Connell brought up some interesting ways of thinking about gender. Connell talks of gender how it is in a complex world. The book got better and more interesting as I got into it. The chapters are: 1. The Question of Gender 2. Schools, Mines, Sex and War 3. Differences and Bodies 4. Gender Relations 5. Gender in Personal Life 6. Gender on the Large Scale 7. Gender and the Intellectuals 8. Gender Politics.
This book is a must for anyone studing gender subjects at uni, as well as anyone who is interested in gender. I thought his way of thinking was very much taking into account how complex people's lives are as well as how complex society is.
This book provides an excellent review of the different ways that gender relations are thought about in society. Connell also takes a global approach, looking at gender in different contexts around the world reviewing work conducted by scholars looking at the construction of gender relations occurring in contexts from schools in the U.S. to the construction of manhood in mines in South Africa. Whether or not you agree entirely with his perspectives and his absolute refutation of biological and psychological determinants of gender difference the book is an important one for developing a more sophisticated understanding of the construction of gender performance and gender relations in different social and historical contexts.
In the book, Connell reveals the "gender arrangements" or gender order of contemporary society:
* Men are the world leaders, killers, policemen, military, private security.
* Women are the housekeepers, child care givers, they are low paid and work as repairers of the consequences of violence, nurses, psychologists and social workers.
Connell challenges us to overturn our assumptions that gender distinction is `natural', unchanging and fixed. Connell presents arguments for the ways in which gender differences are socially constructed. Performances of masculinity and femininity are displayed and disseminated and these ideas work to construct and perpetuate ideas about gender difference. Connell also refutes the notion of gender dichotomy pointing to the prevalence of gender ambiguity in society: masculine women, feminine men, homosexuality, women who are heads of households, men who bring up children, women soldiers, male nurses. He argues that sustaining the gender categories also sustains the inequalities e.g. income inequalities; wealth and power in hands of men; higher rates of illiteracy among women; unequal respect (cheerleaders vs. football players, pornography, marketing of women's bodies, women seen as source of defilement and contamination in various religious traditions.) Men also suffer--subject to derision if not manly enough, higher death rates, sporting injuries, alcohol abuse.
In chapter 3 Connell presents three different views of gender:
1. Body as a machine--biology produces social differences (men are stronger and faster, have more powerful sexual urges, love sport, are aggressive, are rational--women are good at fiddly work, they gossip, they are more nurturing, they have more intuition etc.) Connell believes there is no scientific evidence for this theory! Even testosterone and estrogen are present in both males and females, fluctuating levels as we pass through the life cycle.
2. Two separate realms of sex and gender: sex=biological facts; gender=social fact. We can choose our sex role expectations, behavior and socialization. Problems: why is one side more valued than the other, does not capture the importance of bodies in sexual relations and in issues such as sexual violence against women.
3. Body as a canvas: Gender as a symbolic system (bodies as a canvas on which society paints e.g. the shifting definitions of female beauty, and gendered approaches to disciplining the body--gyms in LA).
Connell proposes his own theory of social embodiment: "Bodies have agency AND are socially constructed." Bodies are subjected to so many different circumstances and conditions around the world and "yet the tremendous multiplicity of bodies is in no sense a random assortment. The bodies are interconnected through social practices, the things people do in daily life." The practices in which bodies are involved form social structures and personal trajectories which in turn provide the conditions of new practices in which bodies are addressed and involved. The social world is never simply reproduced, it is reconstituted by practice. Gender as a structure of relations is constituted in this historical process, and accordingly can never be fixed, nor exactly reproduced. The strategic question is not "can gender change?" but "in what direction is gender changing." (p. 51)