A primer to gender

by Ingrid Robeyns on October 8, 2006

Suppose you do research on gender issues in the social sciences (or practical/political/moral philosophy). It is quite likely that from time to time, or perhaps even often, you meet other scholars who are both sceptical and ignorant about the whole gender issue. They agree that there are sexual differences, but believe that all differences between men and women can be reduced to these sexual differences.
Suppose those sceptics ask you to give them one journal article, or one book chapter, that will give them a primer to gender. It should, thus, be an extremely good introduction to the concept and workings of gender, accessible to people who are intelligent, but have no background at all. They might perhaps later read a whole book, but right now they don’t want to waste more time on studying gender than the time to read one article. What should those people read?

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Kristine 10.08.06 at 10:17 am

If you’d asked about historians, I’d give them Joan Scott’s article “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis” [American Historical Review 91:5 (1986): 1053-1075]. Perhaps it will work to convince sociologists as well: Scott demonstrates that gender is a key construct in relations of power — and not only in relations between men and women. It really helps to make doubting Thomases realize that a gender analysis is not necessarily concerned with women’s social position, but can be used as a tool in all fields of (historical) analysis.

Also, Claire Colebrook wrote a very lucid introduction called Gender in the Transitions series at Palgrave Macmillan, aimed at students of literature or cultural history.


air 10.08.06 at 11:25 am

Perhaps it’s aimed too much at historians, but I would have to say Joan Scott’s “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis.”


aaron 10.08.06 at 11:36 am

‘sexism’ by marilyn frye


Jim Johnson 10.08.06 at 11:36 am

I might suggest the opening chapter of Susan Okin’s Justice, Gender & The Family. Indeed, for philosophically inclined readers the entire book is a good read as she shows how the neglect of gender disables much of contemporary political thought. Moreover, her prose is straightforward and less jargon-laden than much of what I have read in femist political thought.


adam 10.08.06 at 11:45 am

Does anyone have any online articles to read? I’m an occasional reader of this blog of political persuasion different than the average here, and I’m not sure exactly what gender issue is being talked about.


dearieme 10.08.06 at 12:16 pm

In addition to whatever, shouldn’t one also recommend reading a few of Kingsley Amis’s novels?


NRWO 10.08.06 at 1:22 pm

Don’t know about gender, but if you want a good introduction on aspects of the psychology of sex differences, you might read:

David Buss, who examines sex differences in mate selection (see chapter by Buss in Cosmides and Tooby’s Adapted Mind), which tends to contradict the “structural powerlessness” hypothesis. Buss shows that women who are in positions of (structural) power and wealth – and who in theory wouldn’t need a man to give them these things –desire male partners who are even more powerful and wealthy than they are. (The same cannot be said of men, who do not privilege a mate’s wealth and power (relative to their own) as much as women do.)

David Geary, on sex difference in cognition (Male, Female). Geary reports sex differences in cognition in very young boys and girls, in theory before the cumulative effects of culture and socialization can exert much influence.

Benbow and Stanley, on sex differences in mathematically precocious youth (see Science articles). They show that attitudes toward math and science, and number of math and science courses taken, cannot readily explain why male (relative to female) adolescents are disproportionately represented at the extreme upper tail (3.5 4+ SDs above average) of math aptitude distributions.

You might also dust-off a copy of Macoby and Jacklin’s Psychology of Sex Differences, which is a dated but classic work on the psychology sex differences.

Or, for those for want more current stuff: A copy of the National Academy of Science Report on Women in Science.

BTW: Historical analysis of gender will not sell well among Popperites and quants in science (or social science) unless the analysis involves claims that are falsifiable by empirical means.


Aaron_M 10.08.06 at 1:45 pm

I second the vote for Okin. Not only is she a good choice for all the reasons noted by Jim, but she is also arguing from a liberal perspective. Her focus on the individual in both her analysis and prescriptions will, I suspect, make it easier for the sceptic you describe to see the importance of analysing gender roles and the persuasiveness of the claim that society is gendered.

However, one problem I have in using Okin’s Justice Gender and the Family is that many students disregard her conclusion’s because they feel the book is dated or only relevant in an American context. I find that I need to complement her argument with current statistics and examples from different countries. Any tips on fairly recent liberal feminist work with Okin’s quality that one could use as an effective introduction into gender analysis?


