CCF’s Online Symposium, Gender Matters, introduces you to some important new work featured in the newly published Handbook of the Sociology of Gender, in which a prestigious roster of contributors examines how gender affects childhood, parenting, work, and sexuality, and comments on the complex interactions between gender relationships, racial inequalities, and globalization. The lead essay in this symposium, by sociologist Barbara Risman, summarizes the extent to which gender continues to influence every aspect of life, despite real progress in breaking down traditional stereotypes and limits. Risman notes the increased normalization of non-binary ways of organizing personal identity and social life and argues — somewhat controversially even in feminist circles — that achieving true equality requires us to move beyond gender.
Changes in gender values and behaviors are not just making it to the mainstream, they are changing the mainstream. Consider this: Among the most popular—and intensively reviewed—Netflix comedy hours currently features Hannah Gadsby. Part of her routine, as described on her widely followed twitter feed, is to eschew “the concept of the gender binary.”
But what does it mean to reject the “gender binary”? And is that even possible? To explain what some gender researchers are arguing, CCF asked several of the contributors to the Handbook of the Sociology of Gender to summarize their current research. Barbara Risman, lead editor of the Handbook, gave an overview of the findings, including the evidence that gender identities and behaviors are not determined by biology, as so many people believe, and that they vary substantially by race, ethnicity, and class.
Risman presents three pieces of this new reality:
Women are never returning to domesticity. Mothers are far more likely to work for pay than in the past; they return to work earlier after having a child; and they work for longer periods of their lives. As highlighted in the interviews Risman conducted for her recent book, Where the Millennials Will Take Us: A New Generation Wrestles with the Gender Structure, youth today overwhelmingly reject the expectation that women belong in the home specializing in the care of children.
Feminism is not just a women’s movement. The latest General Social Survey data show that gender equality – at home and at work — is embraced nearly as much by men as by women. In fact, the gap between men’s and women’s attitudes is now the smallest ever recorded.
Millennials are mainly gender libertarians: For the youngest generation of adults, the Millennials, Risman found that independence, autonomy, and self-determination are key features of how they identify themselves—and free will is what they expect for others. This aligns with research highlighted here where only a small fraction of survey respondents rated themselves “highly” gender typical: in other words, a representative sample showed that a gender “binary” (aka people are simply all this kind or all that kind) is not all that common.
But, Risman points out, remnants of the older gender system continue to be reproduced in family rituals, child-raising, educational institutions, public policy, and work. Several contributors to the symposium describe how.
In Not Just Kid Stuff: Becoming Gendered, Heidi Gansen (Northwestern University) and Karin Martin (University of Michigan show how differential discipline reinforces gender disparities in preschools. But as Kenly Brown (University of California at Berkeley) reports in Gender, Race, and Girls in California’s Alternative Schools, racism also creates differential discipline, sometimes masquerading as protection, that results in the marginalization of poor Black girls.
Emily W. Kane, in Parenting and the Gender Trap, reports on how parenting practices create inequalities in wages and housework between mothers and fathers, even those who share breadwinning, and how that imbues children with gendered expectations for their own futures. Immigrant families face added challenges, because many host countries grant one partner a work visa but forbid the other to work. In Housewife Visas and Highly Skilled Immigrant Families in the U.S., Pallavi Banerjee (University of Calgary), explains the hardships that will result from the current administration’s proposal to reinstate the H-4 visa, barring “trailing spouses” of high-skill workers (who come to the U.S. under an H-1B visa) from any kind of employment.
In other cases, immigration policies interact with gender inequalities to create widespread patterns of family separation that result in chains of displaced caregiving. Maria Hwang (Rice University) and Carolyn Choi and Rhacel Parreñas (University of Southern California) note in Separating Migrant Families, as Practiced around the Globe that “family separation is a central feature of international temporary labor migration policies that promote the recruitment of migrant workers but bar them from migrating with their families.” Often, women in third-world countries can support their own children only by migrating abroad to care for other women’s children, requiring female kin and friends at home to try to fill their shoes.
Two other briefs in the Gender Matters Online Symposium focus on hidden bias in the workplace. Indiana University’s Koji Chavez, in Gender, Tech Jobs, and Hidden Biases that Make a Difference, points out that even when tech firms hire equal numbers of males and females, they “tend to hire male engineers more for their perceived technical skills and female engineers more for their perceived ‘people’ skills.” This channels women into a track with fewer pay and promotion possibilities than those available to their male counterparts.
Yet Alison Wynn and Shelley Correll, from Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research, report some good news in Combating Gender Bias in Modern Workplaces: “Research consistently shows that unconscious or implicit gender biases systematically hinder women’s advancement in the workplace,” especially when criteria for hiring and advancement are ambiguous or informal. Using a “small wins model” of organizational change, however, they were able to significantly reduce the role of implicit bias in hiring and promotion decisions.
The symposium also includes work on sexuality: Nicholas Velotta and Pepper Schwartz write about The Push and Pull of Sex, Gender, and Aging. Increasingly, women feel entitled to have a romantic and sexual life as they age. Although women face more pressure than men to retain youthful-looking sexiness, often making them feel they must have cosmetic surgery, Velotta and Schwartz point to a growing number of older Hollywood icons who still make it into the “sexy” category as evidence of change. Ironically, however, men as well as women now report pressure to maintain their youthful looks.
There’s much more. Reporters can find a host of other sources in the Handbook of the Sociology of Gender. C.J. Pascoe writes about sex in high school. Virginia Rutter and Braxton Jones compile the latest work on the impact of gender fluidity on doing sex. Georgiann Davis writes about human rights for intersex people. Arielle Kuperberg profiles the latest work on hooking up. Katie Acosta examines gender non conformity in families. The entire table of contents is here, and CCF can help connect you to all authors.
“This research is just the tip of a very large iceberg,” says Stephanie Coontz, Director of Research and Public Education at the Council on Contemporary Families. “CCF has been a focal point for research on the gender revolution, including setbacks and stalls that continue to be evident even in the context of historic change. But as many authors here point out, the advantages and disadvantages that men and women encounter in a gendered world are often modified, and occasionally counteracted, by the dynamics of race, ethnicity, sexuality, and class. Researchers need to explore the contradictions, trade-offs, costs, and benefits of our changing gender order.”