Notes for Gender and Sexuality
School of Family and Consumer Sciences 400.404/504    Instructor: D. Witt
(these notes comprise the readings for the next two lecture topics)

What is the difference between "sex" and "gender"?  From the World Health Organization.
Sometimes it is hard t
o understand exactly what is meant by the term “gender”, and how it differs from the closely related term “sex”.

  • "Sex” refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women. Sex is Ascribed

  • “Gender” refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women. Gender is Achieved.

To put it another way: “Male” and “female” are sex categories, while “masculine” and “feminine” are gender categories. Aspects of sex will not vary substantially between different human societies, while aspects of gender may vary greatly.

Examples of sex characteristics usually refer to "secondary" characteristics, or characteristics that are often visually apparent :

  • Women are generally smaller in stature than men,l and have less bone mass compared to men.
  • Women have smaller "Adam's apple" compared to men (in the front of the neck that is due to the forward protrusion of the thyroid cartilage, the largest and most prominent cartilage of the larynx.The thyroid cartilage tends to enlarge at adolescence, particularly in males. 
  • There are usually physical differences in body appearance, as well as reproductive differences that can either be visually apparent or hidden from casual view.
    • GENETIC DIFFERENCE - girls "xx", boys "xy"
    • HORMONAL DIFFERENCE - testosterone (aggression) and androgen are higher in males -estrogen and others are higher in women.
    •  GONADAL DIFFERENCE - ovaries and testes
    •  GENITAL DIFFERENCE - penis/clitoris.
    •  REPRODUCTIVE DIFFERENCE - effective contraceptive s reduce the social significance of this one.

Examples of gender characteristics (note the importance of the social application of sex differences here) :

  • In the United States (and most other countries), women earn significantly less money than men for similar work
  • In Viet Nam, many more men than women smoke, as female smoking has not traditionally been considered appropriate
  • In Saudi Arabia men are allowed to drive cars while women are not
  • In most of the world, women do more housework than men
  • Most truckers are male, most nurses female, although there are male nurses and female truckers.
  • Worldwide the primary caregivers of children are usually women.
  • Men make more money for the same job than do women.
  • Women as a group consistently score lower on mathematics and science achievement tests.
  • Men score lower on verbal and language.
  • Men are prone to aggressive, assertive, inexpressive actions
  • Women are prone to passive, expressive ones.

If we were to try to use science and logic to define the real important gender differences between men and women aside from reproductive differences, what might these be?
Are men more intelligent that women? Do men work more than women? Are women more emotional, and thus less trustworthy than men?   Each time we try to decide one of these questions, we find there is  as much difference between any two men or any two women and there is between any particular man and woman. We have to look closely at the ....

Biological and Cultural Determinants of Gender and Sexuality  We differentiate between the terms Gender (connoting the role of male or female in any given society) and Sex (connoting the biological configuration of reproductive organs) for a reason.  The two processes arise from different processes - society and biology. These two processes are useful to each other as development progresses, but they are as independent as they are dependent.

From the moment of birth, through an incredibly complex process of socialization, from the first peek at baby's bottom, gender role reinforcement begins (i.e., ribbons, pink blankets, softness for girls - hockey jerseys, blue blankets, toughness for boys). Our culture's means of reinforcement of gender roles is strongly integrated into the social fabric, so that an individual finds deviation difficult:.  We separate consumer outlets so that the girls go to one section and the boys to another, and we separate social environments in much the same way. Male and female responses to social stimuli are often easily recognized and predicted, and based on very traditional social values. Colors, clothing and hair styles, toy selection leads to differences in parental treatment based on gender, (girls are allowed a little more flexibility than boys early on, but later are forced into more rigid roles), and general social treatment of individuals based on their gender ("sissy" to a boy is much more dangerous than "tomboy" is to girls of early school age,boys don't cry -girls don't hit).

The developing individual quickly learns which part of the social playground welcomes them, and the patterns of feeling and behavior that go with it, as they learn to play their Gender Role.  Easily by early childhood, increasingly through middle childhood, and firmly by adolescence, individuals learn socially appropriate behaviors and feelings and assume their Gender Identity.  This is a composite of all the socially significant rights and obligations warranted to an individual by virtue of their assigned sex.