Ingrid Robeyns 10.08.06 at 2:19 pm

Adam: I had a look at what wikipedia has to say about gender, but it’s not very enlightening, in my opinion. I had hoped that the UN divisions focussing on gender (e.g. Unifem) would have good short explanations, but couldn’t find any. It’s as if they assume that everyone knows or is convinced about the existence and relevance of ‘gender’ — which is not true.

Aaron_m: I read Okin a long time ago (soon afer it was published, so that must be more than 10 years ago), but from what I recall, her examples are US-biased indeed. Moreover, some of the studies she uses in support of her empirical claims (e.g. the financial effects of divorce on women) have been subjected to debate (and revisions) in the social sciences, and hence in this respect her book is indeed outdated. If you want something (1) philosophical, and (2) liberal, what about Martha Nussbaum’s paper ‘The feminist critique of liberalism’, in her book Sex and Social Justice? (it was earlier also published as a paper, but can’t recall where).


Colin Danby 10.08.06 at 2:33 pm

Some good ones above; for me it would depend partly on the disciplinary background of the person asking the question. I like Doris Weichselbaumer’s

“Is it Sex or Personality? The Impact of Sex-Stereotypes on Discrimination in Applicant Selection” _Eastern Economic Journal_, 30 (2), Spring 2004, 159 – 186

because a sex-gender distinction arises in a very obvious way out of the research. It’s far from being a primer, but for the unconvinced it may be better to show examples where gender gives you insight.

To turn in a different direction,

Shelly Errington, “Recasting Sex, Gender, and Power: A Theoretical and Regional Overview.” 1-58. (From Atkinson and Errington, eds., _Power and Difference: Gender in Island Southeast Asia_. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990.)

is great because it gives you a glimpse of a different kind of gender system, with meanings built around brother-sister rather than husband-wife. If one can’t show the variety of possibilities of gender meaning-systems, then gender tends to get reassimilated to “sex” no matter how often one insists on definitional distinctions.

Two book chapters I have used in teaching are

Matthew Gutmann, “Imaginary Fathers, Genuine Fathers.” (Chapter 3 of _The Meanings of Macho: Being a Man in Mexico City._ Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.)

Nayan Shah, “Regulating Bodies and Space.” (Chapter 2 of _Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco’s Chinatown_ Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001)

Both examine ways men get gendered.

To Adam: I don’t know of any really compelling intro on the web. There are lots of good online bibliographies and lists of resources, but you may have to read a nonvirtual book or two.


matt mitterko 10.08.06 at 2:47 pm

I would suggest a paper by Elisabeth Lloyd called “Pre-theoretical Assumptions in Evolutionary Explanations of Female Sexuality” from Philosophical Studies 1993. It challenges some basic arguments from evolutionary biology that closely connect women’s sexuality and reproduction.

I would also recommend Iris Young’s “Five Faces of Oppression” and Christine Littleton’s “Reconstructing Sexual Equality”, the latter of which identifies symmetrical and asymmetrical models of sexual equality in feminist legal theory. I found the distinction between the two models helpful. Littleton’s paper is probably the only one that might be helpful as a type of primer, though.


penny 10.08.06 at 6:16 pm

“both sceptical and ignorant about the whole gender issue”….oh, please, what person with an IQ above room temperature doesn’t see how lame and stupid all of the “victim” studies are, fuel by no empirical science and a political agenda, they are the last refuge of second class minds, the equivalent of junk food on campus. An easy sell to the 18 year olds, then, discarded like Big Macs as you get wiser and older.

None of the garbage spewed out of these “victim” departments holds up with empirical science. There is no science. Period. Just agendas. It’s the provence of hack academia.


Peter 10.08.06 at 6:47 pm

Ingrid, I don’t know you at all, but you should really read your question again. Then replace ‘gender’ with ‘race’ or ‘class’. And see how it sounds, both to be the person who doesn’t ‘want to waste more time on studying gender than the time to read one article’ and the one who might respond to this person.

There are indeed resources to point to, including West and Zimmerman’s ‘Doing Gender’, Donna Haraway’s ‘Manifesto for Cyborgs’, Joan Acker’s ‘What makes a Gendered Organization,’ Anne Fausto-Sterling’s book Myths of Gender, Joan Scott (as air pointed out in #2), RW Connell’s book Gender and Power, Barrie Thorne’s introduction to Rethinking the Family, any number of books by Dorothy Smith, Cherrie Moraga’s ‘La Guera’, the list goes on and on and on.

