In the article “Doing Gender”, Candas and Zimmerman emphasize the point that gender is not a once achieved and fixed state but rather a process of creating a gender image. Contradicting the traditional views on gender as an achievement, the researchers propose a vision of gender as a ‘display’ in a series of interaction between multiple participants (Candas and Zimmerman 127). To demonstrate the essence of gender, Candas and Zimmerman employ the notions of sex and sex categories.
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The latter serve as a framework for constructing one’s conduct in accordance with the normative attitudes and activities proper to a certain sex category (Candas and Zimmerman 127). The researchers stress the importance of context and circumstances for rendering one’s behavior in a certain way, as well as point out the necessity for the ongoing process of ‘doing gender’ under the constant attention and gender assessment of the surrounding society (Candas and Zimmerman 136–137).
Having demonstrated gender as a process, the authors engage with the issue of gender being a powerful instrument of social influence. As it appears, the process of doing gender comprises an indispensable basis of social organization (Candas and Zimmerman 146). When men assume masculine roles and stand on positions of power, and women comply with feminine roles of deference, hierarchical arrangements are easier to legitimate and explain by the supposedly ‘natural’ order of things (Candas and Zimmerman 146).
At a higher level of organization, gender standards assist in creating powerful institutional arrangements, and therefore makes redefining or repudiating gender an act of not only individual change but of a social and ideological revolution (Candas and Zimmerman 147).
The importance of gender standards for social organization cannot be overestimated. Although due to the efforts of feminists and other human rights activists, the borderline between sexes is becoming more obscure, modern society is still characterized by and arranged according to established gender ideals. Men are physically stronger, therefore they are assigned more complex physical jobs; women are more graceful and fragile, which results in their vision as ‘the fair sex’ to be protected and cared for.
Denouncing the established order of things would mean nothing less than going against the human physical nature with men being the main breadwinners and women being the keepers of the family hearth and the nurturer of the offspring. Then the mere basis of society and one of the main social values — the family — would be questioned and resigned as an untenable notion.
In his comprehensive research on the nature of relation between sex and gender, James Messerschmidt employs a case study investigating the perception of sex and gender, and arrives to the conclusion that “social interaction relies on the inseparability of sex appearance and gender behavior” (87). Supporting this argument are two examples of teenagers whose peers perceived their sexual appearance as incongruent with the gender behavior they had assumed.
Moreover, in different social contexts and environments this incongruence was taken differently. In one case, the boy’s family members perceived his behavior as totally masculine, while his schoolmates viewed his sexual appearance as incongruous with the male stereotype. In the other case, the girl’s family and classmates rejected her male gender behavior since it was contradicting her natural female sex appearance.
Such unacceptance by society resulted in assuming an aggressive attitude and led Messerschmidt to the idea that “an imbalance in sex appearance and gender behavior may motivate assaultive violence” (87). Indeed, the boy — who was feeling masculine enough but unaccepted by his peers as a male — created his own society of younger teenagers that would accept him as a strong masculine leader.
The girl — who was feeling more attracted by male standards, witnessing the failure of her mother to comply with the accepted female stereotype — engaged into male-type behavior at school and in the street in order to assert her consistency as a person. But while the boy succeeded in bringing his sex appearance and gender behavior to conformity by means of street violence, the girl could not reach that balance due to her natural feminine exterior, which made her the more violent and aggressive.
The idea of inseparability of gender and sex perception in modern society appears to be more than reasonable. If sex is considered a purely biological quality, it still does not create a man or a woman alone: certain type of gender behavior is necessary for the person to be fully accepted as a representative of either masculinity or femininity. On the other hand, pure gender behavior without proper sex appearance does not convince the society of considering a person male or female.
A human with female appearance and male behavior, and vice versa, would be considered at most a transitional phenomenon but not a full-fledged masculine or feminine being. Depending on the congruence or misalignment between the sex appearance and gender behavior, one is viewed either as a gender conforming or a gender deviant personality within certain social environment. Therefore, in order to harmonize one’s social relations, it is vital to maintain the right balance between one’s appearance and behavior.
Messerschmidt, James W. “Goodbye to the Sex–Gender Distinction, Hello to Embodied Gender: On Masculinities, Bodies, and Violence.” Sex, Gender, and Sexuality: The New Basics. Eds. Abby L. Ferber, Kimberly Holcomb and Tre Wentling. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2008. 71–88. Print.
West, Candas, and Don H. Zimmerman. “Doing Gender.” Gender and Society 1.2 (1987): 125–151. Print.