Fall 2018

(Sociology of) Sex and Gender


Robert Max Jackson

Assisting: Martha Coe



In this course, we will work together to explain inequalities between women and men and to interpret what they mean for people's lives.  Most of what we do, think and feel depends on what it means to be male or female, and on the different expectations that people have for men and women.  Gender distinctions permeate the institutions, opportunities, and ideas around us.  Our goal is to make sense of this.  Some questions we address are:

What do we mean by gender inequality?  How does it arise?  Why does it take different forms?  Why do some societies have more gender inequality than do others?  How do institutions like the family, the economy, and religion affect the social position of women and men?  How do the direct relations between women and men – as friends, brothers and sisters, lovers, spouses, parents and children, colleagues, bosses and employees – depend on the social positions of women and men?  Why and when does sex inequality change?  

Through reading and discussion, and through critically examining our own lives, we will build our analytical tools to understand and talk about sex inequality knowledgeably and perceptively.  We will also try to expand our general skills in theoretical criticism and social analysis. 


In brief, we all should attend class consistently and punctually, and join in class discussions.  We all must write regularly about the ways our lives illustrate or challenge the ideas we study, prepare a "gender social biography" for a term paper, take brief quizzes on each topic, and take a final exam.

All students should try to take part in our regular class discussions.  We will work together to foster a cooperative environment.  We want everyone to feel free to express ideas, however those ideas may differ.  We also want to promote an atmosphere where any and all questions are welcome.  Those who do an outstanding job at class participation will receive extra credit for it.

Each student will write a "gender social biography" for a term paper.  These papers will explore how circumstances and experiences have shaped our identities with respect to gender expectations and how sometimes our responses have led us to defy or ignore those expectations.  The papers will take into account the various kinds of social influences and experiences studied in this class.  During the semester, for each section of the course we will a write brief biographical analysis, considering how the development of our gender identity relates to that topic. These commentaries will then be the starting point for writing the final term paper.  (For details about the gender social biography, please see the links in the following box.)  Please be aware that we will not accept late papers.

We will have brief weekly quizzes on the reading materials, emphasizing the concerns raised by the study questions attached to each topic below.  We will have a final examination the last day in class that will cover all of the course material.  Both the quizzes and the final exam will focus on understanding the main ideas of the materials we read and discuss in class.   


A class is a collective learning enterprise.  We all want to act responsibly and with decorum or our enterprise founders.  To make the class work for all of us, we can all try to show up to class on time, pay attention, and avoid things that can irritate others, such as talking to the person next to us when someone is presenting their ideas to the class, eating noisily, or the like.  We will have a lot of discussion, some among all in the class, some in smaller groups.  Everyone is always free to disagree with other people's ideas - indeed we encourage challenges based on disagreements about what research has shown or the logical implications of claims - but we should all treat everyone else and their ideas respectfully.  Plagiarism or academic dishonesty of any kind will not be tolerated.

Other Pages on Class Work:

Books Required for the Class:

Author Title Publisher
Kimmel, Michael Gendered Society (6th ed) Oxford
Kimmel, Michael Gendered Society Reader (6th ed) Oxford
Jackson, Robert Max Destined for Equality Harvard
Ridgeway, Cecilia
Framed by Gender Oxford
Excerpts from Down So Long ...: The Puzzling Persistence of Gender Inequality (book manuscript by RMJ not yet published) will be available by download from the class web site. 

Books Required for the Class:

Author Title
Kimmel Gendered Society 6th
Kimmel Gendered Soc Reader 6th
Jackson Destined for Equality
Framed by Gender

Excerpts from Down So Long ...: The Puzzling Persistence of Gender Inequality (book manuscript by RMJ not yet published) will be available by download from the class web site. 

Course Outline and Readings 

When relevant, the pages we want to read appear in brackets at the end of each listed reading.  If the listing does not include pages for a reading, it means that we read the entire article or chapter.