But that you think that one article is going to do anything for this person, who might be interested but who needs to be taught or convinced, in the space of an article or chapter, I’m not sure any of this will really help.


adam 10.08.06 at 7:24 pm

For those who can’t find anything online, could you provide a short summary in a comment of what is being talked about. I doubt I’m completely unfamiliar with the thesis, but I just don’t recognize it from the allusions in the post. Also, what do people think about the articles on feminism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.


joel hanes 10.08.06 at 7:44 pm

you could do worse than

_When_It_Changed_, a short story by Joanna Russ

originally pulished IIRC in one of
Harlan Ellison’s _Dangerous_Visions_ anthologies from around 1970.


Richard 10.08.06 at 7:56 pm

Re Peter (comment 12): as an observer, I actually find this sort of discussion fantastically useful.

I’m uneasily aware that I need to be reading something on gender, that it’s one of the Big Issues that ought to inform my research, and that there’s a large and (I assume) politically loaded literature out there on it. I’m also working with a bunch of academics who cheerfully confess that they don’t ‘do’ gender, to whom I cannot turn for advice on this whole field of scholarship. Whether it should be or not, Ingrid’s question is clearly still a real one in the social sciences, and it’s great to have the CT collective mind put out a set of suggestions on where to start.


Anthony 10.08.06 at 11:31 pm

where is judith butler here


chuk 10.09.06 at 12:06 am

Adam I think it goes something like this…

Not all of female behavior (that is behavior that we see as typical of women and not men) can be accounted for by variation in their biological make up.
Not all of male behavior (that is behavior that we see as typical of men and not women) can be accounted for by variation in their biological make up.
[In fact, some women even exhibit typically masculine behavior.]
[In fact, some men even exhibit typically feminine behavior.]
These unusual patterns must come into play by some other variable.
Maybe some of it is learned via socialization, or enculturation, or upbringing or whatever.
We decide to call this learned behavior “gender.” – the behavior that can be explained by science we call “sex.”
Thus a distinction is made between gender and sex. Some people think gender is everything, others think sex is, most probably work from a model that includes room for both.


To anyone that has seriously studied human beings comparatively, it becomes obvious that the differences between men and women, and men and men, and women and women, cannot be accounted for by the kinds of binary thinking that are behind most biological explanations. It seems intuitive that throughout our lives we have learned things from our social upbringing. Perhaps this upbringing can help explain some of these differences. So we decide to distinguish between gender and sex.

Anyways… this is all very brief and I’m fairly sure inadequate. Maybe someone else could expand on this.


chuk 10.09.06 at 12:11 am

Woops I should have said biology not science above. There are very scientific ways to study gender. Social psychology would be a good place to start.


Colin Danby 10.09.06 at 12:18 am

I hope this doesn’t set the cat among the pigeons, Anthony, but “Is Kinship Always Already Heterosexual” (Differences 13(1): 14-44, Spring 2002) is pretty accessible and I see someone has put a copy here:
Normally though I wouldn’t suggest Butler as an intro reading here because Ingrid’s request assumes a reader who is unfamiliar with the mainstream feminist sex/gender distinction that Butler is critiquing. I’m old-fashioned enough to want to learn the doctrine before I learn the critique of the doctrine, though when I was a young feller I usually reversed the order.


Colin Danby 10.09.06 at 12:55 am

Re 14 Ingrid is I think asking for gateways to a literature rather than a statement of a “thesis.” Chuk has done a good job outlining one way of drawing a sex-gender distinction. There are other ways; I might approach gender as a system of meanings rather a matter of individual behavior but this is not easy to hash out in blog comments. (#6 is pretty good — think, what made Kingsley Amis novels possible?)

For you Butler fans there is this intro http://www.theory.org.uk/ctr-butl.htm
at the theory.org.uk, home of the excellent Trading Cards http://www.theorycards.org.uk/main.htm


Chris Williams 10.09.06 at 6:28 am

I’m a historian, so I often send students in the direction of the ‘Introduction’ to Bob Shoemaker’s _Gender in English Society, 1650-1850_ and to the first chapter, ‘Ideas about gender’ which traces the changes in these ideas over the course of the C17th – C19th.