Self-identity and self-esteem are partially dependent on the successful achievement of one's gender role. Social and relational expectations demand it.  Happiness and life-satisfaction is partially dependent on successful gender performance. Equally important is the idea of changing society, therefore understanding of gender role effects on limiting our progress as individuals and as a species may inform our choices in life.

The Cause of Gender Roles : Biology or Culture  - or both?

    The biology argument suggests that we are predetermined to behave in sex appropriate fashion. This argument points out that:

    • Women are weak physically, where men are strong.
    • Women are verbal, men are action oriented.
    • Women are scheming, men are direct.
    • Women are nurturant, men are instrumental.
    • Genetic programming forces our behavior beyond our control

      The culture argument suggests that we learn sex appropriate behaviors from those around us. This argument counters that:

    • Women are weak because of thousands of years of evolution in which they did not consistently perform physical tasks.
    • Women are verbal and scheming because men have afforded themselves most of the social, political, and economic resources available.
    • Women have to align themselves with a powerful man to achieve in those arenas.
    • Women are nurturant because the have been delegated nurturing responsibilities.
Traditional male and female behavior in American culture is not traditional in other cultures, illustrating that "feminine" and "masculine" behaviors are culturally affected. Different cultures have different value placed on gender. Males most often inherit power (patriarchy), and keep it, although this is not always the case. Our developmental theories, such as Social Learning Theory assert that children are rewarded for conforming to their parent's (i.e., societies) expectations and are punished for behavior that meets with disapproval. Differential socialization holds that male children undergo quite different socialization than do females. Fathers seem to be the deciding factor in the early years of life; while both parents support the division in later childhood.  Standard, traditional socialization agents such as role models: peers, parents, and media, all support the status quo for the treatment of boys and girls, then men and women..

The Feminist Critique of gender role socialization:
    1. power and control are the real social motives behind the division of sex roles / division of labor. Not simply differential socialization
    2. there is no motivation for men to relinquish any of their power and control to women (abortion issues, equal pay issues, child care issues).
    3. The Feminist Power analysis -men have power and privilege by virtue of their sex -it is in men's interest to maintain that power -men occupy and actively exclude women from powerful positions (economic and political)
    4. feminine roles and cultural values are the product of oppression. Idealization of them is dysfunctional to change.
Beyond Gender Roles and Toward Social Change:
Social Science now asserts that Androgyny is the gender role of choice - in other words, there is a third, and probably better, gender role that is a combination of male and female on some important characteristics. If we can agree that there are two basic dimensions of life - Expressive and Instrumental, then there are times in life when warmth is needed and times when assertiveness is warranted. Aggression is appropriate at times, others require appeasement, and so on empathy vs. rationality, independence vs. dependence, formality vs. intimacy. These traits are more accessible if they coexist in single individual, rather than having people opt for one or the other set.   The person who possess both kinds of traits is better suited to cope with the demands of modern life. Males can express their feelings well and are more nurturant than once thought possible. Women can be assertive, task oriented, skilled at problem solving and self-reliant than once thought proper.

Sandra Bem (SL Bem - 1981 - Consulting Psychologists Press, Palo Alto) created the Bem Sex Role Inventory or BSRI in an attempt to measure psychological androgyny. The measure has been used hundreds of times to document the positive and negative effects of traditional versus androgynous gender roles on individual development. Her measure places the respondent in one of four quadrants:

Sex Role Inventory
High Femininity Androgynous
Traditional Feminine
Low Femininity Traditional Male

As it turns out, Androgynous teenagers do not do well in competitive situations, and neither do Traditionally Feminine teenagers.  However, androgynous teenagers do will with relationships - friendships, family, and love. Increasingly, as the social scientific world comes to more precisely define the importance and effects of competition, Androgyny may win out over traditional gender roles in terms of overall success at life.  You can take the BSRI yourself by downloading the questionnaire here.

Changing Gender Role Expectations - In the past 15 years or so, American culture has become Feminized to a great extent. -The most important change in recent history to move our society away from traditional sex roles is the massive influx of women in to the PAID LABOR FORCE. With it came other changes, such as changes in child care schedules, who buys the weekly groceries, who does the laundry, who makes decisions. -In many ways we are moving towards a "task" oriented instrumental society for both genders, but one that demands the emotional stability of traditionally expressive femininity. In the past, mothers would agree that  "when the family does well, I do well", while today she's likely to put herself a little higher up with "when I do well, the family benefits." When wives move into the labor force, husbands like it. But husbands have not significantly increased the time they devote to domestic tasks. (Nationally). Some studies reveal that when a wife/mother takes on a full time job, she actually increases her workload by 100%, still having to be available for parenting, household chores, and general nurturing as before.

