The Gendered Society

The Gendered Society

The Gendered Society

The Gendered Society


They say that we come from different planets (men from Mars, women from Venus), that we have different brain chemistries and hormones, and that we listen, speak, and even define our morals differently. How is it then that men and women live together, take the same classes in school, eat the same food, read the same books, and receive grades according to the same criteria? In The Gendered Society, Michael S. Kimmel examines our basic beliefs about gender, arguing that men and women are more alike than we have ever imagined. Kimmel begins his discussion by observing that all cultures share the notion that men and women are different, and that the logical extension of this assumption is that gender differences cause the obvious inequalities between the sexes. In fact, he asserts that the reverse is true--gender inequality causes the differences between men and women. Gender is not simply a quality inherent in each individual--it is deeply embedded in society's fundamental institutions: the family, school, and the workplace. The issues surrounding gender are complex, and in order to clarify them, the author has included a review of the existing literature in related disciplines such as biology, anthropology, psychology and sociology. Finally, with an eye towards the future, Kimmel offers readers a glimpse at gender relations in the next millennium. Well-written, well-reasoned and authoritative, The Gendered Society provides a thorough overview of the current thinking about gender while persuasively arguing that it is time to reevaluate what we thought we knew about men and women.


Like much of my work, this book has its origins in the classroom, in the frustration I felt searching for books I could assign in my courses on Sociology of Gender and Sociology of Masculinity. I wanted a book that would review the relevant literature from other disciplines, literature that explored the nature of gender difference and the causes of gender inequality, and that then would explore how these two issues--difference and domination--played themselves out in a variety of institutional and interpersonal arenas. I wanted a book grounded in social science literature, that made sense of existing data, that exposed some of the prevailing social myths about gender difference. I couldn't find one that satisfied me, so I decided to write it.

I wanted such a book because, like much of my work, this book also has its origins in my frustration with the dominant public conversations about gender in the United States, a conversation that seems remarkably, often stunningly, wrong. As a culture, we've become fascinated with fictitious pseudoscientific claims, determined to find universal, intractable differences between women and men, and thereby, somehow, justify pervasive gender inequality. At times it appears we'll believe almost anything--that men and women are different biological species, that they come from different planets, speak different languages, respond to different cosmic rhythms.

I intend this book as a corrective to such myths, half-truths, and either inadvertent or deliberate misreadings of the evidence. For the overwhelming preponderance of evidence from the social and behavioral sciences is clear: Women and men are more alike than they are different. Men are not from Mars; women are not from Venus-- we are all from planet Earth.

Not only that, I want to argue that the differences we do observe are not the result of some primordial, biological, evolutionary imperative, nor do they stem from some inevitable, universal psychological processes of development. Nor is gender inequality the inevitable social and political result of these differences.

In fact, the reverse is true. I argue that gender difference--the assertion of two qualitatively different natures--is the result of gender inequality, not its cause. Gender inequality produces difference, and the differences produced are then used to justify gender inequality.

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