Provide a Summary of the Article attached.  Summary should address:Objectives: What does the article set out to do”?Theory: is there an explicit theoretical framework? If not, are there important theoretical assumptions?Concepts: What are the central concepts? Are they clearly defined?Argument: what is the central argument? Are there specific hypotheses?Method: what methods are employed to test these?Findings: What are the major findings?Provide a Critical Assessment of the article.  Critical assessment should address the following:Evidence: is evidence provided? How adequate is it?Literature: how does the work fit into the wider literature? Does it fill a gap in the literature?Contribution: How well does the work advance our knowledge of the subject?Values: does the author have certain biases or values? Are these positions clear or are they implicit?Style: How clear is the author’s language/style/expression?Final Assessment: Provide a final overall assessment on the strengths and weaknesses of the article. Summary should be typed APA style with cites. night_to_his_day_the_social_construction_of_gender.pdf5 Lorber! “Night to His Day”
“Night to His Day”:
The Social Construction of Gender
Judith Lorber .
Talking about gender for most people is the equivalent of fish talking about water.
Cender is so much the routine ground of everyday activities that questioning its
taken-far-granted assumptions and presuppositions is like thinking about whether
the sun will come up.1 Cender is so pervasive that in our society we assume it is
bred into our genes. Most people find it hard to believe that gender is constantly
created and re-created out of human interaction, out of social life, and is the texture
and order of that social life. Yet gender, like culture, is a human production that de­
pends on everyone constantly “doing gender” (West and ‘Zimmerman 1987)
An~ everyone “does gender” without thinking about it. Today, on the subway, I
saw a well-dressed man with a year-old child in a stroller. Yesterday, on a bus, I saw
a man with a tiny baby ina carrier on his chest. Seeing men taking care of small
children in public is increasircgly common-at least in New York City. But both
men were quite obviously stared at-and smiled at, approvingly. Everyone was
doing gender-the men who were changing the role of fathers and the other pas­
sengers, who were applauding them silently. But there was more gendering going
on that probably fewer people noticed. The baby was wearing a white crocheted
cap and white clothes. You couldn’t tell if it was a boy or a girl. The child in the
stroller was wearing a dark blue T-shirt and dark print pants. As they started to
leave the train, the father put a Yankee baseball cap 011 the child’s head. Ah, a boy,
I thought. Then I noticed the gleam of tiny earrings in the child’s ears, and as they
got off, I saw the little flowered sneakers and lace-trimmed socks. Not a boy after
all. Cender done.
Cender is such a familiar part of daily life that it usually takes a deliberate dis­
ruption of our expectations of how women and men are supposed to act to pay at­
tention to how it is produced. Cender signs and signals are so ubiquitous that we
usually fail to note them-unless they are missing or ambiguous. Then we are un­
comfortable until we have successfully placed the other person in a gender status;
otherwise, we feel socially dislocated….
From” ‘Night to His Day’: The Social ComtLlction of Gender,” in Paradoxes
Copyright 1994. Reprinted by permission of Yale University Press.
or Gender, pp. 13-36.
For the individual, gender construction starts with assignment to a sex categorYI
on the basis of what the genitalia look like at birth Z Then babies are dressed orl
adorned in a way that displays !Iw category because parents don’t want to be con-,
stantly askee; whether their baby IS a girl or a boy. A sex category becomes a gender
status through naming, dress, and the use of other gender markers. Once a child’s
gender is evident, others treat those in one gender differently from those in the
other, and the children respond to the different treatment by feeling different and
behaving differently. As soon as they can talk, they start to refer to themselves as
members of their gender. Sex doesn’t corne into play again until puberty, but by
that time, sexual feelings and desires and practices have been shaped by gendered
norms and expectations. Adolescent boys and girls approach and avoid each other
in an elaborately scripted and gendered mating dance. Parenting is gendered, with
different expectations for mothers and for fathers, and people of different genders
work at different kinds of jobs. The work adults do as mothers ar;,1 fathers and as
low-level workers and high-level bosses, shapes women’s and men’s life experi­
ences, and these experiences produce different feelings, consciousness, relation­
ships, skills-ways of being that we call feminine or masculine 3 All of these
processes constitute the social construction of gender.