Gender Roles and the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy:  At the turn of the 20th century W.I. Thomas gave us the Situational Hypothesis, which simply states  Things that are perceived as real, will be real in their consequences. If we think we are weak, dependent, unskilled, we will act accordingly. If we think we are tough, we will proceed as if we are.  While subject to the constant barrage of messages from all quarters of our society, not all of which are consistent or coordinated in effect,  individuals are also developing higher level cognitive skills which allows them to take into account an ever increasingly complex set of demands on our time, resources, and abilities. In other words, we can always change things.

Gender Identity and Sexuality
Remembering back to Marcia's Typology for Identity Achievement,, Gender Identity is one of the identities that all adolescent's have to face up to.  A phenomenon has been occurring in the lives of girls as they begin to develop into young adults. Psychologists began to notice that girls aged 11 to 14 were beginning to become depressed when compared with boys the same age. Theories were not very helpful in noting possible reasons why until Gilligan (see In a Different Voice, 1982) offered her interpretation of the data.

Gilligan offered a counter argument to the traditional ideas of Moral Development advanced by Lawrence Kohlberg and others. Kohlberg explains advancing moral development to be enabled by advancing cognitive ability (like Piaget's stages of cognitive development).  Achieving higher level moral development also contributes to one's sense of self and self-esteem, and actually affords the individual a more positive view of themselves. This seems to work better for boys than for girls, leaving the mainstream theorists to conclude that perhaps girls just don't keep up with boys on this concept - explaining their higher levels of depression.

Gilligan offered a different explanation, centering her argument around the idea of justice. If a person works hard and follows all the rules, then life should work out well for them, right? What if a person works hard and follows all the rules and life doesn't work out well, not just for them but for others like them.  Gilligan began finding that the latter situation was the case for many girls. As they grew from middle childhood through early adolescence, they began to see that boys, who didn't follow the rules as closely as they, were getting rewards that they didn't earn.  At the same time, girls were seeing that following the rules just didn't pay off as well as it should. All their lives they were being told how good they were, and how their good behavior was a positive trait. Yet when it came time to receive honors and rewards, these didn't come like they were led to believe.

This is an important gender difference to keep in mind while we talk about sexuality among adolescents. For some girls, one way to achieve and maintain higher levels of self-esteem is to become sexually active at an early age. Overtime, if generations of girls find sexuality one of the few modes for increasing and maintaining self-esteem, the behavior may become normative. When discussing the changing nature of sexuality, we always need a discussion of NORMS.  Cultural Norms contain sexual standards, a code of behavior, to which people subscribe and which dictate what kinds of sexual behaviors are considered appropriate. Cultural Norms are specific to the subcultural standards and practices that govern a subculture's members. Statistical Norms focus on the behaviors that really happen - simply counting behaviors.

Distribution of Sexual Activity in the Culture
Before, during and after the Sexual Revolution of the late 1960's yearly 1970's, the dominant attitude about sexuality in the U.S. has swung from the days of a quick smooch on the porch swing to car dating to coed dorms and cohabitation - from no premarital sex before marriage to premarital sex as recreation to premarital sex with affection.

In the beginning there was the Abstinence Rule -1770 to 1950, then came the Double Standard 1950's followed by the Sex for Fun Era 1960's & 1970's. From the 1980s onward the culture has been dominated by Sex with Affection  Of course, there have been other social changes driving the change in attitude about sex, most notably the expectation that boys and girls will continue their education beyond high school and on into college.  Sexually transmitted diseases, particularly HIV/AIDS, have accompanied changes in cultural attitudes.

Cultural Norms have changed in the Twentieth Century.

  1. Abstinence prior to marriage - 1900 to 1930
  2. The Double Standard - 1930 to 1970
  3. Permissiveness for Recreation 1970 to 1978
  4. Permissiveness with Affection 1978 to present
If we were to write out a definition of healthy sexuality, how might this definition change for teenagers? When do teenagers get to start having sex and what are the rules governing their behavior?
Would healthy sexuality include a period of education about the positive and negative aspects of becoming a sexual person, perhaps through sex education in the public schools?  Without a firm grounding in these essential life skills, what might be the outcome, keeping in mind that our nation's young people are a good reflection of what we've made them to be

To get a partial view of this dilemma see The Education of Shelby Knox and the Lost Children of Rockdale County. Both documentaries are available through the library. We can view some of these films if the class consents.   Shebly attended high school in a district with a policy of abstinence only education. She was interested in finding out why important health information was being kept from the district's young people.  The Lost Children film details a 1996 syphilis outbreak in a school district attended by middle class students, The students involved ranged in age from 13 to 16.