Ben 10.09.06 at 6:50 am

Is there no place for that seminal work on gender differences… “Why Men Don’t Listen And Women Can’t Read Maps”?


Jacob T. Levy 10.09.06 at 7:02 am

For the specific purpose at hand, addressing those who “agree that there are sexual differences, but believe that all differences between men and women can be reduced to these sexual differences,” I don’t think the Okin quite works– she assumes rather than shows that the inequities in outcomes she documents and the power relations she describes are constructs rather than being ultimately reducible in this way. I’d recommend Young, Throwing Like A Girl.


Z 10.09.06 at 9:34 am

If the target is a social scientist, I would start with an interesting and convincing empirical study, such as “Orchestrating Impartiality” (AER, 2000): http://kuznets.fas.harvard.edu/~goldin/papers/orchestra.pdf


Aaron_M 10.09.06 at 9:38 am


What kind of sceptics are we talking about here? If they really are ignorant about “the whole gender issue” I have a hard time believing that Young is good choice.

The point of using something along the lines of Okin (note I agree with the noted empirical weaknesses in her book) is that her analysis examines something that feminist sceptics are familiar with, families. Furthermore, she bases her arguments on facts that sceptics, both men and women, will accept from the outset. These are that women do a greater share of childrearing and other unpaid work in the home, they command less of society’s economic resources, and they are a minority in positions of power in society (i.e. in both the political and economic realms). These facts are true in all countries and from this starting point there is at least some common experience from which to argue that culture plays a central role in power relations between men and women (and engaging the sceptic in this way seems to be one of Okin’s aims).

Compare this with Young’s empirical starting point in the essay you suggest:

“The culture and society in which the female person dwells defines woman as Other, as the inessential correlate to man, as mere object and immanence. Woman is thereby both culturally and socially denied by the subjectivity, autonomy, and creativity which are definitive of being human and which in patriarchal society are accorded the man. At the same time, however because she is a human existence, the female person necessarily is a subjectivity and transcendence and she knows herself to be. The female person who enacts the existence of women in patriarchal society must therefore live a contradiction: as human she is a free subject who participates in transcendence, but her situation as a woman denies her that subjectivity and transcendence. My suggestion is that the modalities of feminine bodily comportment, motility, and spatiality exhibit this same tension between transcendence and immanence, between subjectivity and being a mere object.” (Young p. 141)

One can hardly describe Young as engaging the sceptic here!


David Sucher 10.09.06 at 10:00 am

And not only does Young not engage the skeptic, he (or she — I have no idea) will only further skepticism about gender in particular and academic gobbledygook in general with sentences like “My suggestion is that the modalities of feminine bodily comportment, motility, and spatiality exhibit this same tension between transcendence and immanence, between subjectivity and being a mere object.”



astrongmaybe 10.09.06 at 10:13 am

David, by “gobbledygook” I take it you mean “long words I don’t normally use and have to take a moment’s effort to comprehend”? One can agree with Aaron’s point about the appropriateness of this kind of argument for convincing a hostile skeptic (I think your position is evidence in point), without saying that the only *legitimate* way of writing about this is whatever brand of common-sense dialect you happen to prefer.


astrongmaybe 10.09.06 at 10:14 am

sorry – didn’t mean to bold ‘legitimate’ there. comes over a bit shouty..;o)


jayann 10.09.06 at 11:04 am

I think, Ingrid, some of the replies to your question show that we’re dealing with a. sex differences b. sex roles c. gendered attitudes and behaviour, which are IMO distinct. Okin (e.g.) does talk about gendered attitudes and behaviour (I’d say) but the inequalities she documents stem from socially allocated sex roles. I basically agree with Jacob but as I think Young’s piece will put some people off, I’d suggest Deborah Tannen (some of whose work is on the web), ideally, a piece where she makes it clear she doesn’t think the differences she discusses are are biological.


Aspazia 10.09.06 at 11:12 am

There are surely a lot of great recommendations here, but my concern with most of them is that these articles and books are simply too dense. If a colleague truly believes that all gender differences can be explained by sex differences, then handing him or her Butler or Joan Scott is not going to convince them. They will dismiss the overly PoMo jargon. I would address the ill-supported thesis that gender is a product of biology (for sure), but do so from looking at the strangeness of biology itself. You might recommend Anne Fausto-Sterling’s work, e.g. Myths of Gender. Or, you can recommend Nathalie Angier’s _Woman: An Intimate Geography. (Angier is a science writer for the times). The idea here is to explode any myths that biology can be understood in any context independent or straightforward way.