Cendered roles change-today fathers are taking care of little children, girls
and boys are wearing unisex clothing and getting the same education, women and
men are working at the same jobs. Although many traditional social groups are
quite strict about maintaining gender differences, in other socia! groups they seem
to be blurring. Then why the one-year-old’s earrings? Why is it still so important to
mark a child as a girl or a boy, to make sure she is not taken for a boy or he for a
girl? What would happen if they were? They would, quite literally, have changed
places in their social world.
To explain why gendering is done from birth, constantly and by everyone, we
have to look not only at the way individuals experience gender but at gender as a so­
CIal institution. As a social institution, gender is one of the major ways that human
beings organize their lives. Human society depends on a predictable division of
labor, a designated allocation of SCarce goods, assigned responsibility for children
and others who cannot care for themselves, common values and their systematic
transmission to new members, legitimate leadership, music, art, stories, garnes, and
other symbolic productions. One way of choosing people for the different tasks of
society is on the basis of their talents, motivations, and competence-their demon­
strated achievements. The other way is on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity-as­
cribed membership in a category of people. Although societies vary in the extent to
which they use one or the other of these ways of allocating people to work and to
carry out other responsibilities, every society uses gender and age grades. Every soci­
ety classifies people as “girl and boy children,” “girls and boys ready to be married,”
and “fully adult women and men,” constructs similarities among them and differ­
ences between them, and assigns them to different roles and responsibilities.
Personality characteristics, feelings, motivations, and ambitions flow from these
different life experiences so that the me/nbers of these different groups become
I The Social Construction of Difference: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality
different kinds of people. The process of gendering and its outcome are legitimated
by religion, law, science, and the society’s entire set of values ….
Western society’s values legitimate gendering by claiming that it all comes
from physiology-female and male procreative differences. But gender and sex are
not equivalent, and gender as a social construction does not flow automatically
from genitalia and reproductive organs, the main physiological differences of fe­
males and males. In the construction of ascribed social statuses, physiological dif­
ferences such as sex, stage of development, color of skin, and size are crude
marke,s. They are not the source of the social statuses of gender, age grade, and
race. Social statuses are carefully constructed through prescribed processes of
teaching, learning, emulation, and enforcement. Whatever genes, hormones, and
biological evolution contribute to human social institutions is materially as well as
qualitatively transformed by social practices. Evcry social institution has a material
base, but culture and social practices transform that base into something with qual­
itatively different patterns and constraints. The economy is much more than pro­
ducing food and goods and distributing them to eaters and users; family and
kinship are not the equivalent of having sex and procreating; morals and religions
cannot be equated with the fears and ecstasies of the brain; language goes far be­
yond the sounds produced by tongue and larynx. No one eats “money” or “credit”;
the concepts of “god” and “angels” are the subjects of theological disquisitions; not
only words but objects, such as their flag, “speak” to the citizens of a country.
Similarly, gcnder cannot be equated with biological and physiological differ­
ences between human females and males. The building blocks of gender are so­
cially constructed statuses. Western socIeties have only two genders, “man” and
“woman.” Some societies have three genders- men, women, and berdaches or
hiiras or xaniths. Berdaches, hijras, and xaniths are biological males who behave,
dress, work, and are treated in most respects as social women; they are therefore not
men, nor are they female women; they are, in our language, “male women.”4 There
are Mrican and American Indian societies that have a gender status called manly
hearted Women- biological females who work, marry, and parent as men; their so­
cial status is “female men” (Amadiume 1987; Blackwood 1984). They do not have
to behave or dress as men to have the social responsibilities and prerogatives of hus­
bands and fathers; what makes them men is enough wealth to buy a wife.
Modern Western societies’ transsexuals and transvestites are the nearcst equiva­
lent of these crossover genders, but they are not institutionalized as third genders
(Bolin 1987). Transsexuals are biological males and females who have sex-change
operations to alter their genitalia. They do so in order to bring their physical
anatomy in congruence with the way they want to live and with their own sense of
gender identity. They do not become a third gender; they change genders.
