Racialized gender is a sociological concept that refers to the critical analysis of the simultaneous effects of race and gender processes on individuals, families, and communities. This concept recognizes that women do not negotiate race and gender similarly. For instance, white women’s oppression has been linked with their privilege as white people, but they have not escaped the bonds of sexism. Black women’s and First Nation women’s oppression has been linked to the struggle of self-definition, agency, and collective empowerment. Latina and Asian women’s oppression has been linked more to sexism emerging from immigration and multi-generational experiences. Historical, social, and geographic context influence the expression, interpretation, and performance of gender relations over the life span of an individual. Multiracial feminists and ethnic scholars have written extensively about racialized gender particularly as it relates to social constructions of family and sexuality.
Racialized gender concerns the study of the influence of socialization practices on the individual. Social environments such as the family, communities, and institutions provide the frame in which experience is interpreted and communicated and the self (e.g., identity) is defined in relation to difference. Social environments impose or limit culturally appropriate cues, scripts, behaviors, and outcomes for individuals through hierarchical raced, gendered, and classed systems of privilege and domination. The development of gender and racial identities is an important milestone, as an individual’s self-identity perception has been shown to be instrumental in overriding the effects of harmful, external, stereotyped messages. The family is the primary site for the racial socialization of children and socialization of gender identity. For this reason, scholars have focused on the extent to which ethnic families have performed traditional gender norms (as defined by the majority discourses) and used those norms to organize family responsibilities and to socialize children.
The sociohistorical frameworks of race, ethnicity, gender, class, and sexual orientation are embedded in how the sexuality of ethnic women has been created, reproduced, and disseminated for public consumption. Racialized gender can be observed in the study of sexual images and scripts and body image as it relates to perception of beauty. Multiracial feminists and womanists have identified various sexual scripts and the distinctive identity processes women negotiate due to historical and economic circumstances. For instance, sexual stereotypes for black women in the US have been ‘‘transformed’’ from one context, American slavery, to the current sub-context of Hip Hop. Black feminists and womanists have traced how the Jezebel, Mammy, Welfare Mother, Tragic Mulatto, and Matriarch stereotypes have ‘‘evolved’’ into more sexually explicit images and scripts such as the Diva, Gold Digger, Freak, Dyke, Gangster Bitch, Sister Savior, Earth Mother, and Baby Mama (Collins 1991; Stephens & Phillips 2003). A close examination of these stereotypes reveals racialized and sexualized colonial tropes of African primitivism and hypersexuality. The racist imagery and expectations embedded in these narrowly defined stereotypes of black female sexuality have been constructed deliberately to constrict black women’s ability to replace or eliminate negative images of black womanhood.
The concept of racialized gender is also found in comparative research concerning physical attractiveness and body image. Physical attractiveness stereotypes have been found to be the dominant component of gender stereotypes, consistently implicating other components of gender stereotypes. For instance, scholars have observed that white women seem to have a uniform notion of what ‘‘beauty’’ should be, and their conception of beauty tended to match the culturally popular images of women in the mainstream media. Black women, however, have been found less likely to hold uniform notions of beauty, and far more likely to describe beauty in terms of personality traits rather than physical ones. Parker et al. (1995) conducted a study of African American, Asian American, Mexican American, and white female high school students. They found that white adolescents’ conceptions of beauty were much more rigid, fixed, and uniform than those of African Americans, who were much more flexible and fluid in their notions of beauty. The African American girls’ perceptions of beauty focused on personality traits and a personal sense of style, rather than a certain ‘‘look.’’ Poran (2002) argued that beauty must be reconceptualized as a race experience in order to understand and explore fully the diverse experiences women have in relation to, and within, cultures. She believed that images that convey beauty may hold different meanings for different women. In her study, she found that white women seemed to respond to cultural standards of beauty on the basis of what was attractive to western, white men. Black women initially reported that there was a white defined standard, but then reported Afrocentric characteristics as a beauty standard to pursue. Latina women seemed to have a less straightforward, more complex response to dominant imagery.
There is a need to conduct more empirical research that examines racialized gender. For example, more research is needed to determine how institutions transmit and define ‘‘appropriate’’ gender relations. Second, more research is needed to analyze how class diversity and mobility among different ethnic groups influences the expression, reproduction, or termination of specific gender ideologies and behaviors.
- Anzaldua, G. (1990) Haciendocaras / Making Face, Making Soul: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Women of Color. Aunt Lute Press, San Francisco.
- Collins, P. H. (1991) Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment, 2nd edn. Routledge, New York.
- Frankenberg, R. (1993) White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.
- hooks, b. (1992) Black Looks: Race and Representations. Between the Lines Press, Toronto.
- Lu, L. (1997) Critical Visions: The Representation and Resistance of Asian Women. In: Shah, S. (Ed.), Dragon Ladies: Asian American Feminists Breathe Fire. South End Press, Boston, pp. 17-28.
- Parker, S., Nichter, M., Nichter, N., Vuckovic, N., Sims, C., & Ritenbaugh, C. (1995) Body Image and Weight Concerns Among African American and White Adolescent Females: Differences That Make A Difference. Human Organization 54: 103-14.
- Poran, M. A. (2002) Denying Diversity: Perceptions of Beauty and Social Comparison Processes Among Latina, Black, and White Women. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research (July): 1-10.
- Stephens, D. & Phillips, L. (2003) Freaks, Gold Diggers, Divas, and Dykes: The Sociohistorical Development of African American Female Adolescent Scripts. Sexuality and Culture 7: 3-49.
- Wing, A. K. (Ed.) (1997) Critical Race Feminism: A Reader. New York University Press, New York.
Back to Sociology of Gender