The position of men and women in society

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Introduction

The subject of gender is one that has gained a lot of momentum in the recent past, and much of this comes from the growing calls to consider gender as being beyond male and female. Most authors on the discourse of gender emphasize on the need to recognize the fluidity of gender and appreciate the fact that gender is a social construct influenced at different stages of an individual’s life. As an example, Karin Martin in her article on the gendered body discusses how the pre-school setting serves as a place for bodily control where girls are taught to be feminine while boys are taught how to be masculine. According to Karin (1998), children from a young age learn to do gender or perform gender while the preschools convince us that the differences between girls and boys are natural and not socially constructed. The course has illuminated on how these constructions come about and how they influence perceptions on the position of men and women in society. The paper that follows is a reflection of the entire course.

Gendered embodiment

Gendered embodiment affects both men and women, but literature points to the notion that women are the most affected by ideas on a gendered embodiment. The social construction of gender outlines the different expectations for men and women in society, and one of the recurrent aspects is the projection of the male gender over the female gender. Under such assumptions and practices in society, women are subject to the dominance of men, and this has in the past restricted the advancement of women’s issues in the political, economic, and cultural spheres. In the article Believing is Seeing, the author argues that the existence of gender inequality begins at birth with the assignment of the male and female genders and is later followed up by social practices that define each gender. In line with his argument, the author gives an example of athletes in a sport where there is a glorification of male athletes over female athletes (Lorber, 1993). The postulations by Lorber are recurrent aspects in society, and through different disciplines try to rectify this inequality by challenging the constructs, a gendered embodiment in the past, as well as the present, has restricted the growth of women in society.

In further showing how gender constructs have shaped the subjugation of women in the past, Wilson and Daly (1988) argue that women’s bodies have in cultural and legal context been considered the properties of men, and this led to wife battering and even murder. The authors explore the topic from a sexual dominance point of view and project the notion that men have exclusive intimate access to their wives and have the right to respond with violence when the right is threatened. Weitz (1998) also argues that since the earliest legal codes to the present day, the law defines women’s bodies as men’s property such that women belong to their father before marriage and become their husband’s property thereafter. Such implies that gendered embodiment that considers femininity under the ownership of masculinity justified ills such as rape, battering, and even murder in marriage. The notion of ownership and men’s sexual control over their wives is also seen in the context of sexualization of women’s bodies. Kwan (2010) notes that western norms emphasize a bodily ideal for women where they need to be thin and firm, while men have to be muscular. Fahs (2011) and Basow (1991) also add on the need for women to shave bodily hair as a cultural norm. The ideal of a thin, firm, and hairless body for women is one meant to be sexually pleasing to men in what is seen as an objectification of women. As such, gendered embodiment project the notion of inferior women and dominant men in what limits the social and economic progress of women.

Importantly, the idea of women as inferior is more impactful to women from different ‘lower’ social groups such as immigrant women and women of color. As an example, Adams and Campbell (2012) note that undocumented immigrant women are subject to increased violence from men due to their economic, social, and psychological dependency on their men. The law has only in the recent past tried to remove such vulnerabilities through the passing of the Violence against Women Act of 1994.

The rise of the feminist movements in the recent past has challenged the exclusive dominance of men and advocated for an equated position for both men and women. Such has seen the adoption of different standards that seek to portray men and women as equals. In an article titled ‘Formative Years’ by different panelists, Nancy Hawley gives her story on the journey she has been through as a woman. Hawley notes that she was the first generation in her family to complete college in the 60s and also appreciates that there has been the expansion of the opportunities for women (Ditzion et al., 2014). Kline (2005) notes that from 1970 to 1990, women physicians in the workforce quadrupled to over 100,000. The progress as postulated by different professionals such as Hawley comes from the challenge to the gendered projection of men over women and their consideration as inferior. Such implies that ideas and practices on gendered embodiment in the present have been shaping women’s lives positively by opening up more opportunities.

Reflection and conclusion

The course has been insightful in illuminating on the different aspects around the topic of gender and its construction. What I have learned about gender from this course has reinforced previous ideas on the social development of gender where society defines gendered expectations that men and women have to stick to. Such constructs project the notion that women are inferior to men and are thus presented as the weaker sex. Young (1980) sees this weakness in women from being timid, hesitant, and uncertain, while men are the complete opposites. In line with relative positions of gender, men have complete control, and they may impose this control by force when their dominance is threatened.

The readings also highlight the notion that the gendered view of individuals in society is changing, where there has been a challenge to male dominance. The feminist movement has been especially relevant in this area, and its successes are evident in the increasing progress of women’s issues socially, politically, and even economically. The growth points to a shift from the socially constructed norms and expectations of each gender to a consideration of equality between the sexes. Further, the challenge to the duality of gender has also advanced the issues and rights of transgender in society and projecting a new understanding of gender as fluid.

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  1. Adams, M., and Campbell, J. 2012. Being Undocumented and Intimate Partner Violence (IPV): Multiple Vulnerabilities through the Lens of Feminist Intersectionality. Women’s Health   & Urban Life, 11(1), 15-34.
  2. Basow, S. (1991). The hairless ideal women and their body hair. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 15, 83-96.
  3. Ditzion, J., Hawley, N., Worters, P., and Sanford, W. (2014). Formative years: The birth of Our Bodies Ourselves.  A Revolutionary Moment: Women’s Liberation in the late 1960s and early 1970s. A conference organized by the Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program at Boston University, March 27-29, 2014
  4. Fahs, B. (2011). Breaking body hair boundaries: Classroom exercises for challenging social constructions of the body and sexuality. Feminism & Psychology, 22(4), 482–506
  5. Karin, M. (1998). Becoming a gendered body.
  6. Kline, W. (2005). “Please Include This in Your Book”: Readers Respond to Our Bodies, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 79(1), 81-110.
  7. Kwan, S. (2010). Navigating Public Spaces: Gender, Race, and Body Privilege in Everyday Life. Feminist Formations, 22(2), 144–166.
  8. Lorber, J. (1993). Believing is seeing.
  9. Weitz, R. (1998). A history of women’s bodies.
  10. Wilson, M., and Daly, M. 1988. Till Death Us Do Part. Homicide. NY: Aldine de Guyter.
  11. Young, M. (1980). Throwing like a Girl: A Phenomenology of Feminine Body Comportment Motility and Spatiality. Human Studies, 3(2), 137-156.
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