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3 Tutorials that teach Gender and Power (Official and Unofficial)
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Gender and Power (Official and Unofficial)

Gender and Power (Official and Unofficial)

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand that cultures tend to ascribe power roles differently to men and women

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Gender & Power

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Cultures differ in their view of power and how it should be distributed in a society. We've talked about this in a past tutorial. I'm Marlene, and today I'd like to take up the subject of power with you again.

Only today I'd like to talk about gender and power. How different cultures will ascribe power to men and to women. So there are really two types of power that someone can hold. Official power an unofficial power.

Now, official power in government or in business would be those roles that are formally recognized as executive with decision making, leadership, and authority responsibilities. And, in general, the bias in most cultures has been towards men holding those roles.

Now, there's also unofficial power. And unofficial power would be roles where there is also decision making and authority, but those roles are considered less important. And many times they are providing support to official power. And broadly speaking, most cultures would describe power-- unofficial power-- to females, women.

Now, unofficial power could also come just spontaneously from loyalty and affection that people feel towards someone. This could happen in the workplace or could happen politically. And that's another way that people will gain unofficial power.

But in general, official power is male and unofficial power is seen as female. So what happens when someone in a particular gender, let's say a woman, steps out of maybe an unofficial role of power and moves into official power? Whether that be in business or in government?

Well, many times this would be considered gender inappropriate and there could be negative perceptions or assumptions. So if a woman moved up the corporate ladder, for example, and into a position of authority over a lot of men, there could be lack of respect, perhaps doubt about her authority, her ability. This could happen in a variety of cultures where the bias is towards men holding the roles of official power.

This is called cultural gender appropriate. And it would be considered inappropriate, perhaps, for a woman to be holding that position of power. And if that were the perception, then it could lead to conflicts based on lack of respect and doubt about her ability to hold authority.

Now oftentimes a woman in this position would feel that she would need to take on, perhaps, some of the behaviors and traits of men who are holding this role to compete equally or to have the authority that she needs. So perhaps she would be more assertive, more decisive, a little more competitive.

Even in terms of nonverbals, would perhaps make solid eye contact, lean forward, perhaps if the men would interrupt one another, she may begin to do that in a meeting to sort of mimic their behavior, to take on this behavior. And so when the person doing this, the woman in this case, doing this begins to take on those behaviors or traits that are considered totally acceptable for the male gender, it could be that it would appear as gender inappropriate behavior.

In other words, inappropriate for her gender, which would then lead to negative assumptions and perhaps name calling, such as pushy. So this is one example with a woman stepping into official power.

Now, of course, there are exceptions to this, and culture is changing, but in general culture does not change. These culturally reinforced ideas or biases about who should hold power reinforce themselves unless they're challenged. And I think we can see that here even with things as simple as the vote.

Much less whole positions of authority in government, women were not allowed to vote. And there was a huge effort to change that so that women could vote. Not long ago in the 1960s, there was the women's movement, the rising up of feminism, challenging a lot of inequalities in society.

So today in the United States, there's more equality in terms of women holding positions of power. And it's becoming culturally more accepted. There are a wide variety of cultures, however, where what is considered culturally gender appropriate would be the traditional idea that men should hold the positions of official power and women would be in positions of unofficial power.

So I've enjoyed being part of this tutorial, and I look forward to next time.

Terms to Know
Cultural Gender Appropriateness

Behavior considered “right, proper, or correct” for a member of a given gender within his or her culture.

Gender-Inappropriate Behavior

Behavior displaying traits or assuming roles considered "not normal or proper" for one's gender.

Official Power

Decision-making and acting authority in the major roles governing a culture, or executive roles involving leadership or control in general.

Unofficial Power

Decision-making and acting authority positions considered "less important" by the culture and providing support to official power holders.