Transvestites are males who live as women and females who live as men but do not
intend to have sex-change surgery. Their dress, appearance, and mannerisms fall
within the range of what is expected from members of the opposite gender, so that
they “pass.” They also change genders, sometimes temporarily, some for most of
their lives. Transvestite women have fought in wars as men soldiers as recently as
Lorber / “Night to His Day”
the nineteenth century; some married women, and others went back to being
women and married men once the war was over.’ Some were discovered when
their wounds were treated; others not until they died. In order to work as a jazz
musician, a man’s occupation, Billy Tipton, a woman, lived most of her life as a
man. She died recently at seventy-four, leaving a wife and three adopted sons for
whom she was husband and father, and musicians with whom she had played and
traveled, for whom she was “one of the boys” (New York Times 1989).6 There have
been many other such occurrences of women passing as men to do more presti­
gious or lucrative men’s work (Matthaei 1982, 192-93).7
Genders, therefore, are not attached to a biological substratum. Gender
boundaries are breachablc, and individual and socially organized shifts from one
gender to another call attention to “cultural, social, or aesthetic dissonances”
(Garber 1992, 16). These odd or deviant or third genders show us what we ordinar­
ily take for granted-that people have to learn to be women and men ….
For Individuals, Gender Means Sameness
Although the possible combinations of genitalia, body shapes, clothing, manner­
isms, sexuality, and roles could produce infinite varieties in human beings, the so­
cial institution of gcndcr depends on the production and maintenance of a limited
number of gender statuses and of making the members of these statuses similar to
each other. Individuals are born sexed but not gendered, and they have to be
taught to be masculine or feminineS As SImone de Beauvoir saId: “One is not
born, but rather becomes, :3 woman … ; it is civilization as a whole that produces
this creature … which is described as feminine.” (1953, 267).
Children learn to walk, talk, and gesture the way their social group says gnls
and boys should. Ray Birdwhistell, in his analysis of body motion as human com­
munication, calls these learned gender displays tertiary sex characteristics and ar­
gues that they are needed to distinguish genders because humans are a weakly
dimorphic species-their only sex markers are genitalia (1970, 39-46). Clothing,
paradoxically, often hides the sex but displays the gender.
In early childhood, humans develop gendered personality structures and sexual
orientations through their interactions with parents of the same and opposite gen­
der. As adolescents, they conduct their sexual behavior according to gendered
scripts. Schools, parents, peers, and the mass media guide young people into gen­
dered work and family roles. As adults, they take on a gendered social status in
their society’s stratification system. Gender is thus both ascribed and achieved
(West and Zimmerman 1987). ..
Gender norms are inscribed in the way people move, gesture, and even eat. In
one African society, men were supposed to eat with their “whole mouth, whole­
heartedly, and not, like women, just with the lips, that is halfheartedly, with reser­
vation and restraint” (Bourdieu [1980] 1990, 70). Men and women in this society
learncd to walk in ways that proclaimed their different positions in the society:
51> I The Social Construction of Difference: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality
The manly man, , , stands up straight into the face of the person he approaches, or
wishes to welcome, Ever on the alert, because ever threatened, he misses nothing of
what happens around him, , , , Conversely, a well brought-up woman, , , is expected
to walk with a slight stoop, avoiding every misplaced movement of her body, her
head or her arms, looking down, keeping her eyes on the spot where she will next
put her foot, especially if she happens to have to walk past the men’s assembly, (70)
, , , For human beings there is no essential femaleness or maleness, femininity
or masculinity, womanhood or manhood, but once gender is ascribed, the social
order constructs and holds individuals to strongly gendered norms and expecta­
tions, Individuals may vary on many of the components of gender and may shift
genders temporarily or permanently, but they must fit into the limited number of
gender statuses their society recognizes. In the process, they re-create their society’s
version of women and men: “If we do gender appropriately, we simultaneously sus­
tain, reproduce, and render legitimate the institutional arrangements. , .. If we fail
to do gender appropriately, we as individuals-not the institutional arrange­
ments-may be called to account (for our character, motives, and predisposi­
tions)” (West and Zimmerman 1987, 146).
The gendered practices of everyday life reproduce a society’s view of how
women and men should act (Bourdieu [1980] 1990). Gendered social arrange­
ments are justified by religion and cultural productions and backed by law, but the
most powerful means of sustaining the moral hegemony of the dominant gender
ideology is that the process is made invisible; any possible alternatives are Virtually
unthinkable (Foucault 1972; Gramsci 1971)9
For Society, Gender Means Difference
The pervasiveness of gender as a way of structuring social life demands that gender
statuses be clearly differentiated. Varied talents, sexual preferences, identities, per­
sonalities, interests, and ways of interacting fragment the individual’s bodily and
social experiences. Nonetheless, these are organized in Western cultures into two
and only two socially and legally recognized gender statuses, “man” and
“woman.”lO In the social construction of gender, it does not matter what men and
women actually do; it does not even matter if they do exactly the same thing. The
social institution of gender insists only that what they do is perceived as different.
