. The custom of
footbinding was particularly difficult for poorer women whose feet had been
bound but who had to walk in spite of the pain because they had to work. In
the late 1920s the Chinese government exerted tremendous pressure against its
people to end the custom. Sati
Another example of sexual terrorism was the custom of the sati that was practiced
in 19th-century India. A Hindu widow was expected to demonstrate her fidelity
and love for her deceased husband by joining him on his funeral pyre. In
traditional Hindu communities, the woman’s status was defined so intensely in
terms of her relationship with a husband that a widow was not permitted to
remarry. A widow’s sexual behavior would have dishonored her family. Her
devotion to her husband, whom she should have loved and honored as a god,
was expected to be so great that she would not have wished to survive without
him. Mary Daly (1978) reported that since widows had no acceptable means
of surviving, those who did not follow the custom of the sati were sometimes
forced into the fire by their relatives. This practice has been officially banned
since 1829, and the Indian government enacted a law in 1987 to make it illegal
to coerce a woman to commit sati, to glorify sati, or to attempt to commit sati.
Nevertheless, there are still some rare cases of it today. Purdah
Family honor is extremely important in many Islamic countries, and often deeply
depends on the sexual purity of the female members of the family. That purity
is ensured by the practice of purdah, or seclusion, in which women remain
isolated from public view. Common features of purdah are the restriction of
women to the inner parts of the home when guests are present and the rule of
women’s being veiled when outside the home. Violations of the rules of purdah
are severely punished in some countries that follow the custom, as was the case
in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and remains the case in some areas of the
Even in areas where purdah is no longer strictly observed, a girl’s or a woman’s
honor remains closely linked to her family’s honor and is safeguarded by her
male kinfolk. Gideon M. Kressel (1981) analyzed societies where the murder
of a sister or daughter is practiced to restore family honor when she has been
publicly accused of consorting with a male. The act need not have included
sexual intercourse. For instance, Kressel cites the example of a 13-year-old girl
who was drowned after she had been berated by her brother when he caught her
holding hands with a boy. The attacker is usually a brother but is also frequently
the father. The victim is most often in her teens but may be a married woman.
The homicide generally occurs after a public attack on the family’s honor that
the family is unable to address by other means, such as arranging a marriage
between the couple. An arranged union may be problematic, however. If the
boy is of a lower-ranked lineage, the marriage may not be acceptable to the girl’s
father, as it would lower the esteem of his lineage. Kressel believes that such
homicides allow patrilineal kin groups to demonstrate their loyalty to the values
of the society in which they are competing for social standing. They enhance
the family’s prestige and demonstrate the religious commitment of the attacker
to societal values. Female Genital Surgery
In a number of societies, where male dominance over women is an important
fact of life, the genitals of female children are surgically altered, a practice called
female circumcision (also known as genital cutting, female genital mutilation).
It occurs in at least 20 African countries, and in Oman, the Yemen, the United
Arab Emirates, and among some Muslims in Malaysia and Indonesia. Female
circumcision differs from the circumcision of males in several ways. Female
circumcision is a more radical procedure that typically involves either partial or
full removal of the clitoris in order to modify a woman’s genitalia in ways that
may be locally perceived as more beautiful and to eliminate the physiological
pleasure of sexual intercourse. On the other hand, male circumcision does not
involve the removal of the pleasure-sensitive part of the penis. While male
circumcision is often performed on infants, female circumcision is more typically
performed at a later age at which the process is easily remembered. Because
of these differences, where female circumcision has these characteristics and
is associated with gender stratification, it is sometimes referred to as “female
genital mutilation” (particularly by critics of the practice) to highlight its role in
perpetuating the subordination of women. In contrast to milder forms of female
circumcision, the more dramatic nature of female genital mutilation function in
support of the subordination of females, while male circumcision—even when it is
painful or performed on older male children—has no implication of subordination
Hosken (1980) described the most common forms of female genital cutting, their
effects, and the cultural settings in which they occur. One of these forms is
infibulation—an operation performed mostly in childhood in which the sides
of the vulva are closed over the vagina—is particularly common where the
virginity of wives is important. Following infibulation, sexual intercourse is not
possible until the barrier created by the operation is cut, usually by the husband.
Deinfibulation is extremely painful. It can result in severe bleeding and can lead
to tetanus and other infections that can damage the fallopian tubes and cause
sterility. Deaths from medical complications are not uncommon.
