Gender as a Social Construction Judith Lorber is able to convey many of her ideals about our contemporary conceptions of gender in her essay, “The Social Construction of Gender.” Not only does she clearly express her opinions on the roles of physiological differences of the male and female bodies, but she also elaborates on the roles of the mass media and professional sports among other things. It rapidly becomes clear that there are many legitimate arguments that support this movement for near or complete equality in genders and the roles that they perform.
Clearly, society has been created around two separate classes or genders: men and women. Lorber argues that much of what we consider to be gender has no place in the natural order of the things. She is able to begin her argument by citing that gender has often been a literal creation of man in many cases such as those of hermaphrodites. Should a baby be born with characteristics that do not fully represent the male or the female gender, a doctor will judge the baby based on the size and shape of its gentiles, and then transform him/her into one or the other. Though there are more advanced techniques employed in this process today, this does illustrate the arbitrary meanings of gender.
Lorber holds many of the same views as the average feminist and more. She agrees with the view that genders are nothing more than a “cultural overlay” and is oppressive to females. Though she does not dispute the fact that there are many differences in physical, intellectual, and emotional characteristics between men and women, Lorber claims that these differences are “…socially meaningless until social practices transform them into social facts.” (Lorber, Page 40) These include most activities from professional sports to active duty in the military.
Though Lorber describes women as having distinguishing characteristics that are alien to men, they are usually embellished to further enhance the role of the male. Such occurrences as menstruation, being pregnant, and lactation are rarely applicable to most women, most of the time. She writes them off as being merely the, “…individual experiences of womanhood”, and thus should have no bearing on the role of a perfectly competent member of society.
There is also a perceived flaw with this issue in the world of sports. For example, there is a clear double-standard in gymnastics, as the men’s equipment is constructed for heavy, muscular men; where as the women’s equipment is suitable only for “pubescent girls” who will one day grow out of the their competitive eligibility. Once again, we see the strong man glorified and the woman, of similar age, as obsolete with other tasks to perform. Similar injustices can be found in other sports as well, such as some of the ball handling rules in women’s basketball, which serve to slow down the flow and intensity of what should be a high-speed and exciting game.
One of the most powerful arguments presented by Lorber, which displays the fabrication of gender as we know it, is mass media manipulation. This partially ties in with the role of sports, as it is essentially the media that dictates which sporting events are important and worth of airtime. They are mostly responsible for the glorification of male athletes and the essential disregard for the female athletes. Not only are straight men typically in the leading and dominant roles, but their violence and physical strength is glorified as well.
Larry Gross, in his essay, “Out of the Mainstream”, shares many of the same fundamental ideals with Lorber. Though much of his essay pertains to the situation and disadvantages of homosexuals, he agrees that the media keeps the sexual minorities from voicing their own opinions. They are systematically ignored and denied a voice through the media, much in the same way that Lorber discusses in her essay. Both authors agree that the media in playing a supportive role for the dominance of one gender. By displaying the “socially acceptable” roles of women to all of society so consistently, gender barriers become inevitable.
One of the possible solutions that Lorber has to offer to resist this hegemonic culture is the classification of people by their behavioral patterns and their physical or mental aptitudes and shortcomings rather than gender alone. Though this hardly seems like a feasible solution with the state of contemporary society, it appears to solve some of the most deep-rooted problems of gender inequality.
Larry Gross is able to offer some insight into resistance of this culture by suggesting the support and growth of media that both produced by and aimed at specific genders and sexual minorities. Though such changes are already beginning to take place in the media today, it will surely by quite some time before these goals are realized in magnitude sought after by Gross. Though both of these authors present possible advancements for their ideals, they are truly up against powerful opposition and are not likely to see their desired changes any time in the near future.