If men and women are doing the same tasks, they are usually spatially segre­
gated to maintain gender separation, and often the tasks are given different job ti­
tles as well, such as executive secretary and administrative assistant (Reskin 1988).
If the differences between women and men begin to blur, society’s “sameness
taboo” goes into action (Rubin 1975, 178). At a rock and roll dance at West Point
in 1976, the year women were admitted to the prestigious military academy for the
first time, the school’s administrators “were reportedly perturbed by the sight of
mirror-image couples dancing in short hair and dress gray trousers,” and a rule was
5 Lorber / “Night to His Day”
established that women cadets could dance at these events only if they wore skirts
(Barkalow and Raab 1990, 53).11 Women recruits in the U,S. Marine Corps are re­
quired to wear makeup-at a minimum, lipstick and eye shadow-and they have
to take classes in makeup, hair care, poise, and etiquette. This feminization is part
of a deliberate policy of making them clearly distinguishable from men Marines.
Christine Williams quotes a twenty-five-year-old woman drill instructor as saying:
“A lot of the recruits who come here don’t wear makeup; they’re tomboyish or ath­
letic. A lot of them have the preconceived idea that going into the military means
they can still be a tomboy. They don’t realize that you are a Woman Marine”
If gender differences were genetic, physiological, or hormonal, gender bending
and gender ambiguity would occur only in hermaphrodites, who are born with
chromosomes and genitalia that are not clearly female or male. Since gender dif­
ferences are socially constructed, all men and all women can enact the behavior of
the other, because they know the other’s social script: ” ‘Man’ and ‘woman’ are at
once empty and overflowing categories. Empty because they have no ultimate,
transcendental meaning. Overflowing because even when they appear to be fixed,
they still contain within them alternative, denied, or suppressed definitions,”
(Scott 1988,49)….
For one transsexual man-to-woman, the experience of living as a woman
changed hislher whole personality. As James, Morris had been a soldier, foreign
correspondent, and mountain climber; as Jan, Morris is a successful travel writer.
But socially, James was superior to Jan, and so Jan developed the “learned helpless­
ness” that is supposed to characterize women in Western society:
We are told that the social gap between the sexes is narrowing, but I can only report
that having, in the second half of the twentieth century, experienced life in both
roles, there seems to me no aspect of existence, no moment of the day, no contact,
no arrangement, no response, which is not different for men and for women, The
very tone of voice in which I was now addressed, the very posture of the person next
in the queue, the very feel in the air when I entered a room or sat at a restaurant
table, constantly emphasized my change of status.
And if other’s responses shifted, so did my own. The more I was trea ted as
woman, the more woman I became. I adapted willy-nilly. If I was assumed to be
incompetent at reversing cars, or opening bottles, oddly incompetent I found my­
self becoming. If a case was thought too heavy for me, inexplicably I fouIld it so
myself,. . Women treated me with a frankness which, while it was one of the
happiest discoveries of my metamorphosis, did imply membership of a camp, a
faction, or at least a school of thought; so I found myself gravitating always towards
the female, whether in sharing a railway compartment or supporting a political
cause, Men treated me more and more as junior, , .. and so, addressed every day
of my life as an inferior, involuntarily, month by month I accepted the condition.
I discovered that even now men prefer women to be less informed, less able, less
talkative, and certainly Jess self-centered than they are themselves; so I gerrerally
obliged them. (1975,165-66)]1
I The Social Construction o(Difference: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality
5 Lorber I “Night to His Day” 61
Gender as Process, Stratification, and Structure
characteristics of these c::ltegories define the Other as that which lacks the valuable
As a social institution, gender is a process of creating distinguishable social statuses
for the assignment of rights and responsibilities. As part of a stratification system
that ranks these statuses unequally, gender is a major building block in the social
structures built on these unequal statuses.