1. Introduction.

      Study Questions

  1.  What do people commonly mean by the distinction between “gender” and “sex?”
  2.  Why do people studying gender inequality distinguish “gender inequality” from “gender differences?”
  3.  While making sense of gender inequality, why do we need to keep in mind other forms of inequality within a society?
  4.  What is the difference between status inequality and positional inequality?  
  5.  Why do some authors suggest that the rise of women’s status over the past two centuries might be considered a theoretical paradox or enigma while others, in contrast, suggest instead that the persistence of gender inequality in recent decades might be viewed as a theoretical paradox or enigma?
  6.  What aspects or components of gender inequality have become significantly less unequal over the past 150 years, together constituting a long-term decline in gender ineqality?
  7.  What are the principal inequalities between women and men that persist in the U.S. and similar “modern” nations according to our sources?
  8.  What does Jackson mean when he says, “two kinds of social conflict fueled the decline of gender inequality”?   
  9.  What do we mean when we say women and men are unequal?  
  10.  What do we mean by saying that women and men have competing ideologies or myths about gender?  
  11.  What is the difference between distributional differences and categorical differences when we are comparing the characteristics of two groups?  
  12.  What is problematic about the common cultural explanations of “deceptive distinctions” between women and men?  
  13.  How does “framing” work in Ridgeway’s analysis?  

2. How is gender inequality symbolized and reproduced in everyday life?

      Study Questions

  1. Why is it meaningful to say that gender identities are both voluntary and coerced?
  2. How does gender inequality in modern society influence the power most men feel they have?
  3. What do people mean when they say institutions are gendered?
  4. Why might some argue that Freud’s theory attributed key gender differences to biology while others argue that it did not?
  5. How is it possible that gender identity (whether we are male or female and what it means to be either) is learned (not inherent or biological), but that we experience it as natural and unchangeable?
  6. What did Gilligan claim about the relationship between gender and ethics, and why has the claim been controversial?
  7. How would you explain the term “sex roles?”
  8. How does Dozier’s study raise questions about standard ways of distinguishing “sex” from “gender” or claims that gender is socially constructed by people “doing gender” in interactions?
  9. What is the “gender similarities hypothesis” and how do research findings support or not support it?
  10. According to Ridgeway, how do gender stereotypes relate to a general problem of coordinating social interactions?  (Also, can you identify any serious problems with Ridgeway's argument about this proposed relationship?  This part is very high difficulty.)
  11. How, according to Ridgeway might the existence of framing lead to social inequality?
  12. According to Ridgeway what is the difference between specific status beliefs and diffuse status beliefs?
  13. How is it that a very small, biologically determined, average sex difference in children can become a much larger difference in adults, but still be commonly attributed to biology?

3. Why have women been disadvantaged compared to men in all known societies?

      Study Questions

  1.  What are some of the attractions of biological explanations of gender difference and inequality?  How has the popularity of biological explanations varied across historical periods and cultures?  
  2.  How is the work of evolutionary psychologists relevant to the study of gender inequality, and what limits the value of its contribution?  
  3.  What seems to be the historical pattern of motives behind brain research and hormonal research concerned with gender (and sexuality) differences, and the results they find?  
  4.  What was the influential argument that Margaret Mead presented in 1935 book Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies?  
  5.  Why are those who study gender inequality so concerned with the division of labor?  
  6.  When comparing across societies, what are some of the conditions that seem to correlate with or indicate high levels of gender inequality?  
  7.  What do we know about the relationship between testosterone levels and violent behavior?  
  8.  According to Herdt, what is the significance of “coming out” rituals?  
  9.  How does it make sense to think about the role of biology in the origins of gender inequality?  
  10.  How and why do we distinguish explaining the origins of gender inequality from the persistence of gender inequality?  

4.   What determines men's and women's roles and positions within families?

      Study Questions

  1.  What does Coltrane’s study tell us about the division of household labor?
  2. Over the past two centuries, what are the most important long-term trends in marriage rates, divorce rates, and birth rates?
  3. Over the past two centuries, what are the most important long-term changes in the legal and cultural understandings of marriage?
  4. Over the past two centuries, what are the most important long-term changes in the relationships between family and work?
  5. How do bisexuals seem to respond to conventional gender expectations in their relationships?
  6. How do the family devotion and family provider schema fit into Ridgeway’s framing analysis?
  7. What is the principle of least interest and how does it work?
  8. Why did divorce laws change over time and what implications did the changes have?
  9. Over the long term, how have changes in family organization improved the relative circumstances of daughters?
  10. What social conditions promote or obstruct equality between wives and husbands?
  11. How do you anticipate typical families may differ in the future? Why?

