Gender as a Social Structure: Crossing Disciplinary Boundaries to Advance Science and Equality

Barbara J Risman


In this paper, I provide a historical narrative tracing the social scientific conceptualization of sex and gender through the 20th Century and until today.  I suggest we have moved from conceptualizing sexual inequality as attributable to internalized sex roles to a consensus that inequality gender stratification exists within social institutions as well.  I offer my own theoretical model to advance the understanding of gender, gender as a social structure.  My theoretical argument suggests we must integrate research on individual differences, social expectations in interaction and practice, and the cultural and organizational logics at the organizational and institutional levels.  I argue that, rather than test theories against one another, a modern scientific view is to integrate levels of analysis.   To illustrate the theory, I review three distinct research projects that have been framed by it: a study of  intersexuality, a study of international labor migration, and a study of a social movement determined against accepting gays and lesbians.  I end by suggesting that viewing gender as a social structure  allows us to envision a utopian society in which feminists have helped to dismantle that structure and build a post-gender society.

Keywords: Gender, Gender Structure,  Sex Roles, Social Theory

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Rivista ospitata dalla sezione Riviste della GUP - della Nunziata 6, 1° piano - 16124 Genova - Italy