Excision—removal of the pleasure-sensitive clitoris—is performed to reduce a
woman’s sexual sensations and, thereby, her interest in sex. This is thought to
increase her fidelity in marriage, especially in societies where polygyny (where
men are permitted to have more than one wife, see Chapter 6) is practiced, and
legitimate opportunities for heterosexual intercourse are less common for wives
than for husbands. Excision is sometimes thought to increase female fertility, so
it is also practiced to ensure that a woman will have many children. The World
Health Organization estimates that 140 million girls and women worldwide have
undergone some form of genital cutting, including 101 million girls 10 years of
age or older in Africa alone (WHO, 2013). Excision is practiced by Christian
Copts in Egypt, as well as by Egyptian Moslems and by non-Moslem groups in
the 26 African countries where it has been documented. Furthermore, although
infibulation was not a traditional Western practice, excision was practiced by
European and American surgeons into the 20th century as a supposed cure for
masturbation and nymphomania, a negative label for sexual desire in females
Although the practice of female circumcision is still common, it has started
to encounter opposition in recent years by a growing number of African and
European women who have become concerned especially about the medical
dangers it can pose. Efforts by women acting through the United Nations have
led a few heads of state to take a position against female circumcision. For
instance, Thomas Sankara, former leader of Burkina Faso, spoke out against
female circumcision before he was deposed in 1991. In the 1980s, Presidents
Abdou Diouf of Senegal and Daniel arap Moi of Kenya also publicly opposed
the practice. Yet female circumcision continues to have widespread support, not
only because of the weight of tradition but also because, for many, the practice
became a form of resistance to colonial interference. The Causes of Gender
Various causes have been suggested for gender inequality. Prominent among
these have been men’s role in warfare and the economic division of labor by
Marvin Harris (1974) points out that the dominance of males in nonindustrialized
societies is likely when the male role in warfare is compatible with their day-to-day
domination of local community life. Thus, in societies that wage internal warfare
(warfare that is primarily between neighboring communities that have the same
language and cultures, see Chapter 8), the aggressive role of males as warriors
is carried over into their daily social roles as leaders of their local communities
and families. In such societies, women are expected to play subordinated roles
and are often treated as objects of barter between warriors. Devale and Harris
(1976) have noted that internal warfare correlates with an unbalanced sex ratio
in which there are fewer women than men, which results from the high value
placed on sons in these warlike societies and is partly brought about by the
practice of female infanticide. Because the sex ratio imbalance then makes it
difficult for young men to find wives, a man’s desire to prove his valor in battle
and thus obtain a wife can be a powerful psychological motive for participation
The role of warfare in the subordination of women does not hold in external
warfare, warfare between distant groups who do not share the same culture. Like
economic activities such as long-distance trade, external warfare removes men
from their local communities for prolonged periods. The day-to-day economic and
political life of local communities is then in the hands of women, and inheritance
is typically handed down from mother to child. In societies in which the means of
producing income are owned by the producers themselves (e.g., animal husbandry
or gardening), women often have high rank, and men’s aggressive warrior roles
convey no special privileges on the men when they return home, as property
is owned and inherited by women. This contrasts with the effect of warfare in
nation-states in which people typically produce their income by being employed
by someone who owns the business one works for. Thus, during World War II,
women moved into factory jobs previously held by men while those men were
at war, but when the men returned, they replaced those female employees once
again. Economics and Gender Equality
Lisette Josephides (1985) contends that male access to strategic resources is a
primary factor in male dominance over women. Friedl (1975) has argued that
the crucial issue in the control of economic goods is whether men have exclusive
rights to decide how these goods will be used and distributed outside the domestic
setting. For instance, the distribution of meat by hunters in foraging bands,
the distribution of economic goods by “big men” in horticultural tribes who are
responsible for encouraging economic productivity, or the predominance of men
in managerial positions that control other employees’ salaries tend to be a source
of male dominance when women do not also participate extensively in these
roles. In societies where men monopolize these activities, women’s contribution
to family income might equal or exceed that of men, but they are still likely to
experience subordination. In effect, male control over the extradomestic use of
goods, including resources produced by women, becomes a means for “buying”
In capitalist societies, gender roles and stereotypes may be perpetuated by the
economic system. Heidi Hartmann (1976) argues that the indirect and impersonal
mechanisms of control that emerged with capitalism perpetuated male control
over women by enforcing lower wages for women through job segregation, thereby
creating pressure for women to marry. This not only advantages men both
economically and domestically, but it also creates a vicious cycle of subordination
for women. In a different way, new microcredit programs can also recreate gender
inequalities. These programs, which have been implemented in some “developing”
countries like Bangladesh and Paraguay, are poverty-alleviation efforts that aim
to bring people (mostly women) into the fold of the capitalism by giving them
small short-term loans to start small businesses. These programs favor women
based on the belief that women are more likely than men to repay their loans
and that women will use the money for the collective good of their households.
However, while purportedly empowering for women, these programs also reinstate
gender inequality by, for example, reinforcing stereotypes about women’s “natural”
tendency to care for their families and reinforcing the traditional sexual division
of labor (women who receive these loans are still expected to do the bulk of the
unpaid household labor) (Isserles, 2003). Hence, new developments in global
capitalism may not necessarily even the playing field for men and women. Female
workers sew textiles in factory in 1948.
In the early 20th century in the United States, women were often hired as factory
workers because employers could pay women lower wages but get the same
productivity as a male employee.
These microcredit programs illustrate that economic power does not always
translate into social power. Similarly, Sanday (1973) suggested that men’s
absence from the local community for long-distance trade or for working in
distant towns may give women greater local control over important economic
resources, but she also pointed out (1974) that women’s economic productivity
is not necessarily reflected in greater social respect. For instance, according to
Siegfried Frederick Nadel (1952), among the Nupe of Nigeria, women’s economic
position is generally much better than their husbands’, but Nupe men fear and
resent women openly. Nancy Tanner (1974) discussed the concept of matrifocality,
a form of social system in which high female status is maintained by the absence
of men and female control of food production. Matrifocality is common in
matrilineal societies (see Chapter 6), but it may also occur in patrilineal societies.