Interim section.  What is an alternative view of evolutionary influences?

    Read the following two articles and prepare a brief paper that answers the questions below the references.

      Questions for Brief Paper

  1. What are the principal ideas that motivate this work by Henrich (and his collaborators)?
  2. What, in a paragraph summary form, is the central argument?  Write this as if it were meant to inform an undergraduate like yourself who has never heard of these ideas.
  3. How might this approach have different implications for the explanation of gender and gender inequality than the evolutionary psychological approach?

5.  What is the role of sexuality? Part 1: What is sexuality?

    [Note the page numbers in brackets for most of these selections, indicating we are reading only select parts]

      Study Questions

  1.  If we compare the data on sexual activities of women and men across the age groups from adolescents to mature adults, what does it suggest about possible historical changes in sexual activity (or by age)?  
  2.  What circumstances or characteristics distinguish women who use vibrators for sexual pleasure?  
  3.  Compare women with men relative to the likelihood they will attempt to manipulate or coerce sex from other people and how they might do it.   
  4.  What kinds of people engage in heterosexual anal intercourse?  
  5.  In what ways might the lives of highly sexual (heterosexual) women be comparable to those of homosexual men and women?  
  6.  How does “bounded authenticity” play a role in commercial sex according to Bernstein?  
  7.  How well do data and other work seem to support England’s claim that “hook ups are ‘gendered’ in three important ways”: “men initiate more” “men's sexual pleasure seems to be prioritized” and “woman are more at risk ... of getting a bad reputation”?  
  8.  Research has shown repeatedly that high alcohol intake by both participants typically precedes (heterosexual) hookups of college students. Why is this?  
  9.  Does the history of sexuality in the United States (and similar nations) over the past half century seem to support the arguments in evolutionary psychology, to challenge them, or to tell us little either way?  

6.  What is the role of sexuality?  Part 2: How do sexuality and romance relate to the unequal relationships between men and women?

      Study Questions

  1.  What real differences distinguish male from female sexuality in American culture; what are mistaken cultural beliefs about such differences?  
  2.  Do lesbians and gay men typically enact their sexuality more like heterosexual women, heterosexual men, or neither? 
  3.  How might romantic love - both as a cultural ideal and a common experience - influence or be influenced by gender inequality?  You might consider the sources and consequences of romantic love, its cultural history, and the principle of least interest.
  4.  How does Daryl Bem’s theory about the causes of sexual orientation seek both to take into account biological influences and to suggest that sexual orientation in not biologically caused?
  5.  Among young women today, we find some who engage in bisexual behavior largely in public and some who pursue relations with both women and men but do not exhibit bisexuality in public.  What seems to be the difference in their motivations and sense of identity? 
  6.  What does the term “symbolic clitoridectomy" mean?  Can we relate this to gender inequality?
  7.  Both women and men exhibit body image anxieties, concerns over the way their bodies look to others.  In the U.S., how have the content and severity of these image concerns typically differed between women and men?  How are these differences related to sexuality and gender inequality?  (It may help to consider comparisons between now and the past and other possible sources of variation in body image anxieties.)  
  8.  How do the differences between women’s and men’s experience and strategic use of sexuality reflect gender inequality (remembering that women and men also experience and use sexuality in many similar ways)?
  9.  Do typical male friendships differ from typical female friendships in American society today?  How have differences between men’s and women’s friendships varied over time and space? 
  10.  How might women’s use of sexual provocation be related to gender inequality?
  11.  Why is the relative influence of social experience, biology, and personal choice over sexuality so controversial ?