Jim Johnson 10.09.06 at 11:13 am

On using Okin – part of the point is simply to avoid theory-speak of the sort that Young, Butler, et. al. wallow in. (The passge cited at #28 is representative.) If you are trying to speak to folks who are not already persuaded, who have some passing familiarity with political thought, and who are open-minded, then I would opt for someone writing in straightforward prose.

If the objection is that there is little or no empirical foundaiton in Okin, that is hardly unique to her. But I think Jacob’s remark is beside the point. She, it seems to me, is trying to say “Look what happens if we approach theories of justice as though Gender mattered.” And then she shows the consequences. So, we are dealing here in conceptual starting points.

One of the major weakensses in American political theory these days is that it acts as though empirical evidence is somehow sullying.
I would add the names of two feminist theorists who resist this tendency: Ann Phillips and Debra Satz. Debra wrote a nice commentary a few years back in Dissent decrying the fact that feminist theorists almost wholly neglect empirical and analytical work in the soical sciences – especially economics.


Jim Johnson 10.09.06 at 11:15 am

Sorry, ANNE Phillips.


Jacob T. Levy 10.09.06 at 11:39 am

I agree that Okin’s prose is a lot more accessible, and that Young’s may be off-putting if it’s not a style that the reader’s familiar with. I’m certainly generally more comfortable in Okin’s Anglo-American-liberal style than with postmodern and phenomenological stuff. But, even as someone who’s predisposed to think that gender is fundamental, I find Okin too often question-begging, and that book very specific to political theory of a certain vintage. (Ingrid’s question didn’t assume that the reader was a political theorist, and not everyone in the social sciences knows or cares about Nozick interpretation.) Whereas, even as someone who’s predisposed to think that gender is fundamental, I find that Young essay unsettling, and convincing me that gender structures are much more pervasive than I was inclined to realize.

Okin’s writing about distributive outcomes that are messy and complicated and multicausal. Young’s writing about how one walks down the street, how one lives in one’s own body. It’s more steps removed from any policy conclusions, but, I think, a more powerful statement to a gender skeptic, and of more general interest to those outside political theory. Yes, the language is a barrier– but the substance of the piece is actually less narrow. It’s about gender in life, not gender in theories of distributive justice.

(Jim Johnson: “One of the major weakensses in American political theory these days is that it acts as though empirical evidence is somehow sullying.” I entriely agree, and try to resist that tendency myself, and appreciate work that does resist it– but am not convinced that doubt that that’s what’s at stake here, partly because I don’t think “a primer to gender” is necessarily something within political theory.)


duncan bell 10.09.06 at 11:50 am

If persuading sceptical colleagues is the primary issue, you could do worse that looking to the literature in international relations – a lot of ink has been spilled by gender scholars (feminists in particular) trying to convince mainstream types about the importance of the subject. Some suggestions: Cynthia Enloe, “Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics” (University of California Press, 1990), ch. 1., ‘Gender Makes the World Go Round’; Gillian Youngs, ‘Feminist international Relations: A Contradiction in Terms: Or Why Women and Gender are Essential to Understanding the World “We” Live In,’ International Affairs, 80/1 (2004); J. Ann Tickner, “Gendering World Politics: Issues and Approaches in the Post Cold War Era” (Columbia UP, 2001); or, from a more empirical and quantative direction, the introduction and conclusion of, Joshua Goldstein, “War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System and Vice Versa” (CUP, 2001)


Chris Bertram 10.09.06 at 11:53 am

You could always get them to read Anne Fine’s children’s novel “Bill’s New Frock”:http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/140520060X/junius-21 .


Claire 10.09.06 at 1:12 pm

This is an interesting list. Not directly relevant to the question, but relevant to the topic of research sex-based differences (which came up in the comments) is a series of recent posts on Language Log by Mark Liberman on claims about language/neural differences between men and women. They should be easily findable from the front page and they’ve been more than 10 over the last few months.


Martin James 10.09.06 at 1:26 pm

I am confused about one point on this gender/sex difference issue.

It makes sense to me that gender roles are distinct from sex differences. But it still seems that most assignment of gender is very highly correlated with “biological” sex.

