Gender and its conceptualization, paving way to segregation and institutional justification

To a young child, gender may mean the understanding that she is a girl. To an adult, her gender is female, lawyer and 35 year old mother. Gender, when viewed myopically seems to only stretch that far. There is more to it, and a more encompassing definition of gender would be that, (it)  is an institutionalized system of social practices for constituting people as two significantly different categories, men and women, and organizing social relations of inequality on the basis of that difference (Ridgeway & Correll, 2004).

What the young child and the adult have done is sex categorization, which is the socio-cognitive process by which we label another as male or female (Ridgeway & Correll, 2004). The former has used the simple binary classification system while the latter has used social dimensions to describe her gender. But, no matter the former or the latter, in both individuals, there exists a form of classification of the self, in an attempt to differentiate oneself from the surrounding people and to develop an identity about oneself.

In Singapore, we are exposed to many different types of social relational contexts, be it school, work, meeting old friends or spending a nice dinner with a date that you got through a matchmaking agency. True enough, we become more aware of our gender, and some of the social dimensions we use to define the self, when we enter and take part in such real-time events and interactions. Social relational contexts make gender a persistently available social difference around which to structure the activities and relationships that are enacted through such contexts and shape the meanings participants attach to those activities and relationships (Ridgeway & Correll, 2004).

Gender gap can take on many forms, ranging from the beliefs one has when a baby is a girl or a boy, to one perpetuated when a female or male sends their resume in search of a job, whether a single or married women applies for a job position, and so on. Contemporary stereotypes describe women as more communal and men as more agentic and instrumental (Ridgeway & Correll, 2004). Forces paving way for sex segregation in work, firstly include theories of sex-typing that emphasize the deep-rooted and near universal identification of women with tasks involving service, reproduction, and nurturing and secondly theories of male privilege or patriarchy that emphasize the power of men to dominate the most desirable positions causing women to opt for less desirable job positions which require less substantial commitment to the labour force (Grusky & Charles, 2001). Also, gender queuing model, proposed by Reskin and Roos in 1990, has an underlying assumption that employer’s rankings are affected by estimates of workers’ productivity, and costs which in turn might be directly or indirectly related to workers’ gender.

There exists a technology gender gap as well, which might potentially be a factor to why women only seem to take up certain jobs voluntarily, such as being nannies or manual workers, or take up jobs that involve more of the community and society like teaching and social welfare officer. As stated in a website write up on ‘ An educator’s guide to gender issues’, one speculation is that girls simply approach technology differently, some point to parental influence, others blame teachers and the overall educational institution, point to lack of role and blame the manufacturers of technology products, for the complex, male-oriented nature of the game consoles and characters.

Such gender beliefs, can bias individuals’ expectations for their own competence in the situation independently of their underlying abilities. Inevitably as a society becomes more modernized, gender believes become perpetuated by the media and through socialization practices and start to fuse strongly with the culture the people adopt. Such gender beliefs become pronounced by way of gender inequality, where clear boundaries and hierarchies are set up to possibly hindering a gender’s entry or exit into and from a certain work field, and even dictating his/her participation in a certain organization or network.

 

Gender inequality can be seen in the presence of a glass ceiling in a women’s job advancement, and the way a women’s status as a mother is salient in social relational work sites, cultural beliefs will bias expectations for her ability, performance and appropriateness for authority even more strongly.

Thus gender, no matter how sensitive a topic, we have to acknowledge that there exists different forms of institutions in various countries which legitimize sex segregation. In different countries, the gender inequality pattern is different, and as long as there is institutionalization of gender segregation, gender inequality is here to stay.

 

(772 words)

 

 

 

References

 

Reskin, B. F., & Roos, P.A. (1990). Job Queues, Gender Queues: Explaining Women’s Inroads into Male Occupations. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

 

Ridgeway, C.L., & Correll, S.J. (2004). Unpacking the gender system : A theoretical perspective on gender believes and social relations, Gender & Society, 18(4), pp 510-531.

 

An educator’s guide to gender bias issues, http://www.ed.uiuc.edu/wp/access/gender.html

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