For instance, the Ibo of eastern Nigeria have a patrilineal society that follows
a patrilocal residence rule at marriage. Ibo men enter polygynous marriages,
but because they are involved in long-distance trading that keeps them away
much of the time, each wife has her own house and garden and controls the
products of her own labor. Marketing of surplus produce occurs locally, where
the prices are set by a women’s organization. The autonomy that women’s
economic independence promotes functions to keep women’s status high in this
society even though inheritance of property is from father to son and wives live
with their husband near his family.
The importance of women’s control over valued economic resources is illustrated
in many western African societies, where women have very high social standing.
Similarly, among the traditional Plains Indians of North America, prior to the
White expansion into their homelands, male and female economic roles were
very different. Men hunted the bison, an extremely important resource that
provided not only food but also hides, sinew, and bones used to make many
tools. However, in spite of men’s very aggressive roles when it came to intertribal
warfare or the policing of village life, Plains women had very high status that
derived, at least in part, from growing the plant foods that were the staples of
the Plains diet. The beans and corn that they grew met people’s nutritional
needs for protein even when men brought in no meat from the hunt. Thus,
Plains women owned and controlled a critical resource that freed them from
economic dependence on men. These examples contrast with many New Guinea
highlands women, whose work in the family gardens and in managing the care of
the family pig herds was the basic source of food and wealth. Although women
produced these goods, the property and produce were considered to be owned
by their husbands, so women lacked control over the fruits of their own labor
and had a rather low social standing.
Mary Nelson (1989) suggests that social change in the roles of women can be a
source of antagonism toward them by men. For instance, the Inquisition occurred
in Europe during a time when women were entering new forms of employment.
Hundreds of thousands of women, particularly those who were not following the
traditional gender roles that made them dependent on men, were accused of
witchcraft and put to death. Midwives and women who had inherited wealth,
and other economically independent women were particularly vulnerable.
Modernization and globalization have impacted women’s status in complicated
ways. Throughout southeastern Asia, for example, large numbers of young
women have found new opportunities to make money in the textile and electronics industries. This has increased their status by increasing their labor force
participation and ability to generate income. It has also removed them from
the control of their male kinfolk. However, it is not as simple as that. The
women’s newfound status has derived from low wages earned under poor working
conditions with few benefits, and oftentimes the patriarchal control over their
lives merely transferred from their male kinfolk to male work supervisors (Ong,
1983). Women in the horticultural societies of Africa, Asia, and South America
have actually experienced declining status because, as more intensive agricultural
practices have been adopted and production has become increasingly geared
to the global marketplace, control of land and production in those regions has
become concentrated in the hands of individual men. And although women
have tended to experience a rise in status and influence in socialist societies, in
postsocialist societies they often experience declining status. After the break
up of the former Soviet Union, for example, the status of women in Russia
plunged as unemployed rose and the amount of money they earned relative to
men declined. Their participation in the political process also dropped off.
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5.5 Sexual Orientation
Our affective and erotic attraction to other persons based on their sex characteristics, traits perceived as “male” or “female” traits, is referred to as our sexual
orientation. The large majority of adult individuals appear to be primarily
attracted to persons who are not of their own sex, but research suggests that
perhaps 3–5% of people appear to have a lifelong sexual orientation toward
members of their own sex. Males as women in beauty pageant.
John Warburton Lee/SuperStock
Sex and gender can be exhibited in various ways. In this beauty pageant in
Thailand, boys compete as females in a Kathoey (ladyboy) pageant. Sexual
Orientation, Biology, and Socialization
Research has not yet unambiguously determined the relative contribution of
biology and socialization to sexual orientation. Nevertheless, it is clear that, once
established, sexual orientation is not a readily malleable characteristic but seems
rather firmly fixed for most individuals throughout their life course. Homophobia
Contrary to a popular misconception in the West, homosexuality is not universally
stigmatized. Based on the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample of 186 societies,
Crapo (1995) found that only 31% of people stigmatized homosexual behavior,
while the remainder either considered homosexual experimentation to be a
normal developmental phase of preadult life (38%), accepted committed adult
same-sex relationships as an alternative form of marriage (18%), or even required
same-sex relationships among all males during a period that preceded their being
permitted to marry heterosexually (12%).
The word homophobia was coined by a New York psychotherapist, George
Weinberg, in 1967, to refer to a pattern of irrational fear, revulsion, and distrust
of homosexuals that was sometimes translated into hostility and even rage toward
them. He had noted this pattern of irrational feelings in a number of his patients.
