Gender and Inequality:

Gendered Enculturation and its Consequences in the United States

 

The “MeToo” movement, in which women across the country shared stories of sexual harassment, has overwhelmed Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, the news cycle, and almost every other media outlet imaginable in the United States.  Yet the current debate over sexual harassment in the workplace, and corresponding ideas of gender equality, often fails to explore the role that enculturation (the implicit and subconscious conveyance of culture)[1] plays in shaping these ideas from childhood to old age.  Male superiority (at the expense of any person that does not identify as male) is a public health issue that plagues American society and is routinely displayed in unwanted sexual advances towards member of the opposite sex.  At the basis of this widespread issue is a fundamental question of inequality.  It is this inequality that is implicit in instances of sexual harassment, and is manifested in and maintained by the gender pay gap, lack of women in leadership positions, strong gender polarization, and a generally patriarchal culture that is ingrained from childhood.

Gender inequality is characterized by a cycle, in which the manifestations of gender inequality perpetuate it.  The patriarchal society of the United States acts to limit women’s opportunities, which in turn allows the society to remain unchanged.  From an extremely young age, each generation in the United States is enculturated into a male dominated societal structure.  Male and female children are often separated based upon gender and these stark gender differences are ingrained into children’s minds, particularly as they are constantly repeated throughout their lives.  For example, in the United States there are specific colors for boys and girls, and one can identify products marketed for boys and for girls with little effort.  As children grow, the activities that they participate in are also highly gendered, such as the sharp divide between traditionally male and female sports.[2]   Besides the well-known gender stereotypes of girls “as being kind, gentle, passive, sensitive, and well-behaved relative to boys,”[3] young girls also undergo sexualization pressure.[4]  Such expectations and perceptions can influence children as long as 2 and remain with these children for years.[5]   These types of separation and strict gender classification not only sends a strong message to children about the characteristics they are supposed to display, but it also results in an extremely polarized view of gender that fails to take into account the actual fluidity of gender identity as experienced by millions of people.[6]

In high school and college, the incredibly harmful results of such enculturation become more apparent to mainstream society, embodied by rape culture and high rate of sexual assault among teenagers and young adults.  The societal expectations of college age men and women, particularly concerning Greek life, lead to about 20% of women experiencing sexual assault while in college.[7]  Greek life can be used to serve as a microcosm for United States’ society at large; it is patriarchal system dominated by white men with the most money.[8]  While fraternities have their female counterparts, sororities, the two are governed by different school and social rules.  For example, most “sororities are prohibited from hosting mixed-gender parties with alcohol,” a regulation not applied to fraternities.[9]  As a result, the social power and control is shifted to the fraternities; a system that appears to be in equilibrium is in fact heavily biased in a manner that exacerbates and cements the ideas of male superiority first learned as children.

It is naive to think that the attitudes of male superiority affixed in college simply disappear once these men and women enter the adult workforce.  While they may (or may not) become subtler, it is simply impossible to erase a lifetime of enculturation.  This can be seen in data collected from around the country; a woman’s hourly wage is approximately 80% of that of a man’s,[10] and in 2010 “the median salary for women was 76.5% of the median salary for men.”[11] The few number of women in seniority positions in the workforce is, like the gender pay gap, a link in the cycle of inequality.  Only 6.4% of Fortune 500 companies are led by women, and only 5.4% of S&P companies.[12]  Indirectly, this results in women’s economic dependence on men, which psychologically induces a sense of male superiority in both parties.[13]  Thus, men feel permitted to treat women as less than themselves, economically, intelligently, and culturally.  The cultural structure of the United States creates an environment in which male superiority is encouraged.  The gender pay gap and gap in leadership positions is both a symptom and a causation of inequality; it perpetuates the cycle of cultural, economic, and social imbalance between men and women, and yet would not exist without it.

The gendered dynamics in leadership positions are often cited in #MeToo accounts.  In one account, a pastor recounts the forced sexual attention she endured as a newly hired associate pastor from a senior pastor; in her words, her abuser “[held] a position of authority, longevity in the system,”[14] and thus she hesitated to speak out and was silenced by her church’s personnel committee when she finally did.  Many women also feel obliged to endure sexual harassment because of potential damage to their careers through some type of retaliation.  Sexual harassment is so prevalent in high school, college, the workplace, and everyday life because of the tendency of society to depict women as “objects of heterosexual men’s desire.”[15]

When considering the patriarchal culture of American society, it is almost impossible to imagine an environment in which sexual harassment would not occur.  This is not meant to minimize the “MeToo” movement in any way, or excuse sexual harassment, but instead to emphasize the extent to which gender inequality is not simply an issue that starts and ends in the workplace. When looking at the enculturation process as a whole, it becomes clear that gendered power differentials are prevalent in every stage of life, and as such are ingrained in American mainstream society.  Until the ways of talking about and embodying gender are changed from childhood onwards, women will continue to be hurt physically and emotionally and troubling male and female stereotypes will persist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Auspurg, Katrin, Hinz, Thomas, and Sauer, Carsten. “Why Should Women Get Less?  Evidence on the Gender Pay Gap form Multifactorial Survey Experiments,” American Sociological Review 82, no. 1 (2017): 179-210.

