Doing Gender and Doing Difference
Doing Gender versus Doing Difference
The concept of gender has been a subject of constant debates among scholars for decades. Even occurrence of a feminist theoretical approach to analysis of the phenomenon has not resolved this arguable issue. On the contrary, it has brought new paradigms and controversies into the scholarship with reference to gender and related notions of race, class and overall inequality. Therefore, the paper presents a brief overview of the concept of doing gender introduced by West and Zimmerman (2002) with its further application to the issue of racialized femininities considered by Pyke and Johnson (2003).
Drawing upon the reasoning by West and Zimmerman (2002), gender is interpreted as a powerful ideological device that produces, reproduces, and legitimizes the choices and constraints that are predicated on sex category (23). The discussion held by these scholars evidences the validity of the above statement. In particular, in a whirl of opposing thoughts about gender, a number of biases regarding the definition of this term can be distinguished, including separation of gender, class and race or setting the borders between genders on the grounds of sex and sex roles solely. For instance, it is hard to disregard the inadequacy of a mathematical approach towards gender as a notion that is separable from race and class, as it has been stated by Epstein (as cited in West & Fenstermaker 1995). The researcher has proposed multiplication of negatives in this respect, underlying that when the negative status of being a woman is multiplied with the one of being Black, an individual is to be perceived as the one of a positive status for potential employers (as cited in West & Fenstermaker 1995: 12). This illustration is a single example among many others confirming illogical and white-originated nature of some gender-focused explanations. In contrast, referring to gender through the prism of social interactions, as it has been emphasized by West and Zimmerman (2002), seems more than relevant.
Specifically, the doing gender theorists have stressed that gender is a product of everyday interpersonal interactions within society and an experiential accomplishment of a human. Thus, gender is not a state but a social construction. To illustrate, since childhood, growing individuals are presented with specific arrangements between the sexes. For example, the issue may be linked to the fact that labor division is gender-mediated, or social roles are ascribed to children on a gender basis, such as playing with dolls for girls and cars for boys (Creating Gender 2015). At the same time, society requires strict accomplishment of a person with respect to gender-related actions whereas each individual will be judged in accordance with his or her gender-role obedience and appropriate gender performance. For instance, since childhood a girl is expected to acquire specific feminine traits, such as being a mother, a housekeeper, and a good wife, to list but a few. Later, in adulthood, she is required to behave as an adult, supporting particular behavioral patterns. If these models are not followed, the girl may be referred to as gender-incompetent. Consequently, this factor implies not only accomplishment but also ones constant accountability to others concerning doing gender (West & Zimmerman 2002). As a result, a doing gender concept refers to while doing difference presumes involvement of multiple factors, such as class and race, as integral parts of construction of gender during social interactions within a community.
Following the above rationale, it is clear that the concept of gender cannot be perceived as a single characteristic of the individual. Moreover, it is a notion incorporating a number of interrelated aspects, involving social class and race among others, namely, doing difference. This issue may be proved given the example of a study conducted by Pyke and Johnson (2003). To be more precise, the researchers have attempted to find empirical evidence concerning the integration of gender and race within a social constructionist approach studying the sample of 100 second generation Korean and Vietnamese American females (Pyke & Johnson 2003: 34). The research procedure organized by the scholars has revealed that the daughters of Asian immigrants encountered substantial difficulties in their social interactions due to the pressures from both ethnic and dominant communities. Specifically, the respondents occurred in the intersection of ethnic (non-white) and mainstream (white) traditions and beliefs the influence of which was evident and strong with regard to shaping their genders as social constructs. To illustrate, the participants of the enquiry characterized their ethnic-origin-based femininity features as being submissive, quite, and diffident, while those acquired in the US context involved being independent, self-assured, outspoken, and powerful (Pyke & Johnson 2003: 47).
In this respect, the findings of the research by Pyke and Johnson (2003) have proved that gender is actually a socially constructed phenomenon. Being under the constant external pressure from both native-origin and dominant communities, the respondents were obliged to accomplish the gender roles shaped by these two groups. Namely, they were supposed to perform doing gender, as proposed by West and Zimmerman (2002). For instance, the Korean females should align their lives as family-focused and self-sacrificing, to a great degree. If they failed to do so, their co-ethnic community members would condemn their improper behavior, which emphasizes their accountability before society of their origin. The similar situation is applicable to the Euro-centrist society, which did not accept them fully as well, stigmatizing Asian females on the basis of racial prejudices.
Therefore, the concept of doing gender as a product of social interactions is proved from both theoretical and practical evidence perspectives. In particular, West and Zimmerman (2002) have proposed and justified the concept of doing gender as an outcome of social process rather than simply refer to this notion on the basis of biological distinction between the sexes. Along with individual accomplishment of a particular person in terms of following the principles determined by social features, such as race and class, one is accountable to the group of people he or she belongs to. Besides being well theorized by the scholars, the above interconnectedness has been evidenced though the empirical findings of the study by Pyke and Johnson (2003) who tested the relevance of this hypothesis with regard to Asian-American female sample.
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