Gender, Power, and Communication in Human Relationships

By Pamela J. Kalbfleisch; Michael J. Cody | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Masculinity and Femininity: Defining the Undefinable

Janet T. Spence University of Texas at Austin

Camille Buckner University of Texas at Austin

I don't know what good art is but I know it when I see it.

-- Well-known saying

Massive strides toward equality between men and women have been made in the United States over the past three decades. Yet despite these changes, many inequities remain. From the time they are born, males and females are treated differently in both obvious and subtle ways and are expected to behave differently. With this emphasis on gender, children learn to identify their own biological sex and the sex of others at a very early age and gender quickly becomes a central feature of children's emerging concept of self.1 They soon acquire knowledge of their

____________________
1
The degree to which factors rooted primarily in biology contribute to observed differences in the behaviors and psychological characteristics between men and women is a subject of continued controversy. However, many of these differences can be agreed to arise because of societal expectations and socialization experiences. This has led feminist writers (e.g., Unger, 1979) to suggest that in referring to comparisons of men and women, the term sex be used to refer to biological differences between males and females, and the term "gender" be used for those attributes and behaviors acquired as a consequence of being a male or a female in a specific culture. Although this distinction is not without its problems, attempts to observe it have become quite common in the psychological literature and we follow the practice here. However, because of the quite recent origin of the distinction, a certain awkwardness is introduced when we refer to concepts involving roles. For example, the terms sex-role identification and sex-role attitudes became established some years ago and continue to appear far more frequently than gender-role identification. or gender-role attitudes, especially when they are attached to measuring instruments that at the time of their development were given the sex-role label. We retain these labels here. As a result, there is a certain inconsistency in our usage of the words sex and gender.

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