Sociology of Gender

Gender, race, ethnicity, and social class are the most commonly used categories in sociology. They represent the major social statuses that determine the life chances of individuals in heterogeneous societies, and together they form a hierarchy of access to property, power, and prestige.

Gender is the division of people into two categories, “men” and “women.” Through interaction with caretakers, socialization in childhood, peer pressure in adolescence, and gendered work and family roles, women and men are socially constructed to be different in behavior, attitudes, and emotions. The gendered social order is based on and maintains these differences.


In sociology, the main ordering principles of social life are called institutions. Gender is a social institution as encompassing as the four main institutions of traditional sociology—family, economy, religion, and symbolic language. Like these institutions, gender structures social life, patterns social roles, and provides individuals with identities and values. And just as the institutions of family, economy, religion, and language are intertwined and affect each other reciprocally, as a social institution, gender pervades kinship and family life, work roles and organizations, the rules of most religions, and the symbolism and meanings of language and other cultural representations of human life. The outcome is a gendered social order.

The source of gendered social orders lies in the evolution of human societies and their diversity in history. The gendered division of work has shifted with changing means of producing food and other goods, which in turn modifies patterns of child care and family structures. Gendered power imbalances, which are usually based on the ability to amass and distribute material resources, change with rules about property ownership and inheritance. Men’s domination of women has not been the same throughout time and place; rather, it varies with political, economic, and family structures, and is differently justified by religions and laws. As an underlying principle of how people are categorized and valued, gender is differently constructed throughout the world and has been throughout history. In societies with other major social divisions, such as race, ethnicity, religion, and social class, gender is intricately intertwined with these other statuses.

As pervasive as gender is, it is important to remember that it is constructed and maintained through daily interaction and therefore can be resisted, reformed, and even rebelled against. The social construction perspective argues that people create their social realities and identities, including their gender, through their actions with others—their families, friends, colleagues. It also argues that their actions are hemmed in by the general rules of social life, by their culture’s expectations, their workplace’s and occupation’s norms, and their government’s laws. These social restraints are amenable to change—but not easily.

Gender is deeply rooted in every aspect of social life and social organization in Western-influenced societies. The Western world is a very gendered world, consisting of only two legal categories—“men” and “women.” Despite the variety of playful and serious attempts at blurring gender boundaries with androgynous dress and desegregating gender-typed jobs, third genders and gender neutrality are rare in Western societies. Those who cross gender boundaries by passing as a member of the opposite gender, or by sex-change surgery, want to be taken as a “normal” man or woman.

Although it is almost impossible to be anything but a “woman” or a “man,” a “girl” or a “boy” in Western societies, this does not mean that one cannot have three, four, five, or more socially recognized genders—there are societies that have at least three. Not all societies base gender categories on male and female bodies— Native Americans, for example, have biological males whose gender status is that of women. Some African societies have females with the gender status of sons or husbands. Others use age categories as organizing principles, not gender statuses. Even in Western societies, where there are only two genders, we can think about restructuring families and workplaces so they are not as rigidly gendered as they are today.

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Why Gender and Not Sex

Gender was first conceptualized as distinct from sex in order to highlight the social and cultural processes that constructed different social roles for females and males and that prescribed sex-appropriate behavior, demeanor, personality characteristics, and dress. However, sex and gender were often conflated and interchanged, to the extent that this early usage was called “sex roles” theory. More recently, gender has been conceptually separated from sex and also from sexuality.

Understanding gender practices and structures is easier if what is usually conflated as sex/ gender or sex/sexuality/gender is split into three conceptually distinct categories—sex (or biology, physiology), sexuality (desire, sexual preference, sexual orientation, sexual behavior), and gender (social status, position in the social order, personal identity). Each is socially constructed but in different ways. Gender is an overarching category—a major social status that organizes almost all areas of social life. Therefore bodies and sexuality are gendered—biology and sexuality, in contrast, do not add up to gender.

Conceptually separating sex and gender makes it easier to explain how female and male bodies are socially constructed to be feminine and masculine through sports and in popular culture. In medicine, separating sex from gender helps to pinpoint how much of the differences in longevity and propensity to different illnesses is due to biology and how much to socially induced behavior, such as alcohol and drug abuse, which is higher among men than women. The outcome is a greater number of recorded illnesses but longer life expectancy for women of all races, ethnicities, and social classes when compared to men with the same social characteristics. This phenomenon is known in social epidemiology as “women get sicker, but men die quicker.”