As a process, gender creates the social differences that define “woman” and
“man.” In social interaction throughout their lives, individuals learn what is ex­
pected, see what is expected, act and react in expected ways, and thus simultane­
ously construct and maintain the gender order: “The very injunction to be a
given gender takes place through discursive routes: to be a good mother, to be a
heterosexually desirable object, to be a fit worker, in sum, to signify a multiplicity
of guarantees in response to a variety of different demands all at once” (Butler
1990, 145). Members of a social group neither make up gender as they go along
nor exactly replicate in rote fashion what was done before. In almost every en­
counter, human beings produce gender, behaving in the ways they learned were
appropriate for their status, or resisting or rebelling against these norms,
Resistance £lDd rebellion have altered gender norms, but so far they have rarely
eroded the statuses.
Gendered patterns of mteraction acquire additional layers of gendered sexual­
ity, parenting, and work behaviors in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.
Gendered norms and expectations are enforced through informal sanctions of
gender-inappropriate behavior by peers and by formal punishment or threat
of punishment by those in authority should behavior deviate too far from socially
imposed standards for women and men ….
As part of a stratification system, gender ranks men above women of the same
race and class. Women and men could be diffcrent but equal. [n practice, the
process of creating difference depends to a great extent on differential evaluation,
As .f’;ancy Jay (1981) says: “That which is defined, separated out, isolated from all
else is A and pure. Not-A is necessarily impure, a random catchall, to which noth­
ing is external except A and the principle of order that separates it from Not-A”
(45). From the individual’s point of view, whichever gender is A, the other is Not­
A; gender boundaries tell the individual who is like him or her, and all the rest are
unlike. From society’s point of view, however, one gender is usually the touch­
stone, the normal, the dominant, and the other is different, deViant, and subordi­
nate, In Western society, “man” is A, “wo-man” is Not-A. (Consider what a society
would be like where woman was A and man NotA)
The further dichotomization by race and class constructs the gradations of a
heterogeneous society’s stratification scheme. Thus, in the United States, white is
A, African American is Not-A; middle class is A, working class is Not-A, and
“African-American women occupy a position whereby the inferior half of a series
of these dichotomies converge” (Collins 1990, 70). The dominant categories are
the hegemonic ideals, taken so for granted as the way things should be that white is
not ordinarily thought of as a race, middle class as a class, or men as a gender. The
qualities the dominants exhibit.
In a gender-stratified society, what men do is usually v::llued more highly than
wh8t women do because men do it, even when their activities are very similar or
the same. In different regions of southern India, for example, harvesting rice is
men’s work, shared work, or women’s work: “Wherever a task is done by women It
is considered easy, and where it is done by [men] it is conSIdered difficult”
(Mencher 1988, 104). A gathering and hunting society’s survival Llsually depends
on the nuts, grubs, ::Ind small animals brought in by the women’s foraging trips,
but when the mcn’s hunt is successful, it is the occasion for a celebration,
Conversely, bec::luse they are the superior group, white men do not have to do the
“dirty work,” such ::IS housework; the most inferior group does it, usually poor
women of color (Palmer 1989)… ,
Societies vary in the extent of the inequality in social status of their women and
men members, but where there is inequality, the status “woman” (and its atten­
dant behavior and role allocations) is usually held in lesser esteem than the status
“man,” Since gender is also intertwined with a society’s other constructed statuses
of differential evaluation-race, religion, occupation, class, country of origin, and
so on-men and women members of the favored groups comm::lnd more power,
more prestige, and more property than the members of thc disfavored groups
Within many social groups, however, men are advantaged over women. The more
economic resources, such as educ::ltion and job opportunities, are available to a
group, the more they tend to be monopolized by men. In poorer groups that have
few resources (such as working-c1::1ss Mrican Americans in the United States),
women and men are more nearly equ::ll, and the women may even outstrip the
men in education ::Ind occupational status (Almquist 1987).
As a structure, gender divides work in the home and in economic production,
legitimates those in authority, and organizes sexuality and emotional life (Connell
1987, 91-142). As primary parents, women significantly influence children’s psy­
chological development and emotiol18l attachments, in the process reproducing
gender. Emergent sexuality is shaped by heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and
sadomasochistic patterns that are gendered -different for girls and boys, and for
women and men-so that sexual statuses reflect gender statuses.
Wnen gender is a major componcnt of structured inequality, the devalued gen­
ders have less power, prestige, and economic rewards than the valued genders. In
countries that discouwge gender discrimination, many m::ljor roles are still gendered;
women still do most of the domestic labor and child rearing, even while doing full­
time paid work; women and men are segregated on the job and each does work con­
sidered “appropriate”; women’s work is usually paid less than men’s work. IvIen
dominate the positions of authority and leadership in government, the military, and
the law; cultural productions, religions, and sports reflect men’s interests.
