Sex and Gender Groups
1. One group to which every human being belongs, regardless of culture, is biological sex. Biological differences between males and females are universally recognized. But like any other group, to be a member of a sex group is to assume a role, in this case a sex role. And like any other role, one’s sex role, or gender, is a set of expectations about how one should behave.
2. The terms sex and gender are used interchangeably, but the terms are not synonymous. Sex refers to the biological and anatomical classifications of males and females. Gender, on the other hand, is a social and symbolic creation that we learn through enculturation and socialization. Our sex-role orientation is the extent to which we take on the learned socialization for our sex group.
VIII. Gender Stereotypes
1. In most cultures, men and women carry out different sex roles, yet there is remarkable consistency in how cultures view the roles of men and women. Since 1990, John Williams and Deborah Best, professors of psychology at Wake Forest University, have conducted a series of cross-cultural studies investigating gender stereotypes.
IX. Sex and Gender Roles Across Cultures
1. The variability of sex roles across cultures is dramatic. But many anthropologists and some feminist writers contend that while the customs and practices with which women’s subordination is expressed differs from culture to culture, the secondary status of women across the globe is one of the few universal cross-cultural truisms.
2. The Japanese Constitution stipulates that all Japanese are equal under the law and outlaws discrimination on the basis of sex. To be sure, however, most private and political organizations that compose the dominant Japanese culture are controlled by men. But Japanese women enjoy more freedom today than perhaps ever in their history. Although today’s Japanese women are much more outspoken and direct than their mothers, even modern Japanese women recognize their secondary status and have not completely discarded their earmark passivity. Moreover, when asked, many Japanese women acknowledge their fate as a subordinate group. Even the modern Japanese woman’s happiness remains tied to her family—so much so that she will repress her personal feelings to an extent many American women would find unendurable. Following their collectivistic histories, most Japanese women continue to sacrifice personal goals for the sake of the harmony of the family. Because they have fewer opportunities than men, maintaining interpersonal harmony is of utmost concern for Japanese women.
3. The socialization processes for boys and girls in India differ significantly. The birth of a male child is considered a blessing because it ensures the continuation of the family name. Male children are seen as an economic asset and, when married, bring to their family a nice dowry (i.e., obligatory gift from the bride’s family, usually money). The birth of a daughter, on the other hand, is seen as a burden. A daughter is seen as an economic liability, and she never really possesses an identity of her own. Legal equality remains elusive for most Indian women. The subordination of women in India is primarily economically based. Most women work in agricultural jobs, but in the past few decades, India has developed a commercial market economy with capital-intensive production. Although laws favoring women’s rights have been passed, they have not had much impact. The phenomenon of dowry deaths, or bride burning, is particularly troubling.
4. China has a long history of women having little freedom and few rights. But the Chinese women’s liberation movement has made significant advances toward women’s rights. While the Chinese government has enacted several laws and policies that equate women and men legally and socially, they are of little use in abolishing the long-standing preference of males over females. Chinese are generally expected to live with their family circle unless there is reason to do otherwise and that such expectations are greater for women than for men. Chinese women, especially single women, are considered more vulnerable and less capable of dealing with the outside world than are men. Women are seen as needing the protection and supervision of their families to preserve their virginity and marriageability.
5. Mexico has about 110 million people, of which women hold a slight majority. The marital status of Mexican people represents the rights and responsibilities of men and women because it reflects the population’s social levels. More Mexican women than men are divorced, possibly because Mexican men tend to emigrate once they divorce. Historically, the average marrying age of the population was 16 years old. However, by 1995 both sexes started marrying later, with the national average marrying age being 20 years old for women and a little more than 23 years old for men. The increase in age results from Mexicans pursuing higher education. A Mexican woman’s childbearing rate is related to her educational, social, and economic conditions. Although women now contribute much in the work world, they also contribute at home with the family. Nearly 93% of women age 12 years and older do domestic work. But men and women often work together to maintain the family. As a result, some men do domestic activities while some women work outside the home. In Mexico, authority and responsibility are given to the father or to the oldest male, or jefe, of the household. Few women hold this position. Authority in Mexican society has been held by the men. Men are in charge of the family direction, and women take this responsibility only when the men have left home.
6. Since Israel’s establishment as a state in 1948, women in Israel have been guaranteed equal rights. In fact, Israel is the only country in the world with a compulsory military service requirement for women and where women constitute a third of all soldiers and just over half of military officers. To be sure, the Israeli Declaration of Independence guarantees equal rights to all Israeli citizens, regardless of religion, race, or sex. While Israeli women are guaranteed equal rights under Israeli law, certain fundamental religious groups reject such rights—so much so that a new term, hadarat nashim, meaning the exclusion of women, has become common in the Israeli sociopolitical dialogue.
7. Many of the misconceptions (in the United States) of Saudi women are cultivated by U.S. media. The overwhelming majority of published articles on Saudi women portray them as oppressed and passive victims of Islamic laws. To be sure Saudi is a sex segregated country, where Saudi cultural traditions mandate sex segregation in both public and private life. Women are not allowed to drive, they must dress in such a way that they are almost completely covered up when they appear in public places, and that they must have a male escort (usually a male family member or relative) accompany them when they appear in public. Saudi banks and universities have separate entrances for men and women; restaurants and public transportation are segregated; and unrelated men and women are forbidden from communicating socially, except in professional contexts, where they are expected to be kept to a minimum. But most Saudi women live very comfortable lives. Most marriages are arranged such that most women have a respectable husband, that most women have a driver to take them places, and that most women have servants and an extended family that provide financial and emotional security.
8. In the past decade or so, political and cultural developments in Saudi have created new opportunities for women.
FLAN3440/University of Toledo