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Social Construction of Gender

As with any other aspect of social life, gender is shaped by an individual’s genetic heritage, physical body, and physiological development. Socially, however, gendering begins as soon as the sex of the fetus is identified. At birth, infants are placed in one of two sex categories, based on the appearance of the genitalia. In cases of ambiguity, since Western societies do not have a third gender for hermaphrodites as some cultures do, the genitalia are now ”clarified” surgically, so that the child can be categorized as a boy or a girl. Gendering then takes place through interaction with parents and other family members, teachers, and peers (“significant others”). Through socialization and gendered personality development, the child develops a gendered identity that, in most cases, reproduces the values, attitudes, and behavior that the child’s social milieu deems appropriate for a girl or a boy.

Borrowing from Freudian psychoanalytic theory, Nancy Chodorow developed an influential argument for the gendering of personalities in the two-parent, heterogendered nuclear family. Because women are the primary parents, infants bond with them. Boys have to separate from their mothers and identify with their fathers in order to establish their masculinity. They thus develop strong ego boundaries and a capacity for the independent action, objectivity, and rational thinking so valued in Western culture. Women are a threat to their independence and masculine sexuality because they remind men of their dependence on their mothers. However, men need women for the emotional sustenance and intimacy they rarely give each other. Their ambivalence toward women comes out in heterosexual love-hate relationships and in misogynistic depictions of women in popular culture and in novels, plays, and operas.

Girls continue to identify with their mothers, and so they grow up with fluid ego boundaries that make them sensitive, empathic, and emotional. It is these qualities that make them potentially good mothers and keep them open to men’s emotional needs. But because the men in their lives have developed personalities that make them emotionally guarded, women want to have children to bond with. Thus, psychological gendering of children is continually reproduced.

To develop nurturing capabilities in men and to break the cycle of the reproduction of gendered personality structures would, according to this theory, take fully shared parenting. There is little data on whether the same psychic processes produce similarly gendered personalities in single-parent families, in households where both parents are the same gender, or in differently structured families in non-Western cultures.

Children are also gendered at school, in the classroom, where boys and girls are often treated differently by teachers. Boys are encouraged to develop their math abilities and science interests; girls are steered toward the humanities and social sciences. The result is that women students in the United States outnumber men students in college, but only in the liberal arts; in science programs, men still outnumber women. Men also predominate in enrollment in the elite colleges, which prepare for high-level careers in finance, the professions, and government.

This data on gender imbalance, however, when broken down by race, ethnicity, and social class, is more complex. In the United States, upper- and middle-class boys are pushed ahead of girls in school and do better on standardized tests, although girls of all social statuses get better grades than boys. African-American, Hispanic, and white working-class and poor boys do particularly badly, partly because of a peer culture that denigrates “book learning” and rewards defiance and risk taking. In the context of an unresponsive educational structure, discouraged teachers, and crowded, poorly maintained school buildings, the pedagogical needs of marginal students do not get enough attention; they are also much more likely to be treated as discipline problems.

Children’s peer culture is another site of gender construction. On playgrounds, girls and boys divide up into separate groups whose borders are defended against opposite-gender intruders. Within the group, girls tend to be more cooperative and play people-based games. Boys tend to play rule-based games that are competitive. These tendencies have been observed in Western societies; anthropological data about children’s socialization shows different patterns of gendering. Everywhere, children’s gender socialization is closely attuned to expected adult behavior.

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Gender and Work

Whether they have fully internalized Western society’s gender binarism and social construction of gender differences or rebelled against gender typing, adults encounter a gendered work world. The workplaces in industrialized societies are either gender-segregated or composed of all one gender. During the 1970s and 1980s, decades in which women were thought to have made inroads into many occupations previously dominated by men in the United States, about 6 percent of occupations saw an increase of women workers that was significantly greater than the increase of women overall in the paid labor force during that period. Rather than desegregating occupations, most of the new women workers went into occupations where most of the employees were women, and those who went into occupations where the employees were predominantly men soon found that their coworkers became predominantly women. Some U.S. occupations that went from having a predominance of workers who were men to mostly women workers were personnel, training, and labor relations specialists; computer operators; and insurance adjusters, examiners, and investigators. These occupations had resegregated. When women and men work in nontraditional occupations, gender typing is often maintained symbolically, as when policewomen view their work as social work and men nurses emphasize the technical and physical strength aspects of what they do.

