Race is a social construct. Gender is also a social construct. That does not make them “not real things”, in the same way that money is a social construct — as an abstraction and standardization of value and a symbol of resources available to a person. Nobody is rushing to say money doesn’t actually exist or have any importance in our capitalist society. They might want to abolish money, in the same way as a person might want to abolish gender. But that’s not to say they’re going to succeed without serious changes in society, changes that evidently can’t be envisioned happening by increments by the people proposing that abolishing the construct is a worthy goal. In the case of money, you’d have to have absolute abundance of all resources — free limitless energy and a replicator machine that could make whatever you want with that energy, for instance. In the case of gender, you’d have to have a society that accepted any performative aspect of self-identity without our innate desire to pigeonhole or label them in short-form for communications purposes.
“The important thing,” Ursula K. Le Guin wrote in contemplating the cultural role of speculative fiction and the task of its writer, “is not to offer any specific hope of betterment but, by offering an imagined but persuasive alternative reality, to dislodge my mind, and so the reader’s mind, from the lazy, timorous habit of thinking that the way we live now is the only way people can live.” In doing so, she argued, imaginative storytelling can intercept the inertia of oppressive institutions, perilous social mores, and other stagnations of progress that contract our scope of the possible.
Gender as we use it here refers to the social roles, expectations and definitions of what it means to be men and women in a given context (in contrast to sex which refers to the biological fact of being born male or female).
Male gender norms are the specific social expectations and roles assigned to men and boys in relation to women and girls. These often include ideas that men should take risks, endure pain, be tough or stoic, or should have multiple sexual partners – sometimes including paying for sex — to prove that they are “real men.”
Masculinities refers to the multiple ways that manhood is socially defined across historical and cultural contexts and the power differences which exist between different versions
of manhood (Connell 1994).
For example, a version of manhood associated with the dominant social class or ethnic group in a given setting may have greater power and salience, just as heterosexual masculinities often hold more power than homosexual or bisexual masculinities.
Patriarchy refers to historical power imbalances and cultural practices and systems that accord men on aggregate more power in society, and offer men material benefits, such as higher incomes and informal benefits including care and domestic service from women and girls in the family (UN Division for the Advancement of Women 2003).
The conceptual framework that has guided many interventions with men and boys from a gender perspective is a social constructionist perspective (Connell 1987 & 1994; Kimmel 2000).
This approach affirms that masculinities and gender norms are: (1) socially constructed (rather than being biologically driven),
(2) vary across historical and local contexts and
(3) interact with other factors such as poverty and globalization.
In a social constructionist perspective, gender norms emerge from prevailing patterns of hegemony and patriarchy and are in turn reinforced and reconstructed by families, communities and social institutions.
Boys learn what manhood means by observing their families, where they often see women and girls providing care-giving for children, while men are often outside the family setting working. They also observe and internalize broader social norms, including messages from television, mass media and from which
toys or games are considered appropriate for boys or girls. They also learn such norms in schools and other social institutions and from their peer groups, which may encourage risk-taking behavior, competition and violence, and may ridicule boys who do not live to these social expectations.
These social meanings of manhood are also constructed in relation to prevailing social norms about what it means to be a woman or girl. In turn, girls and women also help to construct
and reinforce norms about what it means to be a man, including in some cases those which promote unequal power relations between men and women. It is important to emphasize, however that individuals (boys and men and girls and women) learn and internalize norms about what it means to be men and women
– including norms that promote the commodification of sex and sexual prowess — but can also react to these norms and can and do question them.
At the same time, norms about manhood are constructed against the backdrop of other power hierarchies and income inequalities that give greater power to some men (such as middle class or professional men, men from certain ethnic
groups, or older men) and exclude or dominate others (younger boys, and men from minority or disempowered ethnic groups and lower income men, for example). In this way a social constructionist perspective calls attention to the variations among men and boys – their multiple realities and individual differences – and contextualizes gender norms or social definitions of manhood within other power dimensions and social realities, including income inequalities.
I was wondering if you'd be willing to suggest some books that you believe men should read?
Hmmmm this is such a vague question (e.g., what kinds of books? which men? why?) so I’m just gonna run with it and recommend some great reads.