The homophobic feelings of his patients were irrational in the sense that they
were not grounded in experiences with real persons who are sexually oriented
toward their own sex and were not based on any real danger posed to the persons
with these prejudices. Like racial prejudices, they were typically justified by
inaccurate stereotypes about the stigmatized group. In fact, persons who are
homophobically prejudiced are less likely to report that they know any gay or
lesbian persons than are those who are not homophobic. Homophobic feelings
and their associated beliefs are also irrational in the sense that they are very
resistant to change based on factual information that contradicts the false beliefs
with which they justify their feelings. Finally, the irrationality of homophobia
manifests in the ability to entertain mutually contradictory positions about
homosexuality. For instance, the same person who asserts that homosexuality
is terribly disgusting to “normal people” may also compare homosexuality to
a contagious disease that readily spreads from one person to another or ask,
“What if everyone became homosexual?” Homophobia and Sexism
Gay Parents: Challenges
What are some of the challenges gay couples face as parents?
What are the challenges facing children of gay parents?
Why is there so much opposition to gay couples adopting children?
Where does homophobia come from, and how can it become so pervasive that
it represents a typical blind spot for members of society? Psychiatrist Gregory
Lehne (1976) suggests that childrearing customs—not psychopathology—are
the source of our customary homophobia. He noted that homophobia begins at
an early age—long before the children involved actually know the meaning of
words like “homosexual,” and it arises in the context of peer socialization about
what it means to be masculine or feminine. The process involves an implicit
threat of being rejected by others of one’s own sex for not being appropriately
masculine or feminine. For instance in American society, a 5-year-old boy who
is less aggressive than his peers may be labeled as a “sissy.” The insult treats
“girls” as a symbolic “out group”—that is, as somehow inferior to “boys.” The
anxiety of being seen as feminine functions to pressure nonconforming boys
toward conforming to masculine roles. Later in life, terms like “sissy” are merged
with words like “queer,” “fairy,” and “fag”—terms that shift the “out group”
from females to sexual orientation. By adopting homophobic thinking, males
can affirm their own masculinity instead of feeling anxiety about inadequacy.
That is, homophobia replaces personal anxiety about the adequacy of one’s
own handling of gender roles with antipathy towards an out group. And this
antipathy develops early enough that those who experience it may have little idea
about what the words “homosexual” or “gay” actually mean. Indeed, gay men
commonly report that they themselves were homophobic before they identified
themselves as “gay.” Lehne’s model demonstrates a link between homophobia
and sexism. It also explains why false stereotypes about the “effeminacy” of
homosexual males are such a pervasive element of homophobic thinking in the
United States and why the false stereotypes about homosexuals are so resistant
to change. The stereotypes permit believers to feel better about themselves as
men and as members of their heterosexual reference group.
This gender-socialization model of homophobia also explains why the strong
emotions of homophobia are not based on actual experience with homosexual
persons. The process of developing homophobic prejudices begins long before
children have developed a real understanding of sexuality or the real reference
group of gay people. So the use of terms that denote gay males as pejorative
challenges a boy’s acceptability to his peers, and all of the emotional loadings of
those pejorative terms carry over as stigma against real gay persons. All of the
feelings are magnified during the period of adolescence when sexuality begins to
become something of real relevance and when secondary sexual characteristics
begin to develop. The social anxieties that accompany adolescent biological
changes aggravate the social anxieties and escalate the effects of homophobia.
This model also explains why homophobia is a developmental experience among
males who later identify themselves as “gay” as well as among heterosexually
The link between homophobia and sexism (and related customs that involved
maintaining social hierarchies) was recognized as early as in the 1970s when
Schur (1972) and Dunbar et al. (1973) found that those most prejudiced against
homosexuals strongly supported traditional gender roles and were authoritarian
and conservative in their social attitudes (e.g., opposition to civil rights for
women, blacks, and other minorities). In related research, A. P. MacDonald
(1974) found that lack of support for equality between the sexes correlates very
highly with homophobia. Homophobia and Heterosexism
Homophobia and sexism are related to a third social characteristic, heterosexism—
the often unspoken assumption within a society’s customs and institutions that
all members of society are heterosexual. From a heterosexist perspective, if
a woman is not socially involved in a relationship with a man, she is not
fully a woman: Whether celibate or lesbian, she is seen as “queer.” If she is
independent and aggressive about her life, she is called a “dyke,” regardless of
sexual preference. Such labels have been used to keep straight women in their
place and to keep persons with a lesbian sexual orientation in the closet. Since
the assertion of a homosexual or lesbian identity inherently challenges both
heterosexism and male supremacy, it is met with strong opposition that rejects
the acceptability of such self-definitions. Because adopting the public social
roles and identity of “gay” or “lesbian” is a challenge to the status quo, these
statuses are resisted by society at large. Gays and lesbians who assert their right
to a public nonheterosexual identity are said to be “flaunting their sexuality,”
while public displays of heterosexual affection are often openly accepted as
normal. The maintenance of heterosexism and male social dominance requires
that homosexuality remains a stigmatized, socially unacceptable category. Thus,
anyone who is interested in or who defends the rights of homosexuals is assumed
to be a homosexual.
An interesting byproduct of the heterosexist defining of women’s sexuality in
terms of service to heterosexual male desire is that lesbian behavior is not necessarily tabooed. In fact, lesbian behavior is a standard feature in pornographic
entertainment that caters to heterosexual male tastes. Instead of treating lesbian
behavior as a threat, this inclusion of sex between women within heterosexual
pornography co-opts it into the system of patriarchy. Similarly, in traditional
polygynous societies, “harem lesbianism” (between co-wives) was very often
acceptable, as it did not challenge the patriarchal authority of the husbands.
