How Do We “Do Gender” in the Twenty-First Century?
hat distinctive ways-of acting and feeling are characteristic of women? Of men? For centuries, people have used a male/female ichotorny to answer these questions and, in the process, have identified women’s and men’s behaviors as opposites in many espects: Men are supposed.to be “real men” and meet the normative conception of masculinity by being aggressive, independent, nd powerful, whereas women are supposed to demonstrate femininity by being passive, dependent, and weak. However, many heorists using a symbolic interactionist perspective suggest that gender is something that we do rather than being a set of asculine or feminine traits that resides within the individual. Sociologists Candace West and Don H. Zimmerman (I 987) coined the term “doing gender” to refer to the process by which we socially create differences between males and females that are not based n natural, essential, or biological factors but instead are based on the things we do in our social interactions. According to West and Zimmerman (1987), accountability is involved in the process of doing gender: We know that our actions will be valuated by others based on how well they think we meet the normative conceptions of appropriate attitudes and activities that re expected of people in our sex category (the socially required displays that identify a person as being either male or female).
What is the primary difference in these two approaches?These viewpoints are based on different assumptions. The male/female dichotomy is based on the assumption that women and men have inherently different traits, whereas the concept of doing gender s based on the assumption that, through our interactions with others, we produce, reproduce, and sustain the social meanings hat are accorded to gender in any specific society at any specific point in time (in other words, those meanings may change from time to time and from place to place). By focusing on gender as an accomplishment (rather than something that is previously established), symbolic interactionists emphasize that some people’s resistance to existing gendered norms is probable and that social change is possible. Symbolic interactionist theories also make us aware that change is less likely to take place when people feel constrained to be accountable to others for their behavior as women or men (Fenstermaker and West, 2002).
When you look at the pictures on these three pages, think about how the people in each setting are “doing gender» in everyday life. re they doing gender based on what they perceive to he the normative expectations of others? Or are they doing gender as they ee tit? What do you think?