First tho, want to say that I believe everyone, regardless of gender, should read the same books bc knowledge is power folks!!!
Also, I should warn you that since I study the social construction of deviance and crime from an intersectional feminist perspective, this reading list does reflect that. Tbh, it’s actually a small selection from my PhD comprehensive exam *blushes*.
While this list has interesting and enlightening reads, pls take it as a starting point.
[Social constructionism] begins with radical doubt in the taken-for-granted world - whether in the sciences of daily life - and in a specialized way acts as a form of social criticism. Constructionism asks one to suspend belief that commonly accepted categories or understandings receive their warrant through observation. Thus, it invites one to challenge the objective basis of conventional knowledge.
Giddens’ notion of ontological security and existential anxiety are fruitful for understanding the global-local nexus as psychologized discourses of domination and resistance. As emphasized by Roberta Sigel…: ’(t)here exists in humans a powerful drive to maintain the sense of one’s identity, a sense of continuity that allays fear of changing too fast or being changed against one’s will by outside forces’. Globalization has made it more difficult, but not less desirable, to think in terms of singular, integrated and harmonious identities as individuals constantly tune their actions to an increasing number of othes and issues. The fact that individuals search for one stable identity does not mean, however, that such identities exist. Rather we need to understand identity, not as a fixed, natural state of being, but as a process of becoming. As argued by Stuart Hall…: ’(i)f we feel that we have a unified identity from birth to death, it is only because we construct a comforting story or ‘narrative of the self’ about ourselves’.
Catarina Kinvall, Globalization and Religious Nationalism in India: The Search for Ontological Security
‘Born that way’ is a simple mantra, one that cuts through the concepts and challenges I have outlined. But it is also dangerous. For embracing the fiction of biological determinism risks consistently misunderstanding the most important part of our lives – our intimate relationships. We invented romantic love. And homosexuality. And just about every other kind of relationship. That doesn’t make any of these things less important or less real. But our inventions are not part of a biological nature: they are part of a conversation between a biological and social order of life.
Without this more accurate understanding, it is easy to avoid fundamental questions of human society. If biology determines our expression, then there is no reason to think about making better or different worlds.
Darwinism and Social Darwinism have very little in common, apart from the name and a few basic concepts, which Social Darwinists misapplied. The theory that there is a hierarchy of human species into ‘races’ has affected international politics, economics and social development across the globe.
Social Darwinism is a false application of Darwin’s ideas such as adaptation and natural selection, and does not really follow from Darwinian thinking in any way. Social Darwinism is a belief, which became popular in England, Europe and America, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Herbert Spencer, an English philosopher in the 19th century was one of the most important Social Darwinists.
Social Darwinism does not believe in the principle of equality of all human beings. It states that:
(1) Some human beings are biologically superior to others.
(2) The strongest or fittest should survive and flourish in society.
(3) The weak and unfit should be allowed to die.
There was a constant struggle between humans and the strongest always would win. The strongest nation was the fittest, therefore the best, and consequently had an inherent right to rule.
Social Darwinism applied the 'survival of the fittest’ to human 'races’ and said that 'might makes right’. Not only was survival of the fittest seen as something natural, but it was also morally correct. It was therefore natural, normal, and proper for the strong to thrive at the expense of the weak. White Protestant Europeans had evolved much further and faster than other “races.”
So-called 'white civilised’ industrial nations that had technologically advanced weapons had the moral right to conquer and 'civilize’ the 'savage blacks’ of the world. Social Darwinism was used to rationalise imperialism, colonialism, racism and poverty.
The beliefs associated with Social Darwinism were discredited during the 20th century, as the increasing knowledge of biological, social, and cultural phenomena does not support its basic tenets.
The concept of 'human races’ is scientifically invalid. Physical characteristics do not relate in any way to mental or behavioural attributes. Many people argue that the word 'race’ should no longer be used for the following reasons:
Most scientists today would say that there is no such thing as race.
The misinterpretation of the term 'race’ to classify people has gone hand in hand with contempt for human rights.
Social Darwinism is by no means dead, as traces of it can be found in the present.