Everhart, Ruth. “A pastor’s #MeToo story,” Christian Century 134, no. 26 (Dec 2017): 22-25.

Ferguson, Gail M., Costigan, Catherine L., Clarke, Christy V., and Ge, Julianna S. “Introducing Remote Enculturation: Learning Your Heritage Culture From Afar,” Child Development Perspectives 10, no. 3 (Sep 2016): 166-171.

Jozkowski, Kristen N. and Wiersma-Mosley, Jacquelyn D.  “The Greek System: How Gender Inequality and Class Privilege Perpetuate Greek Culture,” Family Relations 66, no. 1 (February 2017): 89-103.

Kelso, Tony.  “Still Trapped In the U.S. Media’s Closet: Representations of Gender-Variant, Pre-Adolescent Children,” Journal of Homosexuality 62, no.8 (2015): 1058-1097.

Lublin, Joann S. “The Ranks of Women CEOs Get Even Smaller; Women run 27 of S&P companies; reports suggest gender parity in corporate life is at a standstill,” Wall Street Journal (New York, N.Y.), Aug 3, 2017.

Murnen, Sarah K., Greenfield, Claire, Younger, Abigail, and Boyd, Hope. “Boys Act and Girls Appear: A Content Analysis of Gender Stereotypes Associated with Characters in Children’s Popular Culture,” Sex Roles 74, no. 1-2 (Jan 2016): 78-91.

Plaza, Mélissa, Boiché, Julie, Brunel, Lionel, and Ruchaud, François. “Sport = Male… But Not All Sports: Investigating the Gender Stereotypes of Sport Activities at the Explicit and Implicit Levels,” Sex Roles 76, no. 3/4 (Feb 2017): 202-217.

Stone, Ellen A., Brown, Christia Spears, and Jewell, Jennifer A. “The Sexualized Girl: A Within-Gender Stereotype Among Elementary School Children,” Child Development 86, no. 5 (September/October 2015): 1604-1622.

Travis, Michelle A. “Disabling the Gender Pay Gap: Lessons From the Social Model of Disability,” Denver University Law Review 91, no. 4 (October 2014): 893-923.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Gail M. Ferguson, Catherine L. Costigan, Christy V. Clarke, and Julianna S. Ge., “Introducing Remote Enculturation: Learning Your Heritage Culture From Afar,” Child Development Perspectives 10, no. 3 (Sep 2016): 166.

[2] Mélissa Plaza, Julie Boiché, Lionel Brunel, François Ruchaud, “Sport = Male… But Not All Sports: Investigating the Gender Stereotypes of Sport Activities at the Explicitand Implicit Levels,” Sex Roles 76, no. 3/4 (Feb 2017): 202-217.

 

[3] Ellen A. Stone, Christia Spears Brown, and Jennifer A. Jewell, “The Sexualized Girl: A Within-Gender Stereotype Among Elementary School Children,” Child Development 86, no. 5 (September/October 2015): 1604.

[4] Stone, Brown, and Jewell, “The Sexualized Girl,” 1618.

[5] Stone, Brown, and Jewell, “The Sexualized Girl,” 1604.

[6] Tony Kelso, “Still Trapped In the U.S. Media’s Closet: Representations of Gender-Variant, Pre-Adolescent Children,” Journal of Homosexuality 62, no.8 (2015): 1058-1097.

 

[7] Kristen N. Jozkowski and Jacquelyn D. Wiersma-Mosley, “The Greek System: How Gender Inequality and Class Privilege Perpetuate Greek Culture,” Family Relations 66, no. 1 (February 2017): 89.

[8] Jozkowski and Wiersma-Mosley, “The Greek System,” 89-92.

[9] Jozkowski and Wiersma-Mosley, “The Greek System,” 92.

 

[10] Katrin Auspurg, Thomas Hinz, and Carsten Sauer, “Why Should Women Get Less?  Evidence on the Gender Pay Gap form Multifactorial Survey Experiments,” American Sociological Review 82, no. 1 (2017): 179.

[11]  Michelle A. Travis, “Disabling the Gender Pay Gap: Lessons From the Social Model of Disability,” Denver University Law Review 91, no. 4 (October 2014): 893.

[12] Joann S. Lublin, “The Ranks of Women CEOs Get Even Smaller; Women run 27 of S&P companies; reports suggest gender parity in corporate life is at a standstill,” Wall Street Journal (New York, N.Y.), Aug 3, 2017.

[13] Jozkowski and Wiersma-Mosley, “The Greek System,” 90.

 

[14] Ruth Everhart, “A pastor’s #MeToo story,” Christian Century 134, no. 26 (Dec 2017): 22-25.

[15] Sarah K. Murnen, Claire Greenfield, Abigail Younger, Hope Boyd, “Boys Act and Girls Appear: A Content Analysis of Gender Stereotypes Associated with Characters in Children’s Popular Culture,” Sex Roles 74, no. 1-2 (Jan 2016): 79.

 

January 26, 2018

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