Parents could easily remedy part of this situation by following these guidelines with their daughters:

  1. Monitor their expectations. Many parents are more comfortable with letting a boy take chances but are afraid a girl will hurt herself or get dirty.
  2. Be involved in a daughters schooling. Make sure she gets a good education by finding out what goes on in the classroom, how she's being treated, whether she's called on, who gets to use the computers, etc.
  3. Encourage daughters in math and science. Redefine algebra and calculus as girl subjects.
  4. Be the daughters' biggest booster. Women in undergraduate engineering programs agreed that their biggest encouragement came from their parents - by constantly saying - "you can do it, kid."
  5. Let daughters make decisions - and live with the consequences.
  6. Teach her to think and speak up for herself. Don't accept anything as truth without stopping, thinking about it, and asking lots of questions.
  7. Don't overemphasize physical appearance. While all kids need to hear from parents that they are good looking kids, it is much more important for them to hear they are good persons more than pretty ones, or you'd be prettier if you'd lose weight/lighten your hair/smile more.
  8. Do give positive messages about sexuality. Not just the plumbing lecture combined with the AIDS IS EVERYWHERE/YOU'LL GET PREGNANT stuff - talk about the wonder of her sexuality and how sweet and pleasurable it will be. Talk about choosing relationships that are: consensual, non-exploitive , mutually pleasurable, honest, equal and responsible. And strongly advise that sex can happen when both partners are ready.
  9. Help her develop a unique hobby, interest or talent.
  10. Expose her to strong female role models.
  11. Unconditional positive regard. All humans have a sex drive - energy that is most efficiently used in pursuit of and engagement in sexual activity.

As gatekeepers of sexuality, in heterosexual terms, women have the option to engage in sexuality or not. Changes in sexual behavior are dependent on women's decisions. There is conflict between the expectations for males and females in our culture - this causes angst while the teenager is attempting to come to achievement of his/her sexual identity. There has been an increase in the proportion of people engaging in sexually intimate behaviors of all types before marriage.

If sex with affection is the dominant social norm, it is up to males to convince females that they are in love. So one way to observe this phenomenon is to study the changes in men's APPROACHES and ARGUMENTS.

Homosexuality in the United States

What are the determinants of sexual orientation:

  • The Nature argument - homosexuality as a natural condition being born a homosexual. Primarily an argument favored by male homosexuals who wish to be left alone.
  • The Political argument - homosexuality is a matter of choice. Primarily an argument favored by politically active female homosexuals who wish to make a statement.
  • Either way, adolescents pondering their sexual identity are fragile until their choices/natures take hold of them.
  • Coping with sexual uncertainty brings on anxiety and doubt. Our culture does little to ease the difficulty.

Homosexual teenagers are often the victims of, not only cruel jokes, but sometimes violent hate crimes perpetrated at the hands of homophobic peers. It is important to note that the gay population in the U.S. has seen a dramatic reduction in the incidence of STD's of all kinds since becoming aware of the AIDs virus. Conversely, STDs among heterosexuals is still at alarming levels.

Cultural Restrictions on Sexuality

    Sexuality in Dating - Teens 16-20 who reported being sexually active:
      1940 - 20% f 40% m
      1950 - 21% f 42% m
      1960 - 25% f 60% m
      1970 - 40% f 60% m
      1980 - 64% f 77% m
      1990 - 75% f 80% m