The processes that sort women and men of different racial and ethnic groups into different types of work include a matching of ranked workers and jobs, or queues of workers and jobs. Workers are ranked by employers from their first picks to their last. Jobs are ranked by workers similarly. Lower-ranked workers get the chance to move into better jobs than they have held in the past when these jobs are abandoned by favored workers or there are too few of these workers to go around, such as in wartime. The process works the other way, too; when there are too few of the best jobs for the preferred workers, as in a recession, only the best qualified or experienced among them will be hired; those with fewer credentials and less seniority move down the queue, bumping out lower-ranked workers. When workers are moving up, the most preferred on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender usually get the better jobs. If gender segregation is so rigid that men will not apply or be hired for ”women’s work,” when manufacturing jobs decline or are taken elsewhere, women in service, sales, and clerical work may continue to work as men’s unemployment rates rise.

Workers rank jobs on the basis of payoff for education and experience in salaries and also in fringe benefits, prestige, autonomy, security, and chances of promotion. For some workers, having any job may be an improvement over economic dependency. Employers’ preferences for workers, however, are not so uniform. Some will rank gender and race above qualifications; others will choose the most highly qualified of the preferred race and gender and then go down the line, looking for the most qualified each time. Another variable employers factor in is the going pay scale for the workers they want; they may have to settle for less preferred workers to see more of a profit or sacrifice some profits to avoid protests from highly paid entrenched workers.

Although worker demographics, industry growth, and employer preferences produce changes in occupational gender composition, the main factor that redistributes workers of different races and genders is change in the structure of the work process and in the quality of particular jobs within occupations, which can be manipulated by employers. That is, jobs can be automated and deskilled or made part time or home based to justify reducing labor costs, with a few better-paid workers retained in supervisory positions.

During shifts of labor queues up and down the job ladder, the potential for conflict between women and men as well as between members of dominant and subordinated racial and ethnic groups is high. Dominant men want to perpetuate the work conditions that justify their high pay; employers who want to reduce their labor costs degrade the work process so they can hire cheaper labor, and then these new workers are accused of depressing the job’s qualifications and skills. Gender segregation of jobs is historically the way employers have kept their men workers satisfied, while expanding the number of cheaper women workers. Such job divisions undercut unions that want to organize women and demand the same pay for them as similarly situated men workers. In a growing or stable job market, dominant men are much less resistant to incoming new types of workers, since they do not see them as competition. In those cases, the job may come closer to being integrated along lines of gender and race.

Occupational gender segregation does not result in separate but equal jobs. Rather, women’s work tends to be lower in pay, prestige, and fringe benefits, such as health insurance. Workers themselves rate jobs where most of the employees are women as inferior to jobs where most of the employees are men. The criteria are number and flexibility of hours, earnings, educational requirements, on-the-job training, having a union contract, extent of supervision and place in the hierarchy, repetitiveness, risk of job loss, and being a government employee. Workers rate women’s jobs as better in vacation days and not getting dirty at work, even though changing bedpans is as ”dirty” as changing oil pans. If wages were used to compensate for unattractive nonmonetary job characteristics, women’s jobs would have to pay four times as much as men’s jobs for workers to rate them equally. Nor is there a trade-off of pay for compatibility with child care—most full-time jobs held by mothers are incompatible with parenting demands; flexibility of schedules and control and timing of work-related tasks are the prerogatives of men managers, not their women secretaries.

The best-paid jobs are shaped on an ideal, dominant man’s career—long-term, continuous work in the same occupation, with steady pay raises and a pension at retirement. Men’s gender status is an advantage to them as workers; they are expected to earn more money when they marry and when they have children, so employers tend to view them as better workers than women. Women workers are felt to be entitled only to supplementary wages, whether they are married or single, because they are not considered legitimate workers but primarily wives and mothers. In actuality, research has shown that married women with children work harder and are more productive than married men with children.

The structured patterns of opportunities and access far override most individual employers’ tastes or individual workers’ motivations, ambitions, personal desires, and material needs. By the 1970s in the United States, adolescent girls were considerably less likely than in previous years to plan on entering an occupation in which most of the workers were women, especially if they lived in a woman-headed household. But they continued to value working with people, helping others, using their abilities, and being creative; boys wanted jobs with status, high earnings, freedom from supervision, and leadership potential. The jobs women are likely to end up in are more gender typed and less fulfilling than their occupational aspirations, but ambitious and hard-working men can often reach their early goals.