In societies that create the gre~test gender difference, such as Saudi Arabia,
women are kept out of sight behind walls or veils, have no ciVil rights, and often
cultural ::Ind emotional world of their own (Bernard 1981) But even in
62 I The Social Construction of Difference: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality
Lorber / “Night to His Day”
10. Other societies recognize more than two categories, but usually no more than three
societies with less rigid gender boundaries, women and men spend much of their
time with people of their own gender because of the way work and family are orga­
nized. This spatial separation of women and men reinforces gt:ndered different­
ness, identity, and ways of thinking and behaving (Coser 1986),
Gender inequality-the devaluation of “women” and the social domination of
“men” -has social functions and a social history. It is not the result of sex, procre­
ation, physiology, anatomy, hormones, or genetic predispositions, It is produced
and maintained by identifiable social processes and built into the general social
structure and individual identities deliberately and purposefully. The social order
as we know it in Western societies is organized around racial ethnic, class, and
gender inequality. I contend, therefore, that the continuing purpose of gender as a
modern social institution is to construct women as a group to be the subordinates
of men as a group, The life of everyone placed in the status “woman” is “night to
his day-that has forever been the fantasy, Black to his white. Shut out of his sys­
tem’s space, she is the repressed that ensures the system’s functioning” (Cixous and
Clement [1975] 1986,67).
or four (Jacobs and Roberts 1989).
11. Carol Barkalow’s book has a photograph of eleven first-year West Pointers in a math
class, who are dressed in regulation pants, shirts, and sweaters, with short haircuts. The cap­
tion challenges the reader to locate the only woman in the room.
12. The taboo on males and females looking alike reflects the U.S. militJ’;’s homopho­
bia (Berube 1989). If you can’t tell those with a penis from those with a vagina, how are you
going to determine whether their sexual interest is heterosexual or homosexual unless you
watch them having sexual relations?
13. See Bolin 1988, 149-50, for transsexual men-to-women’s discovery of the dangers
of rape and sexual harassment. Devor’s “gender blenders” went in the opposite direction.
Because they found that it was an advantage to be taken for men, they did not deliberately
cross-dress, but they did not feminize themselves either (1989, 126-40).
Almquist, Elizabeth M, 1987. Labor market gendered inequality iC) minority groups
Gender 6 Society 1:400-14.
Amadiume, Ifi, 1987, Male daughters, female husbands: Gender and sex in an African
I, Gender is, in Erving Goffman’s words, an aspect of Felicity’s Condition: “any
arrangement which leads us to judge an individual’s. , . acts not to be a manifestation of
strangeness, Behind Felicity’s Condition is our sense of what it is to be sane” (1983, 27).
Also see Bern 1993; Frve 1983, 17-40; Goffman 1977,
2, In cases of a~biguity in countries with modern medicine, surgery is usually per­
formed to make the genitalia more clearly male or female.
3. See Butler 1990 for an analySIS of how doing gender is gender Identity,
4. On the hijras of India, see Nanda 1990; on the xaniths of Oman, Wikan 1982,
168-86; on the American lndian berdaches, W. L. Williams 1986, Other societies that have
similar institutionalized third-gender men are the Koniag of Alaska, the Tanala of
Madagascar, the Mesakin of Nuba, and the Chukchee of Siberia (Wikan 1982, 170),
5. Durova 1989; Freeman and Bond 1992; Wheelwright 1989.
6. Gender segregatiol~ of work in popular music still has not changed very much, ac­
cording to Groce and Cooper 1990, despite considerable androgyny in some very popular
figures. See Garber 1992 on the androgyny. She discusses Tipton on pp. 67-70,
7, In the nineteenth century, not only did these women get men’s wages, but they also
“had male privileges and could do all manner of things other women could not: open a
bank account, write checks, own property, go anywhere unaccompanied, vote in elections”
(Faderman 1991,44),
8. For an account of how a potential man-to-woman transsexual learned to be femi­
nine, see Garfinkel 1967, 116-85,285-88, For a gloss on this account that points out how,
throughout his encounters with Agnes, Garfinkel failed to see how he himself was con­
structing his own masculinity, see Rogers 1992.