7. What is the role of violence and intimidation in the relationships between men and women?

      Study Questions

  1.  According to Sanday, what conditions on some college campuses or in some college fraternities seem to produce higher rates of rape?
  2.  What is psychological or symbolic castration? How does this idea help us understand the performance and meaning of aggressive acts between women and men?
  3.  How does the pattern of male aggression and violence toward women influence women’s perceptions and behavior?
  4.  In what ways are women’s aggressive acts in heterosexual couples typically similar to, or different from, those of men? (Accepting, of course, that displays of aggression and violence vary greatly among heterosexual couples.)
  5.  How does gender inequality influence women's and men's aggression and use of violence toward the other sex?
  6.  Why and how should we consider sexual harassment if we want to understand women’s fear of rape?
  7.  How do women and men typically differ in their experience of aggressive impulses and acting out aggressive behavior?
  8.  How do we explain presence and significance of rape in a modern society?
  9.  What reasons might we have to suspect that people in modern societies commonly underestimate the aggressive impulses of women(compared to those of men)?
  10.  What does the term “sexual violence” mean and why do we distinguish this from other kinds of violence?

8. How has the economy influenced men and women's positions in society?

      Study Questions

  1.  Summarize important changes in women’s economic participation over the past 150 years.  Among other things, it is useful to consider differences by period, by type of women, and by type of job.
  2.  How does the movement of men into traditionally female jobs compare to the movement of women into traditionally male jobs?
  3.  How does employment potentially serve as a source of pride, obligation, resources, or negative identity for men and for women? The goal here is, first, to think through the reasons that women and men seek and hold jobs, and, second, to consider how that having (or not having) those jobs effects men and women.
  4.  What conditions in the economy produce the wage or income differential (or “gap”) between women and men?
  5.  Explain the “glass ceiling”: what does the term mean and what do we know about why and how it occurs?
  6.  How did government policies, laws, and actions influence women's changing employment in the twentieth century? Consider broadly how government orientation either bolstered or eroded obstacles to women’s participation over different periods, and also consider whether any historically specific government actions or changes in policy stand out.
  7.  According to Ridgeway, how have framing processes influenced the jobs into which women are hired, women’s promotions, and women’s wages/salaries?
  8.  Why is the analysis of “tokenism” valuable for understanding changes in women’s economic participation?
  9.  What seem to be the causes and the effects of sexual harassment in the workplace?
  10.  How and why has women’s economic participation changed over the long term?  Consider the motives and the actions of women, ordinary men, and powerful men.  Also, consider the difference between women’s movement into low-status jobs and their movement into high-status jobs.
  11.  According to Reskin, what causes women’s wages or income to be lower than that of men, and how does that argument relate to the ideas present in other readings this week?
  12.  How have different kinds of discrimination influenced women’s experiences in the economy?

9.  Political processes and individual action.  How have political processes, men, and women each both resisted and furthered change?  

      Study Questions

  1. Why do men in positions of authority show preference for other men whose social characteristics are like their own?   
  2. Why do we want to distinguish between ordinary and powerful men while explaining the persistence and decline of gender inequality?
  3. Responding to changing circumstances, women and men sometimes adopted new strategies or changed their typical behavior in ways that contributed to gender inequality’s decline over time.  However, even as they contributed to gender inequality's decline, they typically did not seek to reduce gender inequality, commonly did not favor a change in gender expectations, and often did not even recognize that their actions could or would affect gender inequality.  So, how do we explain this pattern?
  4. Why has men’s defense of gender inequality declined over the past 150 years?
  5. How have the goals of feminist movements been compatible with (the effects and requirements of) long-term structural changes in the U.S. and other modern societies?  And in what ways have their goals been in conflict with that long-term trajectory
  6. Assess the reasoning behind these two claims: “men have probably sustained their gender advantages more through competition with other men than through efforts to keep women from enjoying similar opportunities or status”; “men resisting women’s advance [typically] understood themselves to be fulfilling their obligations or protecting well-earned rights”.
  7. How did ordinary men’s interests in opposing improvements in women’s status and their capacity to do so both change over time?    
  8. Writers have suggested that men long opposed women’s movement into high-status jobs (and women’s access to higher education that would prepare them for such jobs) because adding women would increase the competition men would face for promotions and the like.  Why is this a argument strong or weak?
  9. Why are culturally derived beliefs and rational calculations both important for understanding how men’s typical actions changed over time in ways that affected gender inequality?  (Note that the analogous question can be asked about women’s typical actions.)
  10. If most men in positions of organizational power share a discriminatory attitude towards women, why do we expect that the powerful men who do not share these discriminatory biases would still act (in their jobs) largely like their discriminatory colleagues?  (Note this issue does relate to the general problem of why people conform, but this question aims at the causes specific to the context of organizational power.)
  11. What do analysts mean by the “male rebellion” against marriage in the second half of the twentieth century, and why might it have occurred?    
  12. Why did men in government think differently about the woman suffrage issue than ordinary male voters?  How does this compare to differences between the ways that employers’ thought about hiring women and the ways that male workers thought about it?
  13. How do we explain women’s difficulties at achieving economic power through entrepreneurial success, rising through organizational ranks, or inheriting wealth?
  14. How do we explain women’s difficulties at achieving political power, both as individuals and collectively?
  15. How have feminist efforts contributed to the reduction in gender inequality, and how have those efforts fallen short?