Women of all educational levels and men disadvantaged because of race, immigrant status, lack of education, or outmoded job skills are profitable workers because they tend to receive low wages; they also get promoted less frequently and therefore receive fewer raises. Many work part time and get no benefits. They can be paid little because the pool of such workers is larger that of privileged men workers. The size and social characteristics of the pool of low-waged workers are affected by state policies encouraging or discouraging the employment of women, the influx of immigrants, and the flight of capital from one area of a country to another or offshore.

Other processes that segregate and stratify occupations are segmentation and ghettoization. Segmented occupations are horizontally or vertically divided into sectors with different educational or credential requirements for hiring, different promotion ladders, different work assignments, and different pay scales. Typically, these segments are gendered and frequently also exhibit racial and ethnic clustering. However, occupations in which almost all the workers are of one gender can also be segmented. For instance, in the United States, doctors and nurses are gender-segregated segments in hospitals. Physicians are segmented between those in primary care and those who are hospital-based specialists, who have more prestige and power and higher incomes. Women physicians are often found in primary care. Nursing is also segmented into registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, nurses’ aides, and home health workers. Nurses are virtually all women, but the segments are racially differentiated: The majority of registered nurses tend to be white or Asian-American; most of the lower-paid health workers tend to be black or Hispanic. Men who go into nursing tend to specialize in the more lucrative specializations and become administrators.

Segmentation is legitimized by bureaucratic rules or legal requirements for qualifying credentials, but ghettoization separates the lower-paid ”women’s” jobs from the better-paid ”men’s” jobs within an occupation through informal gender typing. What is dubbed ”women’s work” or ”men’s work” has a sense of normality and naturalness, an almost moral quality, even though the justification for such typing is usually an after-the-fact rationalization. The assumption is that the skills, competence, strength, and other qualities needed to do a job are tied up with masculinity and femininity, but gendered identities as workers are constructed in the gendered organization of the workplace and reinforced in training and organizational sociability, such as company golf games and sports teams.

Within gender-typed occupations, jobs or specialties may be gender typed in the opposite direction. For example, the majority of physicians are men in the United States and women in Russia, but the same specialties are seen as appropriate for one gender—pediatrics for women and neurosurgery for men. In both countries, neurosurgery pays better and has more prestige than pediatrics.

Both structural segmentation and gender typing that puts some jobs into a low-wage ghetto have the same results. They limit the extent of competition for the better positions, make it easier for privileged workers to justify their advantageous salary scales, and create a group of workers whose lack of credentials or requisite skills legitimate their lower pay. Credentials and skills, however, as well as experience, are manipulated or circumvented to favor workers with certain social characteristics, as when men with less lower-rank experience in women’s jobs are hired as supervisors. In addition, femaleness and maleness are stereotypically linked to certain capabilities, such as finger dexterity and physical strength; gender then becomes the discriminant criterion for hiring, not what potential employees can actually do with their hands, backs, and heads.

Promotion ladders are also gender segregated. Women and men who are not of the dominant racial or ethnic group tend not to rise to the top in their work organization, unless practically all the workers are women or men of the same racial or ethnic group. White men tend to dominate positions of authority whether or not they are numerically predominant. This pattern is known as the glass ceiling—the lid on women’s rise to the top of their work organizations. In occupations where the majority of the workers are women, positions of authority tend to be held by men—elementary school teachers are predominantly women in the United States, but principals and superintendents are predominantly men. That is, token men in a woman’s occupation tend to be promoted faster than the women workers. This parallel phenomenon has been dubbed the glass escalator.

These pervasive patterns of occupational segregation and stratification are the result of deliberate actions and also inaction on the part of governments, owners and managers, and organized groups of workers—and change has to come from the same sources. Since gender segregation involves occupations and professions, job titles, and specific work sites, integration has to involve more than simply increasing the numbers of women. True occupational gender equality would mean that women and men would have the same opportunities to obtain professional credentials and occupational training, and would be distributed in the same proportions as they are in the paid work force across workplaces, job titles, occupations, and hierarchical positions. Instead, in most industrialized countries, women are overrepresented in clerical and service jobs, low-prestige professional and technical work, and sales. In developing countries, and in areas of industrialized countries where there are concentrations of poor people and recent immigrants, women tend to be concentrated in labor-intensive factory work, agriculture, and the informal (off-the-books) economy.

