Gender Identity & Inequality

Please expect future posts to get more into bio and current events, but the first goal I had for setting up the page was to have a place to collect my thoughts on a number of topics. The first few postings are from a few of my Sociology classes in undergrad, circa 2011-2013. General themes for these are social inequality, so they are particularly relevant today.

Genetic distributions of traits are used to construct the idea of race, by combining ethnic generalizations and racist ideology. Similarly, society uses arrangements of genetic traits to construct one’s gender, by combining expected roles, stereotypes, and sexist ideology. This formation of a gender dichotomy has served to limit the expression of humankind’s true variation, as well as to stratify genders in relation to the dominant status group. Although the genetic differences are often understood as absolute and binary, scientific developments in Biology and Psychology are showing us that these categories are too simplistic to understand the true nature of gender. For example, varying degrees of sex differentiation occur in the womb through the interaction of the developing fetus and various hormones in their environment. Many factors can alter these levels, however, resulting in sex differences that are not fixed until long after birth. Another result is the number of individuals who are born ‘intersex’, whose gender is often assigned to them arbitrarily.

While the extent to which sex differences influence one’s “natural” predisposition is debatable, more often than not, society determines the outcomes of genetic differentiation. This is made clear when examining gender essentialism, the belief that each clearly defined gender in more suited to certain occupational roles. Often, people rationalize this belief by citing the role that women have in bearing and raising children, claiming evolution has naturally selected for men and women to have different dispositions. Even as more females now occupy traditionally male jobs, their unequal earnings show that the problem of gender inequality is more structural than was previously thought. Also, the glass ceiling keeps women from positions of power, to effectively keep the hierarchy in place. This occurs despite the creation of government agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and laws outlawing the various forms of discrimination in the workplace.

Personally, I think teaching a wider range of gender expressions is needed to promote social justice. This means also discussing the social inequality experienced by transgendered and intersex individuals, who have been widely ignored (Marger is guilty of this too). By overlooking these groups, we fail to see a third tier in the hierarchy that occupy their own ‘underclass’. Transgendered and intersex people (arguably, all LGBT minorities) have a similar challenge to that of third tier ethnic minorities, in that they were the last to gain recognition, and the last to pursue equal protection under the law. There is much evidence to support the idea of a further earning gap between these groups and the rest. According to the American Psychological Association, up to 64% of transgendered people report incomes below $25,000, yet I see little public outrage due to the group’s historical marginalization. Additionally, the APA reports that gay men earn up to 32% less than equally qualified heterosexual men. By illuminating the complexity of gender expression, and by acknowledging the existence of a diverse third tier, there is greater chance of exposing the structural discrimination of all gender/sexual minorities, including women. That distinction will also improve upon the sociological method, as we will examine more accurately the convergence of race, class, gender and sexuality.


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