What Constitutes Being a Man

What constitutes being a man or a woman? First, the words “man” and “female”are socially constructed terms, given to people of different sexes [males and females respectively] (Kendall, 2013: 318 and 321). “One is not born a woman, but rather becomes one” (Beauvoir 1949)[1]. What exactly is social construction in this context of sex, gender, and sexuality? The word “man” or “woman” includes not only sexes [males and females], but implies our interpretation of how a male or a female should act; the way females and males act are culturally approved as the normal, this cultural approval is otherwise known as heteronormitvity (Thomas, 2000: 12).

Heteronormitive beliefs are the beliefs in “masculinity” or “femininity”; according Dictionary.com, masculinity is defined as “pertaining to or characteristic of a man or men…” (dictionary.reference.com). The same holds true with females and femininity. What practices are associated with “’ femininity’ and ‘masculinity’” (Kendall, 2013: 321)? For example, a “man” should be tough, muscular, emotionless, and dominant. Whereas a “woman” should be “weak, pretty, caring, and subjective (as being subject to a man).

In this paper, I will discuss the differences between the definitions of sex and gender; I will break down the processes of gender social construction using the conferred property, developed by ancient philosopher Euthyphro (Sveinsdottir, 2013: 719). Lastly, I am going to state my own opinion as to how gender should be viewed in the future.

What is Sex and what is Gender

As defined by sociologist Diana Kendall gender and sex refers two different concepts. Sex is “the biological and anatomical differences between females and males” (Kendall, 2013: 316). Kendall (2013) gives the example of the chromosomal differences between males and females. The male has an XY chromosomal formation where as the females have a XX formation. Gender on the other hand, as mentioned above, is “the culturally and socially constructed differences between males and females found in the meanings…associated with ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity’” (Kendall, 2013: 321).

Indeed, I agree with Kendall that everything we see or do is gendered or socially constructed (Kendall, 2013: 321). Men and women have different occupations and those who do not abide by these constructed roles are deviant. Furthermore, people fear being labeled as deviant and therefore, they construct an identity that makes them not deviant.

First, nurses are considered a female occupation and a bodybuilding is considered a male hobby/ occupation. The Verizon ad called “Inspire Her Mind” exemplifies this social construction. This ad shows several girls being belittled by their parents for liking science. The end of this ad, they present statistics. Statistics show that 66 percent of 4th grade girls like science and math, but only 18 percent of engineering majors are female. Women at a very young age are demeaned for entering into the “men” occupations (youtube.com). This presents a big problem for society at large because it destroys dreams and aspirations that one may have because of the fear of belittlement.

Second, the people construct an identity that makes them not deviant. For example, gender specialist Calvin Thomas states when studying hetero and homosexuality, “the terror of being mistaken for a queer dominates the straight mind because this terror constitutes the straight mind” (Thomas, 2000: 27). What does he mean? Thomas believes that because people are so afraid of being labeled as feminine by being homosexual, people created this term and identity heterosexual to combat this stereotype. Similarly, the term “man” or the term “woman” can’t exist without the other being a term and identity. Because a male does not want to be labeled as feminine in nature, the male identifies as masculine and follows the socially constructed and approved actions. The same goes with femininity; just substitute “man’ with “woman”.

The Conferred Theory and How it is Constituted

Developed by Euthyphro, the conferralist theory has five steps (Sveinsdottir, 2013: 720) that I am going to use four to explain gender construction:

The Conferred property (the granted or the item that was granted a title or identity): being of a specific gender [man or woman]
Who (the one that bestows this property on you): Society
What (what attitude matters to you): Society’s judgment
When (when or in what situation the conferred takes place): in the context of our daily interaction with others in society

I will put this all together in the order of how gender is constructed:

The society identifies you as man or woman
You comply in fear of belittlement from society
You act accordingly (your gender roles) in your interactions with other people, again in fear of belittlement

I have labeled some sanctions (both external and internal) that might happen if one does not comply[2]:

Shunning from society
Self esteem lowers (possibly to the point of depression)
“Odd” looks or reactions from people (least severe)
Gender in the Future

Gender role and gender construction is an atrocity. One should not be belittled because they don’t conform to society’s approved roles. It is curious that in America we value diversity and difference is cherished; yet we forget this belief. For example, in secondary education, freshman pamphlets contain brief lines that say something like, “this school believes in equality and that discrimination based on race, gender, creed, and sexual preference shall not be tolerated.”[3] If we stress equality and non-discrimination in schools, why shouldn’t we carry this belief outside in the mainstream society? Thus, societies should not, or have to try not to socially construct the roles that each gender must follow.

Furthermore, those who do not conform to mainstream gender roles deserve the same amount of respect that other people do; society shouldn’t be close-minded and judge non-conformists as deviant.

Lastly, Calvin Thomas, a gender specialist, wants straight people to think critically queer. Thinking critically queer means that straight people should question heteronormitvity. Heteronormitvity means that only conformists and constructionists are normal and non-conformists are not (Thomas, 2000: 12). Questioning heteronormitvity enables the former to start doubting what society considers as a normal gender behavior. By doubting the normal and abandoning preconceived notions regarding gender roles, people will be open to different gender role preferences.

[1] Cited in The Social Construction of Human Kinds by ASTA KRISTJANA SVEINSDOTTIR

[2] Ideas are my own or from my experience, not taken from any source

[3] Paraphrased from Mountain Lakes High School, Mountain Lakes, NJ yearly pamphlets
Kendall, Diana. Sociology in Our Times. Stamford, CT: 10th Edition, 2013.

Scottish Government. (2010, July 2). Reporting on Progress Towards Equality of Opportunity for Women and Men made by Public Authorities in Scotland: Ministerial Priorities for Gender Equality: Tackling Occupational Segregation: A Review of Key Evidence and National Policies. Retrieved August 1, 2014, from http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2010/07/02120508/3

Sveinsdóttir, Ã. K. (2013). The Social Construction of Human Kinds. Hypatia, 28(4), 716-732.

Thomas, C., Aimone, J. O., & MacGillivray, C. A. (2000). Straight with a twist: queer theory and the subject of heterosexuality. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Verizon Commercial 2014 | Inspire Her Mind – Extended | Verizon Wireless. (2014, June 2). YouTube. Retrieved July 31, 2014, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XP3cyRRAfX0

Whitehurst, L. (2013, June 7). Why are Utah women far behind men in STEM education, jobs?. The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved August 1, 2014, from http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/56422296-78/utah-women-stem-education.html.csp

masculinity. (n.d.). Dictionary.com. Retrieved August 1, 2014, from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/masculinity?s=t

[1] Cited in The Social Construction of Human Kinds by ASTA KRISTJANA SVEINSDOTTIR

[2] Ideas are my own or from my experience, not taken from any source

[3] Paraphrased from Mountain Lakes High School, Mountain Lakes, NJ yearly pamphlets


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