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The Social Construction of Gender

Gender refers to the social construction of the differences between men and women. A good example of the social construction of gender is the belief that all men are brave and strong, while all women are coward and weak. Sex is described as the biological differences between men and women. An example of a biological difference is the anatomy of the human body. While men have beards, muscular bodies, and deep voices, women do not have beards, have soft voices, and are less muscular than men (Connel 2009: 72).

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Different people have different attitudes towards men and women. The attitudes are either implicit or explicit. Both implicit and explicit attitudes are sometimes correct but are not always true (Cherry 2015: par.3). For example, while it is correct that men are courageous and able to excel in tough subjects like mathematics, not all of them are able to do so. In some cases, women may outshine men in mathematics. In order to confirm a certain gender stereotype; therefore, it is necessary to do research about the stereotype to avoid misleading conclusions (Mora and Ruiz 2000: 34).


Gender stereotypes are related to ambivalent sexism, which is the coexistence of positive and negative attitudes towards a particular sex. Ambivalent sexism is understood by taking a closer look at some concepts used to describe women (Rank 2005: 56). These ambivalent attitudes towards women are used by men to dominate the top positions of power in organizations leaving women to occupy junior positions (Week 4 class notes).

The social construction of gender is evident in many aspects of social life. In the field of management, for example, gender differences are more obvious than hidden. In many contemporary organizations, a female Chief Executive Officer (CEO) may be described as cute, adorable, and attractive. On the other hand, a male CEO may be described as ‘a very good leader.’

While a phrase like ‘that female CEO is very cute, calm, and attractive’ implies a positive attitude towards her, it can also imply that she can be too emotional to be trusted with leadership. Ambivalent sexism is therefore used to propagate the inequalities between men and women, especially in the pursuit of power and authority. The pursuit of power and authority by men leads to the enactment of policies that do not reflect the views and wishes of women in the society (Week 2 class notes).

Functionalist theory

Structural functionalism is a sociological theory that views society as a system composed of various parts that are interrelated and function together in harmony for the stability and benefit of the whole system. One of its proponents is the renowned sociologist Emile Durkheim. The theory uses the analogy of the human body, which is composed of various organs like the heart, the lungs, eyes, and nose, among others. Each of these organs plays a specific role. If one organ does not function well, the whole body is affected (Rothenberg 2009: 37).

The theory makes several assumptions in explaining the functioning of systems. One of the assumptions is that all systems operate in a way that is aimed at maintaining equilibrium. The other assumption of the theory is that systems are composed of various interdependent units, each with a specific role to play for the benefit of the whole. It also assumes that systems operate under the principle of consensus among all the units of the systems.

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From a structural-functionalist perspective, gender plays the role of differentiating roles in society along gender lines, where there are roles for men and for women. In the field of management, for example, there is vertical and horizontal job segregation.

With vertical segregation, men are clustered at the top positions in the hierarchy of an organization while women are clustered at the bottom of the hierarchy. Vertical segregation takes place in all sectors of society, including academic, leadership, and other social institutions. This vertical segregation tends to be anchored on the cultural beliefs and stereotypes that women cannot be trusted with leadership, and men are always supposed to lead women.

Horizontal segregation refers to the preference of some jobs by men and women. It is influenced by traditional stereotypes that associate certain roles in society with a particular sex. For example, in many organizations, women are employed mostly as secretaries, cooks, cleaners, or receptionists, while men work as engineers, accountants, technicians, and doctors.

In the education sector, women tend to choose art subjects and languages while men go for the sciences and mathematics. It is important to note that the preference of some subjects spills over to the workplace because many jobs require people to have formal education and training. If few women are trained as accountants or engineers, then it becomes hard to find them working as accountants or engineers.

In the example of CEOs of organizations, Durkheim would interpret it using the concept of social control. He would argue that having men and women taking similar roles may create conflict, which may, in turn, disrupt social order and control in organizations. Consequently, he would reinforce the argument that women may be too emotional to be trusted with positions of leadership.

By so doing, he would be implying that social order and control are only possible in situations where women play less prominent roles than men. He would also consider the conflict as positive because through it, women would realize that their ascendency to positions of power does not go down well with men at the workplace and as a result, the women would cede ground to allow men to lead organizations for prosperity purposes (Week 3 class notes).

Conflict theory

According to Karl Marx, social order and control are as a result of coercion. The theory is the opposite of structural functionalism because it emphasizes on conflict of various parts of a system instead of consensus, as is the case with structural functionalism. According to him, therefore, conflict in society was about ownership of economic resources.

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Karl Marx agreed that society is naturally unstable, and the main force of social change is conflict. He agreed that in all societies, there are winners and losers and that those with power dominate and control the powerless. In this sense, therefore, conflict is always happening in society which comprises of many groups and individuals with competing interests. The competing interests make some people benefit more than others, and as a result, the potential of conflict within the society is sustained.

From a conflict theory perspective, gender is associated with the emergence of the concepts of gender equity and equality. These concepts have been associated with civil society organizations, which have been fighting for women to get fair treatment in social, political, and economic spheres. The lobbying by civil society organizations has been successful to some extent. For instance, since 1974, some improvement has been realized in increasing the number of women in management positions. In the United Kingdom, for example, the percentage of women who held management positions in 1974 was only 2%.

In 2008, the percentage rose to 34.5%. In other parts of the world, women are almost at par with men in various aspects such as leadership, education, and technical know-how. These achievements, however, do not imply that oppression of women does not exist, but they mean that many people slowly realize that women are just like men and what men can do, women can do it provided that the playing field is leveled (Andersen and Taylor 2002: 19).

If Marx would be presented with the example of CEOs in organizations and asked to give his views, he would argue in the opposite direction to that of Durkheim. The reason is that the two differed in interpreting the concepts of social order and control. To Marx, the argument that women may be too emotional to be trusted with positions of leadership would mean that men and women are two forces that are always antagonistic to each other.

He would further describe the argument about women being too emotional as empty rhetoric and thus encourage women to push on with their pursuit of power and leadership in organizations. According to him, doing so would push men to a point when they would appreciate that women are capable of leading organizations. If, on the other hand, the women would be scared away from positions of leadership by men, Marx would argue that social order would not be possible because men would intensify their discrimination against women in the circles of power and leadership.

Works Cited

Andersen, Margaret, and Howard, Taylor. Sociology: Understanding a Diverse Society, Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2002. Print.

Cherry, Kenda. 2015, How Attitudes Form, Change and Shape Our Behavior. 2015. Web.

Connel, Raewyn. Gender, Washington DC: Polity Press, 2009. Print.

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Mora, Ricardo, and Castillo, Ruiz. Gender Segregation: From Birth to Occupation, Madrid: Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, 2000.Print.

Rank, Mark. One nation, underprivileged: why American poverty affects us all, New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.Print.

Rothenberg, Paula. Race, class, and gender in the United States, Walton: Mac higher publishers, 2009. Print.

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