    By 1978, among unmarried college aged women
    • 83% reported being sexually active
    • the rise occurring in areas of casual dating, as well as the normally sexual going steady and engaged statuses.
    • 56% report sexual intercourse by age nineteen.
Number of Partners (Lifetime Statistics from the Kinsey Institute)
  • Males 30-44 report an average of 6-8 female sexual partners in their lifetime (Mosher, Chandra, & Jones, 2005).
  • Females 30-44 report an average of 4 male sexual partners in their lifetime (Mosher, Chandra, & Jones, 2005).
  • 3% of men have had zero sexual partners since the age of 18, 20% have had 1 partner, 21% have had 2-4 partners, 23% have had 5-10 partners, 16% have had 11-20 partners, and 17% have had 21 or more partners (Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, Michaels, 1994).
  • 3% of women have had zero sexual partners since the age of 18, 31% have had 1 partner, 36% have had 2-4 partners, 20% have had 5-10 partners, 6% have had 11-20 partners, and 3% have had 21 or more partners (Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, Michaels, 1994).
  • 20% of American men and 31% of American women have had one sex partner in their lifetime (Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, Michaels, 1994).
  • 56% of American men and 30% of American women have had 5 or more sex partners in their lifetime (Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, Michaels, 1994).

Common Myths About Sexuality Held by Adolescents and Their Parents:
  • If intercourse stops before the male ejaculates then pregnancy will not occur.
  • If I have intercourse while standing, no one will get pregnant.
  • I cannot get pregnant if one of us uses a condom or some form of contraception.
  • I cannot get pregnant on the first time of intercourse.
  • If I do not discuss sex with my children, perhaps they will not have sex or know nothing about it.
  • My children are not having sex because they are good kids and I raised them to know better.
  • The responsibility for birth control falls in the hands of the female, after all, boys will be boys.
Teen Pregnancy Facts
  • About 30,000 pregnancies occur annually in the us among girls under the age of 15.
  • Over 900,000 adolescents become pregnant annually.
  • 1 out of 12 unmarried female American teenagers become pregnant each year; about half of them will carry the pregnancy to term.
  • Half of all first pregnancies occur within the first 6 months of becoming sexually active.
  • 6 out of 10 teenage females who have a child before age 17 will be pregnant again before age 19.
  • America’s teenage birth rate is the highest in the Western hemisphere; it is double the rate of Sweden, and is an astonishing 17 times higher than Japan.
  • 4 out of 10 girls now 14 years old will get pregnant in their teens.
  • Adolescent pregnancy and unwed mothers continue to be a serious problem in the US even though the rate is lower than it was in the 1940’s.
  • Adolescent pregnancy rate is 4 times the rate of Western European countries; even though it has declined by 22%.since thee 1940's
  • Teen pregnancy currently costs the US more than $7 billion per year.
  • About half of all teenage mothers and 75% of unmarried teenage moms will fall into poverty within five years of giving birth of their first child.
  • 45% of 1st born children and 33% of all children in the US have mothers who are unmarried, teenagers, or mothers without a high school degree.
  • The number of girls who become pregnant between the ages of 15 and 19 years will increase by 2.2 million between 1995 and 2010.
  • About 33% of females aged 15 to 17 do not understand the human fertility cycle.
  • 12% of students believe the birth control pill protects against aids.
  • About 25% adolescents believe looking at a person can enable to identify whether or not someone has AIDS.
Risk Factors For Childbirth Before Age 17
  • Health risks of pregnant teens - Infants with low birth weight or premature delivery
  • Mothers dropping out of school - Only 50% of teen mothers complete school by age 26.
  • Children develop more behavior difficulties
  • Children with lower intelligence scores.
  • Children with more illnesses.
  • Mothers and infants living in poverty.
  • Only 25% of adolescent fathers remain involved.
Adolescents and Sexually Transmitted Diseases
  • 25% of sexually active adolescents contract an STD every year.  Most common STDs are as follows:
  • Gonorrhea.  Bacterium; thrives in moist membranes; treated successfully with antibiotics.
  • Syphilis.  Bacterium; prefers warm, moist areas; attacks CNS; treated with antibiotics.
  • Chlamydia.  Bacterium; infects genitals; highly infectious; 25% if females become infertile.
  • Genital Herpes.  Virus; many strains; recurring blisters and sores.
  • AIDS.  Virus; destroys the immune system; death results from common illnesses.

Forcible sexual behavior and sexual harassment are unfortunate byproducts of a sensual culture.
Four key dynamics describe this occurrence:
  • Rape.  Forced, non-consenting sexual intercourse.
  • Date rape.  Coercive sexual activity with a know perpetrator.
  • Quid pro quo sexual harassment.  Forced sexual compliance in exchange for protection from negative education outcomes.
  • Hostile environmental sexual harassment.  Forced sexual contact that negatively impacts work.