Thus, some very homophobic males may focus solely on demonizing male homosexuality while ignoring lesbianism as a topic. This ability to co-opt the
symbolism of lesbianism into the system of heterosexism explains, in part, why
male homosexuality specifically is the more common focus of political discussions
of homosexuality in which male homosexuals are stereotyped as promiscuous
and a threat to “family values” while lesbianism may be ignored. A similar
pattern occurs in childhood, where a certain degree of “tomboyishness” may be
tolerated in girls, but the challenge of “sissy,” among boys is a stronger insult.
This is not to say that lesbianism is never the object of homophobic intolerance
but that it is less likely to be in contexts that do not directly challenge the
system of heterosexism. However, in settings such as the military or, in some
corporate settings, where male heterosexuality is symbolically linked to male
status competition, the failure of women to respond sexually to male advances
is a direct challenge to the system, and the coercive uses of epithets such as
“dyke” or “lesbian” to punish women for not playing the expected heterosexually
subordinate roles does occur. Same Sex Marriage: A Current U.S. Political Issue
Within the traditional U.S. heterosexist outlook, marriage was simply assumed
to be a union between a man and a woman. Today, the question of granting
legal marriage equality to gay and lesbian couples has become a political issue
both at the national and state levels. Civil marriage automatically extends
a large number of legal benefits to couples whom government recognizes as
legally married. These include spouses being recognized legally as next of kin
(which itself entails a large number of other legal and contractual rights, such
as the right to make funeral decisions for a deceased spouse, visitation rights in
hospitals and the right to make medical decisions for an incapacitated spouse,
insurance benefits for a spouse’s children, and inheritance rights) as well as
various governmentally recognized rights such as the right to file income taxes as
couples. These and hundreds of other legal rights that come with civil marriage
make the issue of marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples an important
one for those couples for whom they are not currently available.
The politics of same sex marriage have been hotly contested since 1993, when
the Supreme Court of Hawaii ruled that under the state constitution, denial
of marriage licenses to same-sex couples was an unconstitutional form of sex
discrimination. The case was remanded to the Circuit Court that had originally
been dismissed to consider arguments whether there was a compelling state
interest in permitting this discrimination. Eventually, in 1996, the Circuit
Court eventually found in favor of the plaintiff couples, but during the same 3
years, state legislature became embroiled in a debate about changing the state
constitution so that the legislature was authorized to limit marriage rights to
twosex couples. Eventually, this was done, but a new legal category of civil
unions was then created that as of January, 1, 2012, included many of the same
rights of marriage for other couples.
In 1996, the U. S. Legislature passed the DOMA (“Defense of Marriage”) Act that
prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex couples as married.
One major effect of this is that gay and lesbian couples will remain unable to
file their federal taxes as married couples, although they may file their state
taxes that way if they reside and are married in a state that accepts same-sex
marriages. Similarly, they do not have access to other federal benefits normally
available to spouses pertaining to such things as Medicaid, veteran’s benefits,
inheritance benefits, or immigration law.
On the state level, the majority of states have banned recognition of same-sex
marriage. The debates regarding this have been quite contentious. For instance,
in 2008 the California legislature legalized same-sex marriages, but this was then
overturned in a public vote (Proposition 8), and this was followed by litigation
that challenges the constitutionality of the ban.
Currently, Washington, DC; Massachusetts; Connecticut; Iowa; Vermont; New
Hampshire; New York; Maine; Maryland; and Washington have legalized samesex marriage, although these marriages are not recognized in other states.
Five other states—Hawaii, Delaware, Illinois, New Jersey, and Rhode Island—
recognize same-sex civil unions; and California, Nevada, and Oregon have created
civil “partnership” options for same-sex couples. Neither civil unions nor domestic
partnerships offer all of the legal benefits of civil marriage.
The issue of same-sex marriage is likely to remain one of public, legislative, and
court debate for some time to come. Chapter Summary
Sexism functions to maintain gendered differences in social roles.
Gender is a social and cultural identity that consists of roles a person is expected to play
There is great cross-cultural variety in how the genders are perceived.
The presence or absence of male dominance is influenced by a society’s kinship system, the n
Religion provides supernatural support for society’s gender-role traditions and portrays gen
Some societies have more than two gender categories.
Explain the difference between sex and gender.
Discuss the nature of sex differences.
Explain why sex differences do not directly produce two contrasting sets of gender roles.
What are gender stereotypes, and what problems can they pose for individuals?
What is gender stratification?
List Sanday’s four measures of gender stratification.
Outline the causes of gender inequality.
Why is it appropriate to define statuses such as the Two Spirits (berdache) as a gender?
What similarities exist between the gender roles of Two Spirits and hijras? How might these
What are the characteristics of homophobia, and how may it be grounded in early gender socia
Click on each key term to see the definition.
See Two Spirits.
Warfare that is fought for prolonged periods in locations distant from the warriors’
home with enemies who speak a foreign language and follow an alien way of life.
