Gender-Based Social Responsibilities and Structure

Men Who Mother by Risman

Nowadays, it became a common practice among many sociologists in the West (especially those affiliated with the feminist paradigm in sociology) to downplay the importance of biological determinants within the context of how people go about addressing their gender-based social responsibilities. In this respect, the article Intimate Relationships from a Microstructural Perspective: Men Who Mother by Barbara Risman stands out quite exemplary.

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The reason for this is that in it, the author aimed to substantiate the validity of the idea that there is nothing fixed about the observable specifics of one’s gender-related existential stance while claiming that they are reflective of the concerned individual’s situational positioning within a particular social network. As she pointed out: “My premise is that gender status affects behavior… because of placement and experiences within social networks.

Concrete social relations create gendered behavior because, in nearly all social interaction, men and women are embedded in different social networks” (Risman 200). To support the validity of her claim, the author refers to the findings of some non-specified study, which suggest that once fathers of young children find themselves deserted or widowed, they often end up exhibiting a strongly defined psychological compatibility with being required to perform the essentially “female” parenting functions.

As yet another proof of the proposed hypothesis’s legitimacy, Risman deems the fact that, as the study in question illustrated it, there is the positive relationship between the measure of a single father’s involvement in taking care of young children, on the one hand, and the extent of his emotional comfortableness with feminine virtues, on the other. According to her: “The data suggest that reported responsibility for housework is much better explained by parental role than by sex” (Risman 204).

In its turn, this implies that there is nothing intrinsically biological or socially internalized about the formation of one’s gender identity. This suggestion correlates perfectly well with the feminist belief in the absence of any objective rationale for the factor of gender-differentiation to be exerting a strong influence on the relationship between men and women.

There can be only a few doubts that the author does deserve to be given credit on account of many insights contained in her article, being discursively innovative. At the same time, however, the article’s overall thesis cannot be deemed thoroughly plausible. The main reasons as to why this is the case are as follows:

The author did not bother to mention the participant sample’s actual size – something that undermines the cross-sectional integrity of the empirically collected data. Moreover, she refrained from specifying the particularities of the data collecting procedure. In its turn, this implies that there is a perceptual bias to the deployed line of argumentation on Risman’s part.

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It never occurred to the author that the study’s findings can be interpreted as such that support the “individualist” (or sociobiological) outlook on what causes most men and women to exhibit distinctively different behavioral patterns. For example, as neuroscientists are well aware of, even though a woman’s brain is lighter than that of a man by 150-200 grams (on average), the frontal lobes in the neocortex of the representatives of both genders most commonly do not vary in size.

And yet, it is this specific part of the brain that hosts the so-called “associative centers,” which enable humans to indulge in altruistic behavior – something that helps to ensure the survival of the Homo Sapiens species, as a whole. In women, these centers are commonly activated during the parenting process, and in men, while the latter focus on addressing their biologically (and consequentially socially) predetermined “hunter-gatherer” duties.

The described state of affairs is reflective of the fact that allegorically speaking, men are the evolution’s instrument for ensuring the great variety of different genetic mutations within the species, whereas the women’s biological role is to “screen” these mutations while selecting only the potentially beneficial ones. As perceived through the eyes of evolution, women’s biological function is much more important than that of men. Therefore, in a time when there is no mother available for taking care of young kids, a father naturally assumes motherly functions – most commonly despite the lack of any conscious willingness in him to act in such a matter.

This suggestion’s main implication is that, contrary to how it is argued by the author, “situational interaction” has very little to do with making it possible for men to behave like women (while engaged in parenting). The actual enabling factor, in this respect, is purely Darwinian – a person’s (regardless of gender) unconscious preoccupation with trying to preserve its genome in the next generation.

As it appears from the article, some of the study’s findings do not correlate with the initially proposed thesis: “Sex… remained a powerful predictor of parents’ reports of physical expressions of affection toward children” (Risman 205). In other words, contrary to the article’s discursive sounding, it is much too early brushing aside the sociobiological outlook on how one’s gender-based sense of self-identity comes into being.

In light of what has been said earlier, Risman’s article cannot be deemed utterly enlightening. Nevertheless, I would still recommend reading to just about anyone interested in learning more about hidden capacities in the representatives of both “weak” and “strong” sexes.