This gendered organization of paid labor dovetails with the gendered organization of domestic labor. Low pay, uninteresting jobs, and the glass ceiling encourage single women to marry and married women to devote energy and attention to child rearing and domestic work. The job market encourages women to be a reserve army of labor— available for full-time work in times of scarce labor, but fired or put on part-time schedules when there is less work. Better job opportunities are offered to men of the dominant racial and ethnic groups to encourage them to give their all to the job. Employers (mostly men) benefit from women’s cheap labor and men’s need to earn more to support a family; men who live with women benefit from women’s unpaid labor at home. Highly educated and professional women are caught in the structural conflicts of these two forms of labor; in order to compete with the men of their status, they have to hire ”wives”—other women to do their domestic work. This pool of paid domestic labor historically is made up of the least advantaged women—native poor and recent immigrants of a variety of racial and ethnic groups.

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Gender Inequality

Gender inequality takes many different forms, depending on the economic structure and social organization of a particular society and on the culture of any particular group within that society. Although we speak of gender inequality, it is usually women who are disadvantaged when compared to similarly situated men. In the job market, women often receive lower pay for the same or comparable work and are frequently blocked in their chances for advancement, especially to top positions. There is usually an imbalance in the amount of housework and child care a wife does compared to her husband, even when both spend the same amount of time in waged work outside the home. When women professionals are matched with men of comparable productiveness, men get greater recognition for their work and move up career ladders faster. On an overall basis, work most often done by women, such as teaching small children and nursing, is paid less than work most often done by men, such as computer programming and engineering. Gender inequality also takes the form of girls getting less education than boys of the same social class. It often means an unequal distribution of health care services between women and men, and research priorities that focus on diseases men are more likely to get than women.

Gender inequality takes even more oppressive and exploitative forms. Throughout the world, women are vulnerable to beatings, rape, and murder—often by their husbands or boyfriends, and especially when they try to leave an abusive relationship. The bodies of girls and women are used in sex work—pornography and prostitution. They undergo cosmetic surgery and are on display in movies, television, and advertising in Western cultures. In other cultures, their genitals are mutilated and their bodies are covered from head to toe in the name of chastity. They may be forced to bear children they do not want or have abortions or be sterilized against their will. In countries with overpopulation, infant girls are much more often abandoned in orphanages than infant boys. In cultural groups that value boys over girls, if the sex of the fetus can be determined, it is girls who are aborted.

Gender inequality can also disadvantage men. In many countries, only men serve in the armed forces, and in most countries, only men are sent into direct combat. It is mostly men who do the more dangerous work, such as firefighting and policing. Although women have fought in wars and are entering police forces and fire departments, the gender arrangements of most societies assume that women will do the work of bearing and caring for children, while men do the work of protecting them and supporting them economically.

Most women in industrial and postindustrial societies do not spend their lives having and caring for babies, and most women throughout the world do paid and unpaid work to supply their families with food, clothing, and shelter, even while they are taking care of children. The modern forms of gender inequality are not a complementary exchange of responsibilities, but a social system within which women are exploitable. In a succinct summary of gender inequality, it was estimated by a United Nations report in 1980 that women do two-thirds of the world’s work, receive 10 percent of the world’s income, and own 1 percent of the world’s property.

The major social and cultural institutions support this system of gender inequality. Religions legitimate the social arrangements that produce it, justifying them as right and proper. Laws support the status quo and also often make it impossible to redress the outcomes—to prosecute husbands for beating their wives, or boyfriends for raping their girlfriends. In the arts, women’s productions are so often ignored that they are virtually invisible, which led Virginia Woolf to conclude that Anonymous must have been a woman. Much scientific research assumes that differences between women and men are genetic or hormonal and looks for data to support these beliefs, ignoring findings that show gender overlaps or input from the social environment. In the social sciences, gender is entered into research designs only as a binary, erasing the effects of racial, social class, and ethnic variations.

Except for the Scandinavian countries, which have the greatest participation of women in government and the most gender-equal laws and state policies, most governments are run by socially dominant men, and their policies reflect their interests. In every period of change, including those of revolutionary upheaval, men’s interests, not women’s, have prevailed, and many men, but few women, have benefited from progressive social policies. Equality and justice for all usually means for men only. Women have never had their revolution because the structure of gender as a social institution has never been seriously challenged. Therefore, all men benefit from the “patriarchal dividend”—women’s unpaid work maintaining homes and bringing up children; women’s low-paid work servicing hospitals, schools, and myriad other workplaces.