Are there cultural “gender” examples where there are say 17 different genders or where gender assignment is not highly correlated with biological sex?


Lyrebird 10.09.06 at 3:08 pm

Thank you for posing such a reasonable question.

Here is an on-line resource I like:

K. Trigani’s articles (several directly address the Mars/Venus stuff). The “Masculinity-Femininity” article is very well-referenced, scholarly, and [yet] easy to understand.

And in print, these two references are both books, but (especially Zuk’s) they are lucidly enough written, while giving pointers to other research, that they can serve as an approachable index:

Sexual Selections: What We Can and Can’t Learn about Sex from Animals by Marlene Zuk

The Trouble with Nature: Sex in Science and Popular Culture by Roger N. Lancaster

re: “gobbledygook” vs. rigor or something-

Time is precious, and if a quick trip through one Zuk chapter will help a colleague from another discipline and/or another land to appropriately question bad applications of questionable sociobiology, why try the uphill battle of getting the marginally interested to read the marginally penetrable?


greensmile 10.09.06 at 3:25 pm

oh dear, thats a lot of reading. Can some enlightened person just give me [pretend I’m Dubya] a list telling me when to emphasize gender and when to downplay it? For simpleton’s like me its maddening that a mind informed by a well stocked feminist’s bookshelf will be agile at BOTH in the right contexts. Most like me can’t even pass for PC at a cocktail party.


David Sucher 10.09.06 at 7:26 pm

See, there’s the problem, astrongmaybe.

I am not in the least bit a skeptic that some of our social roles may have little to do with our type of genitals. This whole question of nature vs nurture — which I assume is the parent question — is not new.

What I object to is BS which leaves me wondering what the person is trying to say and why they can’t use simple words. The sentence is pompous and pretentious and doesn’t help raise consciousness.

The term “modalities” adds nothing — in fact it only obscures. The word “spatiality” is also particularly ill-choesen and meaningless. “Comportment” is especially funny in this context since it is such a girly word.


astrongmaybe 10.09.06 at 9:28 pm

David, #42: fair enough – I can’t disagree with your readings. The passage is hardly to be held up as a model of lucidity or precision, and I’ve actually no great ax to grind in its favor. But it’s hardly total gobbledygook either. Her points overall are reasonably clear, albeit badly phrased, and go further than “nature vs. nurture”. What annoyed me was your rush to dismiss and disqualify it entirely: we’re all familiar by now with the gesture of declaring-something-unreadable-in-order-to-avoid-having-to-read-it, usually in the name of reactionary philistinism and/or dogmatic quantitative-fetishism (there must be a better way of putting that last one, but I can’t think of it right now). Maybe I was wrong to read you as either, but I think you exaggerated a little, and a little quickly, too.


Bryan 10.10.06 at 1:42 am

Is anyone really skeptical of the proposition that in different times and places and among different groups there have existed different (in some cases very different) ideas and norms about men, women and their relationships? It is one thing to doubt that, and quite another to doubt that some particular approach to explaining these differences and their origins is meaningful or cogent. I suspect the ‘skeptic’ who believes everything is explained by innate, biological sexual differences is made of straw.


djw 10.10.06 at 2:23 am

Use of a few unnecessary 10 cent words and a few clunky sentences doesn’t make something indecipherable. I find undergraduates do pretty well with Young in general and Throwing Like Girl in particular. What she’s saying goes well beyond political theory, even if how she says it doesn’t. In her case, patience pays off.


Peter Clay 10.10.06 at 9:48 am

“My suggestion is that the modalities of feminine bodily comportment, motility, and spatiality exhibit this same tension between transcendence and immanence, between subjectivity and being a mere object.”

OK, so what does this mean anyway?

The subject of the sentence is something like “feminine ways and forms of occupying space/moving/expressing body language”. Not too bad.

The rest of it makes me think that Aristotle excluded the middle for a good reason, and to wonder if there is any noun to which “exhibits this same tension …” could not be applied.


SamChevre 10.10.06 at 10:57 am

Bryan asks,

Is anyone really skeptical of the proposition that in different times and places and among different groups there have existed different (in some cases very different) ideas and norms about men, women and their relationships?

I am, to some degree. I think that there seems to be a “deep structure” of ideas/norms that is relatively constant in all successful societies (in other words, if you die out after 2 generations like the Shakers, your ideas/norms don’t really count); how that deep structure works out depends on environment, but the structure (man as protector/woman as nurturer) seems to stay the same all the way back to the primates.


