A bit more sociology… Starting to think about gender and sexuality   no comments

Posted at 11:54 am in Sociology

A little moment to say how I feel:

Haralambos and Holborn’s Sociology. Themes and Perspectives has been recalled back to the library. Sniff. So I am returning it today.  We’ve had some good times, but today I have to say goodbye.

So I’m starting to think, why am I doing this?  I’m reading these huge (heavy) textbooks and trying to find out what the sociologist’s think about gender and sexuality.  But what I have really been trying to concentrate on is why they think these things.  What methods have they used to come to these conclusions?  That is the most important part of this research, to try to understand how the discipline of sociology applies its methods to individuals and groups to try to understand about gender and sexuality.  It seems from this week’s readings that interviews and observation are the favourites for gender and sexuality.  There is a certain amount of scientific approach later on (80s onwards) when looking at sexuality, particularly the work of Fausto-Sterling, and this is refreshing, but it always goes back to the interview.  How far can a conversation with someone who says that they are a ‘female’, ‘transexual’, ‘male’ really help to explain what gender is I wonder? I’m going to outline, as I do every week, what I have been reading, but I really do wonder if I am going to find anything more about methodological approaches and methods of investigation for sociologists than I have already discovered in these first year undergraduate textbooks.  I think that I may need to up the level of reading a little if I am going to get anything more than a broad overview to methods, so far, it has not expanded form last week’s list of:

  • participant observation
  • quantitative research in the form of surveys, questionnaires and interviews
  • qualitative research in the form of interviews and observations
  • secondary data
  • content analysis
  • discourse analysis
  • case studies
  • life histories

I’m not saying that this isn’t a good list, in fact I think that it covers the social side of human quite well, but there are gaps, when looking at gender, in looking at the physical attributes of individuals and the effects of this on our understanding of gender.  What about the genes, and the body, and the brain?  Or is this just socio-psychology and I am never going to find the answer I want sitting amongst the sociologists?  Craig has given me a book on Social Psychology, which I have been so tempted to read all week; but I am trying to stick with pure sociology for the first few weeks… we’ll see how that goes this week.

Sexuality (and a tiny bit of gender)

There’s just enough time to give a quick review of the chapter on Sex and Gender (Haralambos & Holborn, 2008: 90-142).  The section begins with a critique of ‘malestream sociology’ based on the work of P.Abbott, C.Wallace and M. Tyler (2005).  There is a mention of the biological differences between man and woman; sexual diomorphism (Haralambos & Holborn, 2008: 92-93), where sexual diomorphism is biological fact (cf. Warton, 2005: 18) and the distinction that sex and gender are different (cf. Stoller, 1968).  The chapter discusses the rhesus monkeys from Goy and Pheonix’s experiments (1971) and the work of Archer and Lloyd (2002) on testosterone and criminal records, and goes on to outline Oakley’s criticism of the rhesus monkey experiemnts as not including the social context affecting the hormone levels (1981) and also Halpern et al. work on aggression and testosterone in teenage boys (1994) that shows there is no correlation between testosterone levels and aggression.  Archer and Lloyd say that although hormones contribute to aggressive behaviour, peer groups also affect behaviour, they say that there is an ‘interaction between biological and social processes (Archer and Lloyd, 2002).  I think that this is interesting when considering the representation of gender online as the communication between groups needs to be considered when thinking about the way that an individual is choosing to present themselves (or feels that they have to present themselves) online.

Haralambos and Holborn go on to discuss sociobiology (2008: 94-96).  This is a topic that I am going to read more into as I think that it will have a lot to say about the links between genetics and behaviour and therefore could be useful when thinking about the presentation of sexual identity online.  Barash applies Wilson’s worn on sociobiology to gender and sex (Barash, 1979; Wilson, 1975) saying that reproductive strategies produce different behaviours between males and females, resulting in different social roles.  Looking at the literature for this subject available in the University of Southampton library, sociobiologists seem to use animal behaviour to explain their theories, and it seems to me that this may not therefore wash when you move the theories across to humans.  Blier writes against sociobiology, saying that they are ethnocentric (1984), this is a really interesting point.  If studying different societies results in different behaviours of men and women being observed, does this necessarily mean that sociobiology is wrong? Or does it mean that there are other factors at play that have resulted in an exceptional situation occurring? I don’t agree with this, but I am saying it as the internet is an exceptional situation perhaps? And so the work of sociobiologists, whether true or false in its statements, becomes irrelevant when all of the social norms are being broken and the communities are abnormal?  Looking at whether communities online are abnormal or not isn’t within the scope of this little project; I wish it was as I believe that they are not abnormal and that the world online is an exact copy of the world offline.

Haralambos and Holborn go on to discuss the sexual division of labour (cf. G.P.Murdock, 1949) and also the cultural division of labour (cf. A.Oakley, 1974).  Oakley looks to disprove Murdock’s idea that biology determines the division of labour between the sexes, she does this by looking at the labour divisions of a range of societies (1974), but again, she is using the sociologist’s approach of studying the behaviours of societies and then concluding that they are representative of all of the individuals, past and present, on earth.  Oakley identifies where socialisation into gender roles occurs: manipulation of child’s self-concept; canalization of boys and girls using objects; verbal appellations for children; exposure to different activities (1974).  But, as Haralambos and Holborn point out, Oakley misses the other reasons for this behaviour; Connell points out that it is not always passive, consider the active seeking out of pleasure he says (i.e. wanting to wear high heels because they make you feel sexy)(Connell, 2002:138-141) – not sure about this one: why do you feel sexy in high heels? Because of the societal behaviours, this is not an active seeking out, this is a passive enforced behaviour, I think.

The chapter then moves onto gender attribution, in particular the work of Kessler and McKenna, ethnomethodologists who look at how people characterise the world around them, where gender is socially produced, and that there is therefore no way to tell between a woman and a man easily (Kessler & McKenna, 1978:885-7).  It seems to me that they come to some of their conclusions using interviews to think about how transsexuals remove their perceived sexuality by others from their actual physical attributes that may make an individual make an assumption about their sexuality.  This is done by: content and manner of speech; public physical appearance; information about their past life; private body and how to hide details of their body that would point to a particular sexuality (Kessler & McKenna, 1978).  This is very interesting in the online world. Where do these four processes happen when you are online?  The private body is easier to conceal, but I would argue that the manner and content of speech, the public physical appearance (assuming that it has to be chosen by the individual from a selection of possibilities, as in SecondLife) and the past life are all just as difficult to construct online as they are offline.   I think that we are just as constrained by these processes online as we are offline.

Haralambos and Holborn introduce Fausto-Sterling and the idea of transgendered people, where dualistic views of being either male of female are not appropriate (Fausto-Sterling, 2000), her work is also based in the social processes that create gender, she says that gender is ‘embodied’.  Key to this is that the development of neural processes in the brain is connected to the experiences we have, so our social factors and our body’s factors reinforcing one another so that gender is materialised within the body (Fausto-Sterling, 2000).  The section ends with Connell’s idea that biology and culture are fused together (Connell, 2002).

Next Week

Feminism is discussed in depth in the introductory textbooks that I am using for this early stage of my reading.  I am going to read through Abbott et al., 2005. An Introduction to Sociology. Feminist Perspectives, for this part of my research.   I know that I said that I would do it last week, but I have been quite surprised at how useful the undergraduate textbooks have been.  I am going to try to move onto biology also this coming week, I have the texts that I identified last week sitting on my desk staring at me.  I am loathe to start them as I think that I know already what they will contain…

Written by Nicole on November 9th, 2010

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