Gender inequality is deeply ingrained in the structure of Western, industrialized societies. It is built into the organization of marriage and families, work and the economy, politics, religion, sports, the arts and other cultural productions, and the very language we speak. Making women and men equal, therefore, necessitates social, not individual, solutions.

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Changing Gender

Changing a gendered society entails structural and institutional change. Attitudes and values must change, too, but these are often altered when social policies and practices shift. Which changes have occurred since the beginning of the feminist movement of the early 1970s and which have not? What kind of programs target institutions and social structures? What is still needed for gender equality?

Affirmative action and comparable worth pay scales were two efforts to effect structural change— one to desegregate occupations and the other to distribute economic rewards for work on a gender-neutral basis. Affirmative action (hiring women in occupations dominated by men and men for work usually done by women) was widely implemented in the United States and did desegregate some occupations, but without continuous effort, gender segregation reestablishes itself as jobs and work organizations change. Another effort to establish gender-neutral work policies was comparable worth pay scales—assessing the characteristics of the job and paying on the basis of type of work done, not on who does the work. These programs were not widely implemented; women’s work continues to be paid less than men’s even when a man does the work. Women have entered the professions, especially medicine and the law, in large numbers and have moved up career ladders, but in most large-scale corporations and professional organizations, the top positions of authority are still held by men.

Sexual harassment guidelines have been another effective effort at changing thinking about acceptable behavior, and again, while the results are imperfect (and the guidelines are being used in ways that do not empower women), thinking about what was ”normal” behavior in the workplace did change drastically.

In Europe, but not in the United States, subsidized parental leave for either parent and child care for every mother has changed mothering from a full-time occupation to something that can be combined with paid work out of the home without a constant struggle. The Scandinavian countries provide ”daddy days”—leave time in the first year of a newborn’s life that the father must take or it is forfeited.

A radical effort at restructuring government has taken place in France—a proposed program for mandating equal numbers of women and men representatives at the national level of government. Parity is not likely to become a widespread policy, but even redressing gender imbalance would give women and men a more equal opportunity to make laws and influence social policy. Gender differences in voting patterns in the United States indicate that women do have a different perspective on many issues. For women to be elected in greater numbers, powerful men now in politics would have to encourage young women to consider a career in politics, foster their advancement through mentoring, nominate them for national offices, and campaign with them and raise money for them when they run for office. Paradoxically, it has seemed easier for women to become heads of state than for these same states to vote in an equal number of women and men in their governing bodies. It has also been easier for women to become heads of parliamentary governments, where a party chooses the prime minister. The appointment of women to high positions, such as Madeleine Albright as U.S. Secretary of State, has also been welcomed. Yet when it comes to directly putting women into leadership positions of great authority, whether in government or in major corporations, there is still a public reluctance to grant women as much power as men.

On a more personal level, some people have structured their families to be gender-equal on every level—domestic work, child care, and financial contribution to the household economy. However, as long as work is structured for a married-man-with-wife career pattern, and men’s work is paid better than women’s work, gender-equal families will be very hard to attain by the majority of people. Other heterosexual couples have reversed roles—the woman is the breadwinner and the man cares for the children and keeps house. Here, the problem is that the domestic world is so gendered that male househusbands suffer from ostracism and isolation, as well as from a suspicion of homosexuality. Oddly, lesbian and gay couples who have reared children in a variety of family arrangements have blended more easily into hetero-coupled social worlds, at least in some communities. Corporate and government policies that offer health insurance and other benefits to any couple in a long-term household arrangement have also helped to restructure family life in ways that do not assume heterosexuality and marriage. Note, however, that communal domestic households have waned in popularity in Western countries, although they are the norm in polygamous cultures.

Least amenable to change have been the gendered divisions of work in the global economy. Financed by capital from developed countries, work organizations around the world exploit the labor of young, unmarried women under sweatshop-like conditions, while reserving better-paid jobs and support for entrepreneurship to men. The policies of the International Monetary Fund and other financial restructuring agencies do not include among their goals gender desegregation or encouraging women’s education and access to health resources. In many developing countries, violence and sexual exploitation, as well as the heterosexual spread of AIDS, seriously undermine efforts to upgrade the lives of women and girls.

In sum, to change gendered social orders to be more equal (or, alternatively, less gendered) will take individual effort and modification of gender-stereotyped attitudes and values, but most of all, a restructuring of work and family through the policies and practices of large-scale corporations and the governments of dominant nations.

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