Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Gender Establishing Status

From "Japan: The Importance of Belonging," Global Sociology: Introducing Five Contemporary Societies:
"In Japan, when you meet another person, you must be able to assess whether your status is higher or lower than his or hers. Then you will be able to follow the appropriate norms: bowing higher or lower, choosing the right forms of address. Gender helps establish status because women are assumed to be of lower status than men. For this reason, it is extremely rare to find a woman in a position in which she supervises or gives order to men. In fact, the few women who are business owners tend to surround themselves with female employees. 
In a group that is all men or all women, like a group of women at a flower-arranging class, people hasten to find out how old each member is, so that everyone will know where they are ranked by age. A group of businessmen will immediately ascertain one another's job titles, eagerly offering their business cards to each other. Business cards show a person's name, but in larger print they tell his title and what organization he works for. Once occupational statuses are clearly established, Japanese men feel more comfortable: They know how to treat one another as unequals."
I came across this passage while randomly perusing a sociology text, and I have two thoughts about it:

1) The article went on to discuss how, in Japan, employment opportunities for women are much more rare than for men and how, upon marriage, it is expected and assumed that a woman will stop working and then devote herself entirely to serving her husband and family.

From the text, it was not clear whether women were assumed to be of lower status than men because most women were "just" housewives, because men have occupations outside of the home and that's what grants a person status, and/or because it is believed that women have something innately, essentially inferior to them compared to men.

I suspect it is a combination of all of the above.

In the US, some factions tell women that motherhood is the most important job in the world.

This "compliment," I contend, is rendered in exchange for the many trappings that tell women that this status is, in actuality, precisely what makes women of lesser status than men: the fact that men rarely take the surnames of these alleged "most important workers in the world," that it is men who are often centered in family portraits, that it is often men who sit at the head of family tables, that some women are actually considered lazy and irresponsible when they possess these "most important jobs in the world" while being poor, non-white, and/or without also being legally joined to a man, and the fact that some notable male misogynists (who are too repugnant to even be named at this blog) just outright say that women are completely unnecessary to any job other than bearing children because bearing children is the only thing a woman can do better than a man.

It's quite similar to how Catholicism puts "woman" on a pedestal in exchange for the many trappings that tell women that we are inferior to men - gendering god as male, refusing to allow women into the priesthood, and strongly advocating for restrictions on women's rights and bodily autonomy.

2) Notice the second paragraph I cited.

Once men know other men's occupational status, they feel more comfortable. "They know how to treat one another as unequals."

I contend that gender serves a similar purpose.

In the US, many are very uncomfortable with gender neutrality, gender non-conformity, and androgyny. If people don't know whether someone is a man or a woman, or they see someone acting "out of character" to how they think a male or female human should act, they don't know how to relate to that person on a hierarchy.

That, I contend, causes many people severe discomfort.

The accoutrements of femininity and masculinity, when worn on the "appropriate" gender, help people more readily ascertain one's status in relation to others.

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