The Social Significance of Gender
Gender is a social construction with important consequences in everyday life. Just as stereotypes regard- . ing race/ethnicity ave uilt-in notions of superiority and inferiority. gender stereotypes hold that men and women are inherently different in attributes, ehavior. and aspirations. Stereotypes define men as strong. rational, dominant, independent, and less concerned with their ppearance. Women are stereotyped as weak. emotional, nurturing, dependent, and anxious about their appearance.
The social Significance of gender stereotypes is illustrated by eating problems. The three most common eating problems are norexia, bulimia. and obesity. With anorexia, a person has lost at least 25 percent of body weight due to a compulsive fear of ecoming fat (Lott, 1994). With bulimia, a person binges by consuming
large quantities of food and then purges the food by induced vomiting, excessiveexercise, laxatives, or fasting. With beSity,individuals are 20 percent or more above their desirable weight, as established by the medical profession. For a 5-foot-4- nch woman, that is about twenty-five pounds; for a 5-foot-10-inch an, it is about thirty pounds (Burros, J 994: I). Sociologist ecky W.Thompson argues that, based on stereotypes. the primary victims of eating problems are presumed to be white, middle- lass. heterosexual omen. However, such problems also exist among women of color, working-class women, lesbians, andsome mcn. According to Thompson, explanations
regarding the relationship between gender and eating problems must take into account a complex array of social factors, including gender socialization and women’s responses to problems such as racism and emotional, physical, and sexual abuse Thompson, 1994; see also Woolly, 1994)
Bodybuilding is another gendered experience. Bodybuilding is the process of deliberately cultivating an increase in the mass and strength of the skeletal muscles by means of lifting and pushing weights (Mansfield and Ginning, 1993). In the past, bodybuilding was predominantly a male activity; musculature connoted power, domination, and virility (Klein, 1993). Today. an increasing number of women engage in this activity. As rendered experiences, eating prob