Surgical alteration of female genitals including both minor alterations similar to
those in male circumcision and more radical forms that have no male counterparts
(see also female genital mutilation, infibulation, and excision).
A social identity that consists of the roles persons are expected to play because
of their sex.
Preconceived ideas about how women and men differ in their personality traits,
behavioral skills, and predispositions.
An ordering of men and women that involves different access to social power
See female circumcision.
The often unspoken assumption within a society’s customs and institutions that
all members of society are heterosexual.
A pattern of irrational fear, revulsion, and distrust of homosexuals that is
sometimes translated into hostility and even rage toward them.
Surgical closing of the female vulva over the vagina.
Individuals whose physical characteristics include both male and female traits.
Societies in which the primary solidarity relations involve women.
A form of society in which access to social power and prestige is unequally
distributed by gender to men.
The seclusion of women from public view.
Biological distinctions such as the chromosomal, hormonal, or physical differences
between males and females.
Rigid enforcement of gender stereotypes that prevents individuals from playing
roles that are not those assigned to their own sex.
The phenomena whereby males are, on average, physiologically slightly larger
Affective and erotic attraction to other persons based on their sex characteristics
and traits perceived as “male” or “female” traits.
Third or fourth genders that have roles that are distinct from the two genders
that are typically assigned to males and females.
Among Native American societies, a female, male, or hermaphrodite who had
adopted gender role that mixed the characteristics of the two other genders.
Social Organization and Lifecycle A Latino family celebrates at a table outdoors.
Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Thinkstock 6 Learning Objectives
After reading this chapter, you should be able to:
Define the concept of social organization and its parts.
Discuss the relationships between status, roles, and division of labor.
Explain the relationship of rank to power and prestige.
Compare and contrast the concepts of class and caste.
Discuss the nature and functions of master statuses.
Explain the nature of minorities.
Explain the relationship of kinship to descent.
Analyze the social and psychological functions of rites of passage.
Describe the more common customs in the world concerning pregnancy and childbirth.
Explain the three forms of learning that play a role in socialization.
Describe the most common customs in the world concerning sexuality and puberty.
Describe the most common customs in the world concerning marriage and divorce.
Describe the most common customs in the world concerning old age and death.
Nowhere are all people simply individuals. The ways in which we interact with
others are everywhere conditioned by the way each society is organized so that
individuals are categorized based on the groups they belong to and the statuses
they hold. For instance, group membership and the statuses we hold determine
the amount of social honor we are expected to be given by others and the amount
of power we are entitled to use. Many of the social statuses that we acquire
follow one another in a definite sequence from birth to death, known as the
lifecycle, and are commonly recognized in cultures throughout the world. It
is particularly common to publicly celebrate status changes: to proclaim the
addition of a new member of the human community shortly after birth, to
announce the passage from childhood to adulthood around the time of puberty,
to move from an unmarried to married status, and to adjust to the loss of a
member of the community at death.
6.1 Organizational Patterns
Throughout human history, cultural continuity has been maintained by symbolic
communication among members of a particular society. The pattern of that
communication is determined by how society is organized. The social organization
of a society consists of (1) the various groups that form the society; (2) the
statuses that individuals may hold; (3) the division of labor, or the way in which
the tasks of society are distributed among individuals and groups; and (4) the
rank accorded to each group and status. Groups
Every human society is a group whose members perceive themselves as having a
common identity because of the culture that binds them together. All human
societies that have been studied subdivide into smaller groups that coalesce
from time to time for specialized activities. Basketball fans scattered across
the country are not a group, for example, but spectators at a specific game are.
Groups tend to have geographical boundaries, specifiable members, a common
activity engaged in by members, and a division of labor. When a group is formally
organized, it may have an explicitly formulated ideology and a goal-oriented
“game plan” or set of procedures for carrying out the activity that brings its
The members of social groups generally identify themselves symbolically with a
name or some other emblem of their group identity. Commonly, the identifying
emblem indicates the activity that draws the members together or represents
some other important aspect of the group’s characteristics. Thus, the group
identity of the United States of America is symbolized by a flag that portrays
the political unity of that society’s 50 states by a group of 50 stars. The Great
Seal of the United States of America contains the image of an eagle clutching
an olive branch and arrows, symbols of peace and war, which suggest that the
major purpose of the nation as a political entity is to maintain internal order and
to defend the group. A smaller, more face-to-face group, such as a basketball
team, may identify itself as a unified body by naming itself and by representing
its athletic purpose with a symbol of its prowess, such as a charging bull or a
buzzing hornet. Statuses and Roles
Besides groups, each pattern of social organization also includes several kinds of
relationships. All relationships that a person may have with others are called
statuses and exist in pairs, such as doctor and patient, husband and wife, parent
and child, or friend and friend. The status pairs of a society are of two types:
those in which the holders of the statuses are expected to behave in different
but mutually compatible ways, and those in which the holders of the statuses
are expected to behave in a similar way toward one another.
Status pairs in which both parties are expected to behave in different but
compatible ways are called complementary statuses. The status of doctor, for
example, requires the existence of the complementary status of patient, that of
parent implies that of offspring, and without the status of student there could
be no teacher. In each of these cases, the holder of one status of the pair is
expected to behave differently from the holder of the second status, and one of
the statuses may have access to a greater amount of honor, social power, and/or
wealth. Thus, parents have the power to train and control their children rather
than the other way around, and it is the teacher who tests and assigns grades to
the student, not vice versa.
