Gender Influences on Women and or Men's Lives Essay

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Gender

African-American men understand the issue of white privilege, which frequently goes unnoticed by those who possess that privilege. In fact, it is almost part of the definition of white privilege that whites remain unaware of the social status, consideration, and opportunity automatically proffered. Being able to switch back and forth between white and black identities is not possible, and African-American men remain cognizant of the fact that the formation of a strong African-American community creates distinct and legitimate alternatives to the dominant culture. Applying the logic of white privilege to patriarchy, it may seem as if an African-American man could be more sensitive to the oppressive force of male hegemony due to the experience of oppression and discrimination. Unfortunately, this is not usually the case. Especially within the patriarchal culture of the military, it becomes clear that male privilege is taken for granted by all men, including African-American men. This is true in spite of the fact that sexism and racism have "the same roots," (Johnson, n.d., p. 242). A lack of sensitivity to male hegemony can made even more problematic when the African-American male is engaged in the military setting. The military setting raises male hegemony to a whole new level. Although being male certainly confers privileges on the individual in terms of opportunities, and perceptions, race ends up being a more defining feature of identity and community life outside the military setting. However, gender proves to be a more salient factor than race inside the military setting, showing that both race and gender are linked to social status and power.

To understand systemic patriarchal power and systems of masculine hegemony, the African-American male needs only to consider the analogy of people who can "pass" for whatever race they choose. When a person of mixed racial heritage can "pass" for white, that individual begins to understand the way systems of power are linked to race. The African-American community often criticizes people who can "pass" because they are allowing themselves to receive the benefits of white privilege. By "passing," the individual is legitimizing white hegemony and the types of power and privilege it confers. Even when the same person does not try to pass, and firmly identifies as being black, the individual's light skin color may cause the individual to be perceived as "white" by teachers, colleagues, and peers. As a result, those people speak differently and react differently, tell different jokes, and offer different opportunities or resources. Sociological reactions to the very same person as being white or black can change that person's opportunities, self-perception, and attitudes. It is the same way with gender and sexuality too. The same person can and will be treated differently depending on whether they express themselves as male, female, gay, or straight.

Gender is a crucial dimension in social relationships. It is also crucial for identity formation. Gender is shaped not just by biological sex, but by the ways parents, relatives, peers, teachers, and strangers react to a person who is male vs. female. Those responses to the person are computed as factors that construct personal identity. A person identifies with being "masculine" when he has been told that he is strong, resilient, and dominant. Whereas most individuals willingly identify with being male or female, many individuals do not find that they do identify with either their biological sex or the socially constructed gender label. The person may then choose to change biological sex using surgery and other medical tools. When this occurs, the person's whole identity is transformed. Other people may react differently to that person not because they are trans-gender but because they see the person as being either male or female. A trans-gender individual therefore can be viewed much like one who can "pass" for being white or black. Trans-gender individuals offer the best insight into the way male hegemony operates, as it proves that social status, power, and privilege are proffered based on superficial categories, designations, and stereotypes.

For instance, the trans-gender individuals in the Schilt (2006) study experienced the differential attitudes toward them before and after their change. Being on both sides of the gender equation allows the individual to see how male hegemony confers certain types of powers and privileges. People will talk differently to a male vs. A female colleague in nearly every work environment. The military is an especially gendered environment. In "Just One of the Guys?" Schilt (2006) studied female-to-male transgender individuals who experienced first hand how being a male made one more able to get respect, better pay, and a position of authority in the workplace. The same would be true for a military officer who happened to be transgender female to male. The very same person would experience two completely different reactions, just based on their outward expression of gender. It has nothing to do with performance or merit as superiors or managers might claim. Instead, the provision of power and privilege has everything to do with perception, bias, and social stratification: all the issues related to male hegemony. Although the mechanisms by which male hegemony and white hegemony work are much different, the result is much the same.

Identity is another factor that is linked to both the experience of gender and of race. Schilt (2006) shows how gender and identity are intimately linked via the experiences of transgender individuals. A person's identity is shaped by their membership in different communities and subcultures. The military provides another complex dimension to identify formation. According to Hinojosa (2010), "social identities and notions of self are intimately intertwined with the institutions in which individuals are embedded," (p. 180). An African-American male in the military forms a cohesive identity based on the male hegemony that characterizes military life. Within the military setting, race becomes secondary to gender in the hierarchy of power. Being male means real privilege in the military, which is a gendered institution. Females in the military continue to struggle for respect, recognition, power, privilege, and pay. There are specific qualities of "masculinity" that are encouraged and cultivated by the military setting. Hinojosa (2010) identifies those masculine traits as including "emotional control, overt heterosexual desire, physical fitness, self-discipline, self-reliance, the willingness to use aggression and physical violence, and risk-taking, qualities tightly aligned with the military," (180). These are the core elements of military culture, and they happen to also be linked to a masculine personal identity too.

Acker (1992) refers to the "pervasive ordering of human activities, practices, and social structures in terms of the differentiations between women and men," (p. 567). Pervasive ordering of human activities, practices, and social structures is precisely the pattern of male hegemony in the military. Women were once systematically excluded from military service, as military service was deemed the special province of men. This gender-biased limitation was not restricted to combat but also to positions of strategic military importance that had nothing to do with power. When one considers the importance of the military as a means by which to exert power, it becomes clear that women were being symbolically and actually barred from having access to political empowerment. Banning women from the military enabled the military subculture to become hegemonic, guided by the principle of dominion over others (Hinojosa, 2010). By the time the military reluctantly welcomed women onto the force, it was only on their terms -- the male's terms. To succeed in business, the military, in politics, or in any male-dominated sphere, the woman must conform to the existing organizational culture rather than contributing to cultural change. It can certainly be argued that the nature of the military can never truly be distanced from stereotypically masculine traits and structures; even if this were true, it would still be preferable to create a more egalitarian organizational culture in which men and women contribute equally to operational procedures and hegemonic structures.

In the military, there is a great degree of diversity within the gendered identities and experiences because Latina, African-American, Asian-American, and European-American females will have different experiences of discrimination or patriarchy due to their belonging to unique ethnic communities (Acker, 1992). Each community will have its own set of roles and expectations for women vs. men. In spite of these differences outside of the military setting, once women are part of the military, they become aware of the prevailing force of patriarchy. Just as the African-American male realizes that gender offers the path to power in military and similar settings the female in the military becomes keenly aware that her gender limits what she can say and do; what roles and positions she can have; who she can interact with; and how others react to her. The military is a highly structured social institution. Its rules change slowly, and so too does its systems of power and authority. It is unlikely that the military will change any time soon. The same types of masculine hegemonies and imbalances of power are evident in law enforcement (Prokos & Padavic, 2002). Masculine hegemony is a "subtext of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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