When people (outside tumblr) talk about gender essentialism, they usually refer to the idea that gender is innate or natural and can be derived from sex. An example of gender essentialism would be the claim that women are naturally good housekeepers. Another essentialist view of gender would be saying that certain traits are pertaining to one gender by nature, i.e. that there are inherently feminine or masculine characteristics.
Radical feminists, like many feminists in general, assume a social constructionst view: femininity and masculinity are artificial in the sense that they are culturally assigned values, and there is no such thing as innate gender identity because gender is a socially constructed hierarchy. This means that observed/assumed gender differences between men and women are products of socialisation because females and males are socialised differently to adhere to different gender roles.
There is undoubtedly a fierce battle for feminism to fight in the arena of gender essentialism, but adhering strongly to social constructionism puts the movement at odds with scientific consensus, placing a vital political movement on shaky ground. It also creates an obstacle in the relationship between trans activism and feminism. Perhaps it’s time for feminism to question social constructionism and stare the research squarely in the face, with some footnotes—look carefully at the sample size, understand the bell curve, and think about how the evidence can best be used for effective feminist activism—added for good measure.
if gender is a social construct, what is the point of identifying as a gender?
The fact that something is a social construct doesn’t mean that it isn’t real. It’s blatantly real, considering we have to live with it every day of our lives. Frankly, a lot of things are a social construct. Even stuff like colour is a social construct - what I call blue may not be quite the same shade of colour that you call blue. I learned it was ‘blue’ by my parents pointing at a colour and calling it blue - and they learned it from their parents and so on and so on. If you’re going to argue that gender isn’t real/there’s no point to it because it’s a social construct, then pretty much everything in your life isn’t real/has no point either. Even time itself is a social construct.
…If it were not for this resistance there would be no need to reaffirm constantly the truthfulness of these discourses. For example, if the notion that ‘a woman’s place is in the home’ were really secure in its position as prevailing truth, there would be no need to keep asserting it.
…the debate between biological determinism and cultural or social constructionism [… has] delimited the field by creating false oppositions (aligning the biological with what is fixed, universal, and given, and the cultural with what is temporary, relative, and constructed). I would argue that emotions involve the materialisation of bodies, and hence show the instability of ‘the biological’ and 'the cultural’ as ways of understanding the body.
Sara Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion, p. 17n10
Social constructivism is a sociological theory of knowledge that applies the general philosophical constructivism into social settings, wherein groups construct knowledge for one another, collaboratively creating a small culture of shared artifacts with shared meanings. When one is immersed within a culture of this sort, one is learning all the time about how to be a part of that culture on many levels. Its origins are largely attributed to Lev Vygotsky.
Social constructivism is closely related to social constructionism in the sense that people are working together to construct artifacts. However, there is an important difference: social constructionism focuses on the artifacts that are created through the social interactions of a group, while social constructivism focuses on an individual’s learning that takes place because of their interactions in a group
MYTH 1: “The relationship should be natural, easy and uncomplicated"
WELL ACTUALLY… “The truth is that all relationships take time, effort, commitment and energy. You need to make time for each other, to do fun things together, to work on communication, and to learn to negotiate and compromise.“
MYTH 2: “The relationship should be conflict free”
WELL ACTUALLY…”Because we are each individual and unique we all disagree with others at times, so conflict is natural, and not to be feared. In fact, conflict can force us to confront our differences, and to grow as individuals, and as couples too.”
MYTH 3: “Soul mates are romantic.”
WELL ACTUALLY: “Real life is not the movies, and love can be expressed in countless different ways, and still be genuine. Look out for all the signs that show your partner cares, and don’t be disappointed if they’re not ‘the stereotype’. Don’t force them to be something that is maybe not their style.”
MYTH 4: “You should always see things the same way and have the same opinions, outlooks and beliefs.”
WELL ACTUALLY… “You both have different backgrounds and have individual brains so you’re going to sometimes differ in the way you look at life. That needn’t be a problem – you don’t want to be clones.”
MYTH 5: “My soul mate will always like and love me.”
WELL ACTUALLY… “Consideration, respect and a concern for your partner are symptoms of a loving relationship. But being rude and disrespectful or irresponsible are not endearing qualities that build relationships. Instead, we need to give to get – as it’s not ‘all about me’”.