Statuses such as friend, neighbor, enemy, colleague, or ally, on the other hand,
imply the existence of two or more holders of the same status who are expected
to act toward one another in similar ways. Statuses paired in this way are called
symmetrical statuses. One cannot be an enemy unless there is someone who will
respond in kind as an enemy (Watzlawick, Beavin, & Jackson, 1967).
In every society, each person may be involved in many different kinds of relationships and therefore have many different statuses. The same person may be a wife,
a mother, a student, an employee, a friend, and a political activist. Some statuses
are ones that we have little or no choice about; these are known as ascribed
statuses, and often include characteristics such as sex, family membership, or in
some societies, racial identity.
Some statuses, such as those based on sex, race, or physical disability, may be
mistakenly thought of as natural results of physical characteristics, rather than
recognized as something that is ascribed to individuals by society. Nevertheless,
playing the social roles associated with such statuses involves learning to conform
to the expectations that people have about those statuses. It is people’s beliefs
about biology, not biology itself, that controls the content of social roles. Of
course, when people who share some biological characteristic are socialized into
playing roles that their culture claims are a natural result of those biological
traits, their learned role-playing is then treated as evidence that the original
beliefs were correct. The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy, a situation in which a
group’s shared beliefs cause people to behave so that an expected outcome occurs.
In this case playing the learned role seems to prove the culture’s association of
the behaviors with biology. For instance, an active female child may be subject
to intensive social training that leads her to conform to a more passive and
nonaggressive role because her society considers these traits attributes of the
female status. Similarly, Scott (1969) has described an interesting process by
which those with poor vision may acquire the status of blind persons. Having
been labeled blind by legal criteria, such persons may begin to interact with
various caregiving agencies. In the process of providing their services, these
agencies may unwittingly encourage their poorly sighted clients to learn to
perceive themselves as helpless. Learning to play the blind role inhibits the use
of whatever vision the clients actually possess.
When statuses are assigned to people based on the belief that certain roles arise
naturally from biological characteristics, those beliefs (e.g., beliefs about the
“natural” roles of one sex or race) may function as a powerful justification for role
differences between groups. For instance, in societies where men hold powerful
statuses, the culture may contain beliefs that men are somehow naturally more
dominant than women. Or where, one racial group dominates another in the
same society, the members who hold the more highly ranked statuses tend to
be described as inherent leaders, while those of the subordinate race tend to be
portrayed as naturally lazy, less intelligent, and in need of guidance. Such sexist
and racist beliefs (discussed in Chapters 3 and 5) function to keep the existing
system of status differences stable and difficult to change. Violations of the
predominant role expectations are likely to be viewed not just as the breaking of
social conventions but as attempts to go against the “natural” characteristics of
biology. Thus, the belief that social roles are determined by biology functions as
a powerful force against change in those social roles.
Other statuses must be acquired during our lifetimes and may change as our
position in life changes. These statuses, such as team captain, college student,
or club member, are known as achieved statuses.
The ways in which the holder of a status is expected to behave are called the
roles of that status. Every status has several different roles, each of which is
considered appropriate for certain times and places. For instance, in a classroom,
students take notes, ask and respond to questions, and occasionally take tests.
At home they are expected to read and study assignments and compose term
papers. Their written assignments may require them to carry out library research
or demonstrate other information-gathering skills. People in these situations
behave in the role of student. However, when these same people go to a party
on Saturday night, they assume a role other than student and behave differently.
By conforming their behavior to the role expectations of others, holders of a
particular status symbolically communicate that they wish to be responded to
in a manner appropriate to that specific status rather than to another status
that they also hold. The team captain is expected to direct action on the field;
off the field, the same person may be expected to listen to and respect the
opinion of another with whom he or she shares the status of friend. The various
status pairs of a society form a pattern of predictable expectations that guide
their interactions and simplify social relationships. When team members accept
another’s status as team captain, they know that during a game their appropriate
relationship to the leader is that of followers. Without such role agreements,
ball games—and social life—would be somewhat chaotic. Master Statuses
The usual pattern in which the setting determines which roles a person may play
is altered when he or she holds a master status. A master status is one that is
so strongly imbued with importance in the minds of people that it cannot be
ignored. For instance, if the chief justice of the United States or a well-known
actor were to appear in a college classroom on parents’ visiting day, this visitor
would not be treated as just another parent. More likely, instead of the situation
defining the status of the visitor, the situation itself would be redefined to fit the
visitor’s master status. Unlike an ordinary parent, such a visitor would likely
be introduced to the class, and the regular lecture might even be preempted by
remarks from the guest.
Master statuses may have low rank as well as high. Having a low-ranked master
status can overshadow the other statuses a person may hold, even those usually
held in high esteem by others. For instance, an alcoholic physician may find it
difficult to acquire patients or to obtain referrals from other doctors. Further,
having a low-ranked master status at one time in one’s life can bar one from
attaining more respected statuses later.