10. What role does ideology play in determining the relations between men and women? 

      Study Questions

  1.  What do we mean by institutional individualism?    
  2.  How does the impact on family organization made by the rise of modern education compare to the impact of the rise of modern industry?    
  3.  What are the highlights of women’s changing educational opportunities in the U.S. over the past 150 years?
  4.  With respect to the U.S. experience, in what ways is it likely that the education offered to women and men (at various levels) influenced gender inequality over the past 150 years?  
  5.  What were the major influences responsible for the rise of meritocratic ideas and their increasing influence?    
  6.  Why does Ridgeway stress it is important not only that we hold stereotypical beliefs about gender, but that we can take it for granted that others hold them as well? 
  7.  According to Ridgeway, what are the most basic, shared beliefs about differences between women and men in our culture (we are concerned with the content of the beliefs, not the terminology)?   
  8.  According to Ridgeway, what produces the stereotypes about differences between women and men that become prominent as popular beliefs?  That is to say, what decides which differences - real or imagined - become culturally important? 
  9.  Why do people who privately hold "alternative" gender beliefs still commonly rely on the dominant beliefs to guide their actions, particularly in their “public” lives?    
  10.  Why did the ideologies of female domesticity change over time?   
  11.  If men did not impose the content of the successive ideologies of female domesticity, what did?    
  12.  What common characteristics of the otherwise diverse ideals of female domesticity made them seem to work for both women and men and for the acceptability of gender inequality to both?  
  13.  With respect to the determination of dominant ideologies, what is the relevant common underlying idea in the Marxist concept of “determination within limits”, the Weberian idea of “elective affinity”, and Merton’s concept of “functional alternatives?”  
  14.  What does Cancian mean when she says, “Part of the reason that men seem so much less loving than women is that their behavior is measured with a feminine ruler”?

11.  What does the future hold?

      Study Questions

  1. According to England, what are the key conditions that are obstructing, and could even reverse, the shifts toward gender equality?
  2. According to Ridgeway, what are the key conditions that are obstructing, and could even reverse, the shifts toward gender equality?
  3. According to Ridgeway, why do gender stereotypes survive disconfirming evidence?
  4. How does Ridgeway use the idea of "cultural lag?"
  5. According to Jackson, what are the principal causes of gender inequality's decline?
  6. According to Jackson, what are the main components of arguments that the movement toward gender inequality is severely threatened?
  7. What, according to Jackson, are the principal defects in arguments contending that processes in the future may stop or even turn back our movement toward greater gender equality?
  8. How have interests affecting gender inequality changed over time for important categories of men, women, and organizations?  Are there important relevant interests that have not changed much?
  9. How do evolutionary psychological analyses of gender differences relate to the issue of explaining the future?
  10. What causal sequences or processes might we expect to induce significant changes in the ways that women and men enact gender in their everyday interactions?  For example, will people respond to women and men the same?  Will people consider female and male friends the same?  Will people be indifferent to the sex composition of groups they participate in, from a workplace to going out for a group evening?
  11. What might be the fate of the “family” as we move toward full gender equality?  How will families look different?  Will families have the same importance in people’s lives?
  12. How might female and male sexuality change on the road toward gender equality?
  13. How are women’s typical expressions of aggression likely to change with increased gender equality?  What about men’s?  If you do not think they will become similar, how do you explain the expected persisting difference?