9, The concepts of moral hegemony, the effects of everyday activities (praxis) on
thought and personality, and the necessity of consciousness of these processes before politi­
cal change can occur are all based on Marx’s analysis of class relations,
society. London: Zed Books.
Barkalow, Carol, with Andrea Raab. 1990, In the men’s house. New York: Poseidon Press.
Bem, Sandra Lipsitz, 1993. The lenses of gender: Transfonning the debate on sexual in­
equality. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Bernard, Jessie, 1981. The female world. New York: Free Press,
Berube, Allan. 1989. Marching to a different drummer: Gay and lesbian GIs m World
War II. In Duberman, Vicinus, and Chauncey.
Birdwhistell, Ray L. 1970. Kinesics and context: Essays on body motion communication
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Blackwood, Evelyn. 1984. Sexu81ity and gender in certain Native American tribes: The
case of cross-gender females. Signs: ioumal of Women in Culture and Society 10:27-42,
Bolin, Anne. 1987. Transsexualism and the limits of traditional analysis. American
Behavioral Scientist 31 :41-65.
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The Socia~ Construction
of Sexual ity
Ruth Hubbard
There is no “natural” human sexuality. This is not to say that our sexual feelings
are “unnatural” but that whatever feelings and activities our society interprets as
sexual are channeled from birth into socially acceptable forms of expression.
Western thinking about sexuality is based on the Christian equation of sexual­
ity with sin, which must be redeemed through making babies. To fulfill the
Christian mandate, sexuality must be intended for procreation, and thus all forms
of sexual expression and enjoyment other than heterosexuality are invalidated.
Actually, for most Christians nowadays just plain heterosexuality wdl do, irrespec­
tive of whether it is intended to generate offspring.
From Ruth Hubbard, The Politics of Women’s Biology. Copyright © 1991 by Rutgers, The State
University. Reprinted by permission of Rutgers University Press.
66 I The Social Construction of Difference: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality
These ideas about sexuality set up a major contradiction in what we tell chil­
dren about sex and procreation. We teach them that sex and sexuality are about
becoming mommies and daddies and warn them not to explore sex by them­
selves or with playmates of either sex until they are old enough to have babies.
Then, when they reach adolescence and the entire culture pressures them into
heterosexual activity, whether they themselves feel ready for it or not, the more
“enlightened” among us tell them how to be sexually (meaning heterosexually)
active without having babies. Surprise: It doesn’t work very well. Teenagers do
not act “responsibly” -teenage pregnancies and abortions are on the rise and
teenage fathers do not acknowledge and support their partners and babies.
Somewhere we forget that we have been telling lies. Sexuality and procreation
are not linked in societies like ours. On the contrary, we expect youngsters to be
heterosexually active from their teens on but to put off having children until they
are economically independent and married, and even then to have only two or,
at most, three children.
Other contradictions: This society, on the whole, accepts Freud’s assumption
that children are sexual beings from birth and that society channels their polymor­
phously perverse childhood sexuality into the accepted forms. Yet we expect our
children to be asexual. We raise girls and boys together more than is done in marlY
societies while insisting that they rrust not explore their own or each other’s sexual
parts or feelings.
What if we acknowledged the sep::Jration of sexuality from procreation and en­
couraged our children to express themselves sexually if they were so inclined?
What if we, further, encouraged them to explore their own bodies as well as those
of friends of the some and the other sex when they felt like it? They might then be
able to feel at home with their sexuality, have some sense of their own and other
people’s sexual needs, and know how to talk about sexuality and procreation with
their friends and sexual partners before their ability to procreate becomes an issue
for them. In this age of AIDS and other serious sexually transmitted infections,
such a course of action seems like essential preventive hygiene. Without the em­
barrassment of unexplored and unacknowledged sexual needs, contraceptive needs
would be much easier to confront when they arise. So, of course, would same-sex
Jove relationships.
Such a more open and accepting approach to sexuality would rnake life easIer
for children and adolescents of either sex, but it would be especially advantageous
for girls. VI/hen a boy discovers his penis as an organ of pleasure, it is the same
organ he is taught about as his organ of procreation. A girl exploring her pleasur­
able sensations finds her clitoris, but when she is taught about making babies, she
hears about the functions of the vagina in sex and birthing. Usually, the clitoris
goes unmentioned, and she doesn’t even learn its name until much later.
