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Gender and Gender Stratification

Gender and Gender Stratification

Author: Zach Lamb

This lesson will describe the relationship between gender and inequality. Gender stratification is defined. Margaret Mead's research on gender will be explored and George Murdock's taxonomy of gender will be discussed.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello. Welcome to Sociological Studies. I hope you're having a great day. Thanks for joining me. In this lesson, we're going to discuss gender, the social construction of the category of gender, of male or female, and how it relates to social stratification. So Gender and Stratification.

There's nothing natural about being male or being female, being the roles that we play when we play a man or a woman. These roles are socially constructed. So gender is the socially constructed attributes, ie the statuses and the roles, that are associated with being a male or a female in society.

And gender is different from biological sex. Biological sex is male or female. But society and culture structures the roles of maleness, of masculinity, and the roles of femininity in society such that males do this, and females do that. And there are socially constructed reasons.

And not every society does this the same way. If every society did this the same way, if males always did this and females always did that, we could say that this is biologically male and femaleness. But that's not the case.

Cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, for instance, has showed us that gender is socially constructed. Margaret Mead studied three different societies in New Guinea in the early 1900s. In Mead's time, in the early 1900s, this is what anthropologists did. They went out, and they immersed themselves in a particular location, in a different culture, and in a different society. And they studied the ways that culture structured that society and the way that culture was systemic and holistic and how that culture then structured the lives of the people within the society.

So then we could come back home, and we could say something about culture in general. And we could say something about our culture. So by studying difference, we'd learn about ourselves. . And this is what anthropology was really good at at that time.

So Mead went and did this in three different societies in New Guinea. And she found that, in each of these societies, each one she studied, they constructed notions of gender differently. Notions of femininity and masculinity were different in these three societies. So therefore gender could not be something biological. Rather, it was cultural.

So in the first society, Mead found that both sexes displayed attitudes and behaviors that were typically feminine-- that is, cooperative, sensitive, caring, and emotional. Both sexes displayed these traits. In the second society, Mead found that both sexes displayed traits that were typically masculine. This was a cannibalistic society, really rough. So everyone was dominant, aggressive, and selfish, traits we associate with masculinity in our society.

And finally, in the third society, which was more like our own, Mead found that both masculine and feminine elements were present, but that the categories were inverted. Men were typically female by our standards, and females were typically masculine by our standards. So therefore Mead's research showed that culture plays a strong part in determining gender roles.

So in addition to work of anthropologist Margaret Mead, which we just described, anthropologist George Murdock does a similar study, a much more zoomed out look. He looked at over 200 societies and found some consistency within them with respect to the social construction of gender roles. Murdock found that tasks such as hunting and warfare typically fell to men, and that tasks such as cooking and caring for children typically fell to female. And these are typically regarded as feminine characteristics.

So in looking at 200 societies, Murdock found some consistency, which would tend to suggest some biological basis to gender roles. But Murdock's results were a little messier. Beyond the dominant patterns, women were found to contribute about equally to agricultural pursuits, as well as the construction of houses and dwellings, things that might be typically more masculine.

So we really can't say. Based on the two studies I've explicated, we must conclude that gender is complex and defies some simple, biological reduction. But nonetheless and important for this lecture, societies still erect stratification systems based upon perceived, socially constructed gender differences. And because males have been dominant in society for centuries through history, they've tried to control the behavior women. We've had a degree of gender inequality as a result, or gender stratification in society today.

So think of stratification like layers of soil. Just like layers of soil get deposited in strata-- so you have top soil, soil in the middle, and then clay at the bottom-- just like soil gets deposited in this way, society structures itself in this fashion as well. And so we have, stereotypically, in most societies because of patriarchy and male dominance, we have men at the top and women at the bottom. And this has consequences. And we call this gender stratification, the differential ordering of males and females in society in terms of wealth, power and prestige. Males enjoy more of this based upon their elevated position in the social structure, a stratified hierarchy.

So males earn more money than females. Males earn $1 to $0.78 that everyone female earns. And females are dissuaded from going into occupations that are stereotypically male. So they've been relegated into the home, and males have enjoyed more outside, public space privilege than females have in the past. And so gender stratification in American society exists.

That being said, the United States is relatively equal in terms of gender stratification compared to other societies. Think about Iran or Saudi Arabia or Pakistan. More women have all of these rules governing their conduct in public space. They have to cover up. They can't show skin. So men are much more controlling in these societies.

In fact, even in Pakistan still today, men can decide, fathers can decide, who their daughter will marry. This seems preposterous by our standards. So women in our society then have a right to choose who they want to marry. But in other societies, this might not necessarily be the case.

So gender stratification exists in all societies to a greater or lesser degree, which is why we point it out and study it. I hope you enjoyed this discussion of gender, the social construction of gender categories across societies, as well as gender stratification in society. Have a great rest of your day.

  • George Murdock

    An American anthropologist who studied cross-cultural comparisons of preindustrial societies.

  • Margaret Mead

    An American cultural anthropologist whose work focused on gender.

  • Gender Stratification

    The ranking of groups based on perceived differences in the status of group members, in this case between men and women.

  • Gender

    The socially constructed identity (statuses and roles) associated with being male or female.