Seth Edenbaum 10.10.06 at 2:34 pm

Very simple- which I guess is why the author had to wrap it up in so much verbiage. Every dimwit professor is supposed to be an original thinker these days. Simply being a teacher doesn’t cut it.

“…the modalities of feminine bodily comportment, motility, and spatiality exhibit this same tension between transcendence and immanence, between subjectivity and being a mere object.”

…women stand, sit and walk around in ways that demonstrate an indecisiveness about whether they want primarily to see, as a subject, or be seen, as an object. Do pretty girls desire directly or do they “want to be desired.” Does a girl walk up and say “hello” in a suggestive manner, or is she more likely to express interest by turning away-sideways and posing- while fiddling with her hair?
Barroom stuff. Simple; in a package designed by a Ph.D


Ingrid Robeyns 10.11.06 at 10:13 am

Thanks to everyone for all the suggestions — there were many good ones, and I agree with the views that such a ‘primer’ should be different depending on the person who’s asking. I had entirely forgotten about Doris Weichselbaumer’s research which is fascinating and very powerful indeed. And I will check out COlin Danby’s other suggestiosn, which are looking very interesting.

Is it feasible to introduce sceptics to gender with just a single article? I don’t know whether it will work for the concept of gender, which is a complex phenomenon, but I do know that one article can do miracles in educating people who deny the existnce of certain phenomena. In the past I’ve been able to convince some economists about the existence of gender labour market discrimination by having them read a very short article — the article on discrimination against female post-doc applicants which was published around 1997 by Wenneras and Wold in Nature. But while their study clearly demonstrates discrimination against women (without any other explanations possible thanks to the exceptional quality of the data, as in the earlier mentioned Goldin-Rouse paper), some responded that this might be an outlier. In that respect it is a open question indeed how much you can gain with one article. Moreover, this was an article about gender discrimination, not about what gender precisely constitutes; perhaps that is more difficult in one article, and it is much less a case of demonstrating whether something exists (yes or no), but rather about making sense of what gender is, and how it works.

For sociologists, perhaps the first chapter of Michael Kimmel’s book _The gendered society_ may induce them to read the whole book (OUP 2000).


Anne Goldstein 10.11.06 at 4:15 pm

Try Eugene Borgida, et al., “on the Use of Gender Stereotyping Research in Sex Discrimination Litigation,” 2 Jornal of Law and Policy 613 (2005.) It’s on the web under http://www.brooklaw.edu/centers/scienceforjudges/papers.php

I agree with the above comments that it is hard to identify a single article for all “skeptics.” What I like about this article, though, is:(a) no post-modernist jargon; (b) empirical analysis; and (c)focus on the ways in which gender infects perception of qualifications.

For something even shorter, there is a newspaper article that covers some of the same ground: Virgina Valian, “Raise your hand if you’re a woman in science. . .” Washington Post Jan. 30, 2005, p. B1. You can find it at
(Valian’s book, “Why so slow?” on women in science is next on my own list of things to read on this topic (I haven’t yet).)

anne goldstein


James Wimberley 10.11.06 at 6:10 pm

reacting to chuk’s ABC in 18:
“Not all of female behavior (that is behavior that we see as typical of women and not men) can be accounted for by variation in their biological make up.
Not all of male behavior (that is behavior that we see as typical of men and not women) can be accounted for by variation in their biological make up. [In fact, some women even exhibit typically masculine behavior.] [In fact, some men even exhibit typically feminine behavior.] These unusual patterns must come into play by some other variable. Maybe some of it is learned via socialization, or enculturation, or upbringing or whatever.”

What “we see as typical” is not the main fact to be explained. There are certainly many objective differences in what human males and females do, but these are strongly overlapping probability distributions in modern societies, except for physiological reproduction. It’s interesting and important to investigate these distributions, trends in them, and possible social and biological explanations.

Second, you have expectations about these differences, which are one of the likely causal factors of the objective differences in behaviour. They are also highly variable. It’s also interesting, though less important as it’s only part of the story, to investigate the distributions of these expectations, trends in them and possible causes.
If that’s what gender theory is about, I’m all for it. Show us the regressions, please. If it assumes that these expectations are uniform and binary, it’s a load of rent-seeking piffle.

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