Therefore for boys there is an obvious link between procre::ltion and their own
pleasurable, erotic explorations; for most girls, there isn’t.
6 Hubbard / The Social Construction of Sexuality
Individual Sexual Scripts
Each of us writes our own sexual script out of the range of our experiences. None
of this script is inborn or biologically given. We construct it oul of our diverse life
situations, limited by wh::lt we are taught or what we can imagine to be permissible
and correct. There is no unique female sexual experience, no male sexual experi­
ence, no unique heterosexual, lesbian, or gay male experience. ‘I’Ve take the expe­
riences of different people and sort and lump them according to sociully
significant categories. When I hear generalizations about the sexuu] experience of
some particular group, exceptions immediately come to mind. Except that I refuse
to call them exceptions: They are part of the range of our sexual experiences. Of
course, the similar circumstances in which members of a particular group find
themselves will give rise to group similarities. But we tend to exaggerate them
when we go looking for similarities within groups or differences between them.
This exaggeration is easy to see when we look at the dichotomy between “thc
heterosexual” and “the homosexual.” The concept of “the homosexual,” along
with many other human typologies, originated toward the end of the nineteenth
century. Certain kinds of behavior stopped being attributed to particular persons
::md came to define them. A persoll who had sexual relations with someone of the
S::lme sex became a certain kind of person, a “homosexual”; a person who had sex­
ual relations with people of the other sex, a different kind, a “heterosexu::ll.”
This way of categorizing people obscured the hitherto ::lccepted fact that many
people do not have sexual relations exclusively with persons of one or the other sex.
(None of us has sex with a kind of person; we have sex with a person.) This catego­
rization created the stereotypes that were popularized by the sex reformers, such as
Havelock Ellis ond Edward Carpenter, who biologized the “difference.” “The ho­
mosexual” became ::l person who is different by nature and therefore should not be
made responsible for his or her so-called deviance. This definition served the pur­
pose of the reformers (although the laws have been slow to change), but it turned
same-sex love into a medical problem to be treated by doctors rather tha n punished
by judges -an improvement, perhaps, but not acceptance or liber::ltion….
Toward a Nondeterministic Model of Sexuality
… Some gay men and lesbians feel that they were born “different” and have al­
ways been homosexual. They recall feeling strongly attracted to ITlembers of their
own sex when they were children and udoJescents. But many womer:. who live
with men and think of themselves as heterosexual also had strong affective and
erotic ties to girls and women while they were growing up. If they were now in lov­
ing relationships with women, they might look back on their earlier loves as proof
• “0
loonstruction of Difference: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality
that they were always lesbiafls, But if they are now involved with men, they may be
tempted to devalue their former feeliflgs as “puppy love” or “crushes,”
Even withifl the preferred sex, most of us feel a greater affinity for certain
“types” than for others, Not any man or woman will do, No Ofle has seriously sug­
gested that something ifl our inflate makeup makes us light up ifl the presence of
only certain women or men, “lYe would think it absurd to look to hormone levels
or any other simplistic biological cause for our preference for a specific “type”
within a sex, In fact, scientists rarely bother to ask what in our psychosocial experi­
ence shapes these kinds of tastes anc! preferences, “lYe assume it must have some­
thing to do with our relationship to our parents or with other experiences, but we
do not probc deeply unless people prefer the “Wroflg” sex, Then, suddenly, scien­
tists begin to look for specific causes.
Because of our recent history and political experiences, feminists tend to reject
simplistic, causal models of how our sexuality develops, Many women who have
thought of themselves as hetcrosexual for much of their life and who have been
marricd and have had children have fallen in love with a woman (or women)
when they have had thc opportunity to rethink, refeel, and restructure their lives.
The society in which we live chanflels, guides, and limits our imaginatiofl in
sexual as well as other matters. Why some of us give ourselves permission to love
people of our own sex whereas others cannot even imagifle doing so is an iflterest­
ing question, But I do not think it will be amwered by measuring our hormone
levels or by trying to unearth our earliest affectional tics, A:s women begin to speak
freely about our sexual experiences, we are getting a varied range of iflformation
with which we can reexamine, reevaluate, and change ourselves, Lately, increas­
ing numbers of women have begun to acknowledge their “bisexuality” -the fact
that they can love women and men in :succession or simultaneously, People fall in
love with individuals, not with a sex, Gender fleed not be a significant factor in our
choicc, although for some of us it may be,

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