Master statuses of low social rank are sometimes given the special designation
of minorities. Minorities in North America include many groups defined by
similar characteristics such as ethnic background, religion, race, and gender.
Religious minorities, such as Muslims, Buddhists, Rastafari, Amish, Hutterites,
and Mormons, also exemplify groups that have not received total acceptance as
members of the U.S. or Canadian mainstream.
The definition of minorities is not necessarily a matter of numbers. In the United
States, for instance, females make up slightly more than 50% of the population,
and Blacks constitute large numerical majorities in many cities and counties.
Yet birth into either of these statuses may impede acquisition and successful
use of highly ranked social statuses. Thus, U.S. women currently hold only
about 15% of elective offices in a society in which they comprise over half of
the total population, and adult Black males in the United States suffer from an
unemployment rate that is twice that of the adult male workforce as a whole.
A recent example, which captured the attention of the U.S. news media and
President Obama, illustrates how one’s minority status can overshadow one’s
other statuses, such as professional status. In 2009, Harvard University Professor
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who is African American, returned home from a research
trip to China to find his front door stuck shut. As he and his driver struggled
to pry the door open, a neighbor, believing that the men were burglars, called
the police. When the police arrived, they questioned Gates, who grew angry
with what he interpreted as racial profiling. Eventually, Gates was arrested and
charged with disorderly conduct. Although the charges were dropped, a national
discussion ensued about racial profiling and police responses. For supporters
of Gates, the incident illustrated how, in the United States, one’s racial status
continues to be prioritized over other statuses of an individual, such that a
distinguished professor who works at a prestigious university may be arrested
for “misconduct.” Division of Labor
The day-to-day work that must be done in any society is allocated to people
through their statuses. This makes it possible for the members of society to be
organized efficiently into a clear-cut, well-known, and effective division of labor
by which all the tasks of life are accomplished.
Even in those human social systems where few specialists exist, there is some
division of labor. In foraging societies, for example, age and gender are the
primary bases for assigning jobs. Even though tasks may overlap and distinctions
may not be strictly enforced, males and females in all societies are generally
expected to specialize in somewhat different economic activities, as are the
members of different age groups. Typically, in the foraging societies men are
assigned the status of hunters, while women specialize as gatherers of wild
plants. Children may provide some help around the campsite, fetching water or
gathering branches for the fire. Older members of the group may be relied on for
their experience in interpersonal and intergroup relations to mediate disputes,
negotiate with strangers, or arrange marriages. In societies in which people grow
their own food, other forms of specialization develop, and the division of labor
may become much more intricate. For instance, individuals or entire villages
may specialize in the growing of a particular crop or the manufacture of woven
goods or pottery. These are traded to other people or villages in return for their
specialties. In industrialized societies, there are many specialized occupations in
which money is exchanged for labor such that labor itself is transformed from
a service into a commodity, like any other good that can be bought and sold.
Some kinds of work are valued more highly valued than others. Rank is a
measure of the relative importance accorded to groups and statuses and the
work that they do. Holders of highly ranked statuses and members of highly
ranked groups generally have more ready access to whatever is valued in their
culture than do other members of their society.
Rank has more than one component. According to Kemper (1978), the two
characteristics of a status that determine its social rank are the amount of social
power and honor associated with it. Power and honor are measures of one’s
ability to influence others successfully. Power is the ability to exercise coercion
in obtaining what is sought and to punish the failure of others to comply. Honor
is the esteem that some statuses confer on those who hold them. The respect
that comes to persons such as Supreme Court justices, ministers, or movie stars
whose statuses are honored makes it easier for them to accomplish goals and
influence others without coercion.
Importantly, rank has both material and emotional effects: Higher-ranking
individuals (or those that gain in rank) generally have access to more material
resources and experience more positive affect (e.g., satisfaction, confidence, etc.)
compared to lower-ranking individuals (or those who lose in rank) who have less
access to resources and experience negative affect (e.g., fear or anxiety) (Kemper,
Groups, too, may be ranked differently in terms of their degrees of power versus of
honor. For instance, secret societies and vigilante groups are often characterized
by high access to power, but their level of honor may be judged low by others.
Service associations such as the Kiwanis Club or a charity fundraising group may
have little power to coerce others to contribute to their cause, but they may be
highly respected enough to receive voluntary contributions. Likewise, individual
statuses may be ranked. In the United States, the occupational statuses of
doctor and senator are prestigious and are each given more social power and
a greater income than the lower-ranked occupations such as sales clerk, mail
carrier, and carpenter.
Societies differ in which statuses are most highly ranked. For instance, in
industrialized nations, where many important relationships are based on jobs,
occupational status is a major determinant of the rank most people hold. In these
societies, the loss of income that comes with retirement is often accompanied
by a loss of rank. In societies where kinship relationships determine the most
important roles, it is common for rank to increase with age and experience.
6.2 Types of Social Organization
The oldest and simplest of human societies are sometimes referred to as egalitarian
societies because their social organizations make little use of rank beyond ranking
based on age and gender. In these societies, individual differences in achievement
may result in different amounts of respect being given to one person over another,
but there is no large-scale social distinction between groups that command
more or less amounts of authority or honor based simply on group membership.
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