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Gender as a Social Structure Essay


The question of gender does not depend on the society and the prevailing context-constituting elements, including space and time. In other words, gender is an aspect of society and forms a social structure. Any attempt to redefine and reconstitute gender has its limits. Although the “changes” are judged based on how they deviate from the traditional thoughts, there is still much evidence of a salient gendered psychology of society.

This phenomenon is best seen and understood by observing social contexts in which men and women interact. A social context is what Hochschild refers to as “magnified moment”, and is a metaphorical ‘society’ (4). One such context is the Super Bowl XLVI, the Patriots vs. the Giants game.

The purpose of this paper is to explore how gender as a social structure is manifested in this context, what generally helps its perpetuation and how women attempt to change this situation.


The Super Bowl case is not only a social context as a whole, but also a mosaic of micro-contexts. One could observe how men and the women relate with each other in this space where the football players create a strong consciousness about ‘masculinity’ on one end, and femininity on the other; the players in action or Madonna’s half-time performance.

In Madonna’s performance for instance, it is quite evident how the male and female performers relate on the stage especially on the use of space and what they perform. Men who dance with Madonna are notably taller than she is. Mostly, the women flaunt their hips, while the men flaunt their muscles and do other things including sword-fights.

In addition, the body languages seem to emphasize the performers’ femininity and masculinity. Men and women barely share space and performance at any particular moment in time. For instance, when the ladies in red-white costumes come on stage to do their “cheerleading” performance, the men take the background.

Risman (431), in her explanation of social and gender relationship, says that the notion of the differences between different genders is socially and contextually constructed. The context shapes what is perceived as gender-appropriate behavior.

The players are well built men and they become ‘beasts’ in the field. It is likely that most- if not all, the people start to feel that this is actually how all men should look like. Ladies become conscious of their “femininity” and long for their men to have the same body type. On the other hand, men who are not built “well” start to feel inferior as compared to other players.

This case where a man does not necessarily care to ‘build’ his body, but feels ‘less’ masculine in the presence of ‘built’ men is what has been referred to as a ‘pervasive double-bind’ relationship of men with their bodies (Norman 2). However, such feelings and reactions are not likely to appear in a context where such ‘oozing masculinity’ is not so explicitly displayed.

Ridgeway and Correll argue that these “social relational contexts”, are some of the key components that help keep the gender system as it is, or help change it. The authors observe that these contexts /provide ‘unwritten’ cultural instructions or rules that define the social structure of inequality and difference that many perceive to be gender” (510,511).

The ability of the social context thrives on the collective life. The football culture is such a good example. It has the ability to constrain individuals and individualism. The individual internalizes the values and norms that they witness (Risman 431). Individuals define themselves in relation to others. The ‘not well-built’ men here compare themselves to the players. The term ‘structure’ is therefore dualistic, referring to both the constraints that society imposes on the people and the people’s actions in line with or against these constraints (Ridgeway and Correll 510).

Evidence of this patriarchal psychology has been found in different social contexts. Such a context like the Super Bowl game is one of ways that boys and girls (4 to 5 years of age) interacted during the opening of an end-of-summer soccer season. However, there are some other notable differences.

First, while adults are generally conscious of the notion of gender and the constituting elements, the children are not. Secondly, Madonna’s performance for instance, is intentionally staged. In his study, Messner observes how the children unconsciously “construct gender” (Messner 765).

Messner largely analyses the cases of Barbie Girls and Sea Monsters from the perspective of performative theory. The girls emphasize by performance and femininity in this manner. The boys emphasize by use of their masculine nature to control, constrain, configure and violate (Messner 765; Norman 14). Nevertheless, quoting Walter, he also acknowledges the ‘involuntariness’ of these actions.

Generally, his argument is based on social structure theories, which argue that everyday interactions as favored by the prevailing historical, political and social circumstances provide a platform in which gender is enacted (Lorber). On the other hand, while some girls flinch when the boys invade their space, which is in line with the perception of girls as mild and easily trounced by boys, other girls do not budge. On the contrary, they push the boys from their space. This is largely against expectations.

What is interesting in Messner’s account is the way the adults react to this scenario on the whole scene. To them, the scenario displays a clear distinction between the two genders. They keep commenting on how the two groups, the boys and girls, “look different.” Perhaps the distinction was in the mind of the adults, “seeing what they wanted to see” (Messner 766).