Social Structure and Self-Direction by Kohn and Slomczynski

Many of the articulated points regarding Risman’s article apply to the article Social Structure and Self-Direction: A Comparative Analysis of the United States and Poland. In it, Melvin Kohn and Kazimierz Slomczynski aimed to test the validity of the hypothesis that: “Members of more ‘advantaged’ social classes would be more intellectually flexible, would value self-direction more highly for their children, and would have more self-directed orientations to self and society than would members of less advantaged social classes” (210). As can be inferred from the article, the authors choose in favor of conducting a literature review as the instrument for gathering the supporting evidence. While discussing the implications of the obtained data, the authors came up with the following conclusions:

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The representatives of the social elites (or “advanced” social classes) are naturally predisposed to prefer working in the environment that enables one to address its professional responsibilities in an unsupervised mode (while exercising self-control), whereas those belonging to the socially underprivileged strata are much more comfortable with being given clear instructions as to what they are supposed to do while facing a particular professional challenge.

The values of “existential autonomy,” commonly professed by the individuals who exercise managerial authority continually, are most likely to be shared by these people’s children. In this regard, the authors place heavy emphasis on the particulars of the educational process: “Just as occupational self-direction affects their parental values, so too does educational self-direction affect the values of adolescents and young adults” (Kohn and Slomczynski 212). According to the authors, this will contribute rather heavily towards endowing the concerned adolescents with the same “self-autonomous” mentality.

One’s gender has a strong effect on the individual’s attitude towards his or her line of work. The fact that this suggestion does make sense the authors illustrate the specifics of men and women’s behavior in the domestic setting. For example, according to Kohn and Slomczynski: “For husbands, the substantive complexity of housework seems to have a little psychological impact; instead, the heaviness of housework seems to be more important” (213). The authors believe that such observation deserves to be discussed in conjunction with the article’s overall thesis.

Nevertheless, even though there is indeed much rationale to most suggestions contained in the article, they are essentially commonsensical/highly intuitive. Partially, this explains why only a few thematically relevant external studies have been mentioned by the authors in support of their line of reasoning. It is understood, of course, that this hardly adds to the article’s educational value. However, there are several even more serious argumentative fallacies in how Kohn and Slomczynski went about illustrating the thesis’s validity. The most notable of them are.

Lack of axiomatic integrity

Throughout the article’s entirety, the authors continue to refer to such vaguely defined notions as “self-directedness,” “intellectual flexibility,” “psychological well-being,” etc., without bothering to clarify what these terms stand for, in the epistemological sense of this word. Moreover, Kohn and Slomczynski do not provide any rationale for referring to the notions of “self-directedness” and “conformity” as mutually incompatible. Obviously enough, the authors never considered the possibility for one’s “self-directedness” to be the one among many observable extrapolations of their deep-seated predisposition towards “conformity” and vice versa.

Absence of interpretative insights

In their article, Kohn and Slomczynski do not discuss the actual reasons as to why the affiliates of the socially privileged classes prefer “self-directedness” as the cornerstone of their existential mode, whereas their less privileged counterparts tend to choose in favor of “conformity.” One of the possible reasons for this is that, just as it was the case with the author of the previously analyzed article, they subtly position themselves as supporters of a “microstructural” perspective on what causes people to act in one way or another.

Yet, the most logically sound explanation, with respect to the phenomenological aspects of the discussed subject matter, would be sociobiological. For example, the mentioned tendency to indulge in conformist behavior, on the part of the socially disadvantaged individuals, has a clearly defined “evolutionary” quality to it – conformity is the pathway towards adaptation, and adaptation is the key to survival, in the Darwinian sense of this word.

Alternatively, the alleged “self-directedness” (or “industriousness”) of the rich and powerful most commonly refers to these people’s willingness to turn a blind eye on the informal provisions of the socially constructed ethical code while striving to preserve their socially dominant status, and consequently be more likely to succeed in ensuring the survival of their genome – something that is best discussed in terms of yet another adaptation strategy.

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Therefore, I am rather unimpressed by this particular article, to say the least – by reading it, I did not learn anything of which I had not been already aware.

Works Cited

Kohn, Melvin and Kazimierz Slomczynski. “Social Structure and Self-Direction: A Comparative Analysis of the United States and Poland.” Self and Society, edited by Ann Branaman, Wiley-Blackwell, 2000, pp. 210-217.

Risman, Barbara. “Intimate Relationships from a Microstructural Perspective: Men Who Mother.” Self and Society, edited by Ann Branaman, Wiley-Blackwell, 2000, pp. 198-210.

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