The Gender Line: Men, Women, and the Law

The Gender Line: Men, Women, and the Law

The Gender Line: Men, Women, and the Law

The Gender Line: Men, Women, and the Law


Despite tremendous advances in civil rights, we live in a world where the sexes remain sharply segregated from birth to death: in names, clothing, social groupings, and possessions; in occupations, civic association, and domestic roles. Gender separatism, so pervasive as to be almost invisible, permeates the fabric of our daily social routines. Preferring a notion of gender that is fluid and contextual, and denying that separatism is inevitable, Nancy Levit dismantles the myths of gender essentialism Drawing on a wealth of interdisciplinary data regarding the biological and cultural origins of sex differences, Levit provides a fresh perspective on gendered behaviors and argues the need for careful cultivation of new relations between the sexes.

With its focus particularly on men, The Gender Line offers an insightful overview of the construction of gender and the damaging effects of its stereotypes. Levit analyzes the ways in which law legitimizes the social segregation of the sexes through legal decisions regarding custody, employment, education, sexual harassment, and criminal law. In so doing, she illustrates the ways in which men's and women's oppressions are intertwined and how law molds the very definition of masculinity.

Applying feminist methodology to the doctrine of feminism itself, Levit artfully demonstrates that gender separatism infects even our contemporary views of feminism. Levit asks questions that have been too long been unspoken--those that lie at the core of the feminist project, yet threaten its very foundations. Revealing masculinity as both a privileged and a victimized condition, she calls for a step forward, past the bounds of contemporary feminism and its conflicts, toward a more egalitarian and inclusive feminism. This brand of feminism would reshape traditional masculinity, invite men into feminist dialogue, and claim men as political allies.


Our first child, Aaron, loves books and likes to draw, cook, and play
any game involving a ball.

Our second child, Dylan, is also a sports fanatic. When Dylan en
tered toddlerhood we stationed two Little Tykes basketball goals at
opposite ends of the living room so that we could play “full court.”

People meeting our second child are often surprised to find out
that Dylan is a girl.

Names have a gender.

When Dylan wears her brother’s hand-me-down overalls, strangers
are uncomfortable with the gender bending. There seem to be expec
tations of fair advertising with respect to one of society’s most visible
means of classification.

Clothes have a gender.

Among the gifts Dylan received for her second birthday are mini
cooking utensils, a vacuum cleaner that lights up as it sweeps the
floor, and a Cabbage Patch doll that came with an adoption certifi
cate identifying her as Belinda Doreen. No one outside the family
gave her cars or trucks or tools.

Toys have a gender.

One night Aaron and Dylan were helping prepare dinner. Dylan had
taken over Aaron’s old job of setting the table, while Aaron had grad
uated to substantive food preparation and was pouring milk. Dylan
carefully put two spoons at one place. the next place setting was a
neatly positioned fork and knife. I complimented her on the third ef
fort: “That’s right, sweetie. One knife, one fork, and one spoon for
each person.”

“Good girl!” I added. It’s a phrase that trips pretty easily off the
tongue. But it’s one that I never seem to use when she’s fielding
grounders or shooting hoops.

Parents reinforce gender daily. Unthinkingly. Unnecessarily. Even
when they know better.

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