The parents too are most probably victims of the society’s psychology. They insist on viewing the two sexes as the very different. Indeed, the patterns of behavior and thought that parents instill in their children during their formative years will perhaps remain with them throughout their lives and influence the structures of their households (Fox 375). Depending on parenthood, the woman typically cares for the baby, while the man helps the mother and provides for the family.

Generally, the question here is on the presence of gendered labor divisions during the period when a woman transits to motherhood and how these influence the weight of her responsibility. Normally, the welfare of children is the responsibility of the mother (Fox 378).

Most studies show that transitioning to adulthood and the responsibilities attached to it also affect women health-wise. For instance, it has been found that female Cystic Fibrosis patients have the lowest chance of survival and of improving their lives than their male counterparts. The median survival age of women has been found to be higher than that of men in most countries and even states. Willis, et al find links between this trend and women’s transition to adulthood (1164).

Women have not taken this sitting down and have sought to earn higher education accolades, break into traditionally ‘male’ occupations, and so on. Madonna’s performance displays other elements that reflect women’s rising power over men. For instance, one notices how Madonna apparently rules over the men on stage. She decides to slap and kick men.

Rose Weitz presents another way in which women fight back. One of the ways is using their body. For instance, she explores how women use their hair to change the general perception of their beauty and attractiveness. She argues that women’s hair “is key to defining and establishing their social position” (Weitz 667).

Additionally, she explores the way that women seek to gain power through their hairs, the benefits, and limitations of such strategies. For instance, it is generally thought that women intentionally improve their hair by applying chemicals and blow-drying, which also means spending money on it. Thus, in their mind, when beautifully maintains hair, this is thought to give women power.

Paula England (149-163) presents arguments on what she perceives as the failure of gender change. She does acknowledge that since the feminist movement began, the economic and social lives of many women have changed (Walters 123). She points out the fact that these changes have been uneven and they mainly occur among certain groups of people and in certain spheres more than others do.

Her main argument is that the society remains relatively stuck in the ‘old’ patriarchal psychology (England 158). The different roles that the different sexes perform in the Super Bowl game, from the players, to the audience and performance display this psychology to a certain degree. Acker attributes the gender inequalities in organizations to the gendered minds that construct organizations and have also formulated the theories about them (139).


In this paper, we have recognized and acknowledged the many social transitions that women have gone through. Nevertheless, we have equally seen that these changes have not exactly broken away from the society’s constraints. The patriarchal psychology of the society remains relatively the same. This has influenced the way the changes occur and which areas experience changes better and faster than others.

Works Cited

Acker, Joan. Hierachies, Jobs, Bodies: A Theory of gendered organizations, Gender & Society 4 (1990): 139-155. Print.

England, Paula. The Gender revolution: Uneven and Stalled. Gender & Society. 24.2 (2010): 149-166. Print.

Fox, Bonnie. The Formative Years: How Parenthood Creates Gender. CRSA/RCSA 38. 4 (2011): 374-388. Print.

Lorber, Judith. Night to his Day: The Social Construction of Gender. Mearc. 1994. Web.

Messner, Michael A. Barbie Girls Versus Sea Monsters: Children Constructing Gender. Gender & Society. 14.6 (2000): 765-784. Print.

Norman, Moss. Embodying the Double-Bind of Masculinity: Young Men and Discourses of Normalcy, Health, Heterosexuality, and Individualism. Men and Masculinities , 3. (2011): 12-21. Print.

Ridgeway, Cecilia, L. & Shelley, Correll. Unpacking the Gender System: A Theoretical Perspective on Gender Beliefs and Social Relations. Gender & Society 18.4 (2004): 510-531. Print.

Risman, Barbara. Gender As A Social Structure: Theory Wrestling With Activism. Gender & Society 18.4 (2004): 429-450. Print.

Walters, Suzanna. Sex, Text, and Context: (In) between feminism and cultural studies. In Revisioning Gender. California: Thousand Oaks, 2008. Print.

Weitz, Rose. Women and Their Hair: Seeking Power through Resistance and Accommodation. Gender & Society 15.5 (2001): 667-686. Print.

Willis, Evan., Rosemary, Miller and Johanna, Wyn. Gendered Embodiment and Survival for Young People with Cystic Fibrosis. Social Science & Medicine, 53 (2001): 1163-1174. Print.

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IvyPanda. "Gender as a Social Structure." May 31, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/gender-as-a-social-structure/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "Gender as a Social Structure." May 31, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/gender-as-a-social-structure/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Gender as a Social Structure'. 31 May.

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