Book Reviews -- Paradoxes of Gender by Judith Lorber / the Psychology of Gender Edited by Anne E. Beall and Robert J. Sternberg

Article excerpt

Paradoxes of Gender. Judith Lorber. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1994. 48 pp. ISBN 0-300-05807-1. $30 cloth.

The Psychology of Gender. Anne E. Beall & Robert J. Sternberg (Eds.). New York: Guilford Press. 1993. 278 pp. Hardcover ISBN 0-89962-286-7. $28.95 cloth, $18.95 paper.

Gender is undoubtedly one of the "hottest" topics in the social sciences currently, with a proliferation of both scholarly and popular works addressing the questions of why or whether men and women are different, and the implications of difference for individuals and relationships. The two books under review provide recent sociological and psychological perspectives on understanding the complexity of gender and the implications of gender for individuals and for society.

In Paradoxes of Gender, Judith Lorber offers a paradigm of gender as a social institution. She views gender as a process of social construction as well as an institution that affects all aspects of our lives, including sexuality, the family, the workplace, and culture. Lorber draws from many disciplines in presenting her argument, including feminist scholarship as well as research from sociology, anthropology, history, and social psychology. Her purpose in writing this book is to "challenge the validity, permanence, and necessity of gender" (p. 5).

The first section of the book is titled "Producing Gender," with the initial chapter providing an overview of how all people "do gender"--that is, how gendered expectations create and maintain social differences and order our views of the behaviors that are expected of men and women, impacting parenting and work roles, sexuality, and power. In the next chapter, Lorber tackles biological perspectives on gender, again emphasizing the focus of these perspectives on difference, rather than similarities. The impact of this emphasis constrains the types of research questions asked and thus our knowledge about the impact of biology on gender. Lorber then moves to the subject of sexuality, focusing on the constraints that gendered sexual statuses place on individual sexuality and emotional dimensions of intimate relationships. The last chapter in this section describes a diversity of cultural images of gender, exploring men's images of female sexuality and emotionality, as well as women's representations of imprisonment and rebellion. Lorber also explores the imagery that emerges when women produce culture and portray women, and raises the question of what a world filled with woman-empowering symbols would resemble.

The second section of the book, titled "Gender in Practice," is perhaps of most interest to scholars of children and families. Taking a historical perspective, Lorber examines cultural images of fertility and motherhood. She asserts, as have others, that "women's sense of caring and responsibility for others is the result, not the cause, of gendered parenting" (p. 169). Although she notes that changes are occurring in parenting experiences for both women and men, with movement toward more equal involvement in parenting by mothers and fathers, Lorber contends that the ideology of the good mother and gendered parenting serves significant functions for men, by justifying women's lower position in the paid work world. Lorber also examines gendered patterns in domestic work, again providing a historical perspective and then focusing on the current realities of the division of household labor--that is, that men tend to do work that is more clearly defined and that can be done on their time table, while women are much more likely to do routine, time-bound, more physically unpleasant; tasks. The chapter ends with the argument that men will have to redefine the meaning of domestic work if they want to share equally in child care and household work. Lorber emphasizes the fact that occupational gender segregation reflects two processes: segmentation and ghettoization. And the result of these processes is well-known--women workers are most typically found in low-status, low-paying jobs. …