||Envisioning and Creating the Future
Insights from Sandra Lipsitz Bem, The Lenses of Gender: Transforming the
Debate on Sexual Inequality (Yale University Press, 1993) 176-96.
I. Eradicating Androcentrism:
[T]he cultural debate about sexual inequality must be reframed so that it
addresses not male-female difference but how androcentric social institutions
transform male- female difference into female disadvantage (Bem 176-77);
we must move away from debating whether men and women are fundamentally the
same or fundamentally different, take for granted at least a subset of
sexual differences, and concentrate on how to eradicate
- Commonality among Women: Given all the
differences of race, class, ethnicity, etc. among women, is there enough
underlying similarity to constitute women as a viable political group who can
be served by a feminist program of social change?
- The cultural lenses of androcentrism, gender polarization, and biological
essentialism together create a category woman that is automatically
associated with inequality, disadvantage, etc. across classes and cultures,
even though the degree will vary depending on the situation of various groups
- Causes of Inequality: Do the economic
and political disadvantages facing women stem from sex discrimination or from
personal choices made by women?
- Not really an either/or: discrimination operates through highly
androcentric social institutions, forcing women make life choices in the
context of a system that makes it extremely difficult to coordinate paid work
with responsible parenting.
- Such structural discrimination is revealed when we compare the type of life
choices faced by men and women; discrimination lies in the very fact that women
have to make choices not faced by most men.
- Strategies for Ending Inequality: Is
the best strategy gender neutrality (never make any distinctions on the basis
of sex) or special protection for women (make provisions for womens
childbearing and child rearing roles)?
- Historical problems with both strategies: The principle of gender
neutrality enshrined in legal codes has helped only those women who are
similarly situated to men, while special protection policies reinforce sexist
stereotypes and support the idea that women are not capable of competing with
- Not really an either/or: Androcentric culture has always given men special
benefits (affirmative compensation) for their typical life patterns
and special needs; the only way to even approach gender neutrality is to give
women the same kind of special benefits (see Bem 183-89).
- Must extend the same kind of group rights and benefits to women that are
now extended to men (though currently disguised as normal
procedures, business as usual, or human rights).
- Gender neutralitya focus exclusively on individual rights and
talentscan only be truly equitable when the playing field is perfectly
level in terms of group rights and benefits, which is not currently the case
(currently, only rich people, white people, and heterosexual people have
system-wide group rights).
- Nature of Desired Equality: Should
women and men play exactly the same roles at work and home or should women
continue to play different roles but get the same respect, status, rewards,
etc. as men?
- Refocus the issue: Since androcentric institutions turn male-female role
differences into female disadvantage, eradicate androcentrism so that different
roles will be equally esteemed and rewarded in society; then and only then can
both sexes really make life choices that are truly free.
II. Eradicating Gender
Polarization: Controversial, radical, and difficult to achieve
program that would reduce the male-female distinction to a narrow
biologically-based difference in reproductive function: people of
different sexes would no longer be culturally identified with different
clothes, different social roles, different personalities, or different sexual
and affectional partners any more than people with different-colored eyes or
different-sized feet are now (Bem 192).
- Gender polarization keeps both men and women from fully developing their
human and individual potential
- Gender Polarization tends to downplay individual diversity and push men and
women alike into their respective gender boxes.
- Gender Polarization falsely genders personal qualities, traits, behaviors,
and ways of relating into masculine and feminine,
ignoring the fact that these are all potentially human characteristics
that do not belong exclusively to either sex
- Gender Polarization creates a false emphasis on becoming a real
man or woman as opposed to a biological male or female
- Gender polarization reinforces androcentrism and strengthens the social
reproduction of male power.
- Gender Polarization sets up different roles for men and women and therefore
obscures the need for institutional structures that would coordinate work and
family in such a way that males and females could easily participate in both.
- Gender Polarization sets up psychological constructs of masculinity and
femininity, predisposing men to construct identities around dominance and
women to construct identities around deference (Bem 195) and pathologizes
those who deviate from these gender scripts.
- Gender Polarization rationalizes the sexual status quo and encourages the
culture to explain away sexual inequality as sexual difference.
- Depolarizing gender necessitates situations that give women more experience
of power and status and that give men more experience of nurturance and
responsible service to others.
- Eradicating androcentrism requires a social revolution; eradicating
gender polarization also requires a psychological revolution.
|It will take ferocious creativity to do the restructuring so as to
arrive at a society where both female-male equality and important communal
values are protected, where the economic structure is designed with
consideration for the needs of female and male employees and their
families. Nothing is more certain than that such a goal will never be reached
if women are the only ones who change.
Hilary M. Lips, Women, Men, and Power (Mayfield Press, 1991) 200.
Barbara F. McManus
Topics and Assignments