In the studies of gender, there two dominant thereotical constructs. These are sexuality and gender. In the attempt to understand how social construction of gender and race is done, it is crucial to appreciate and acknowledge the difference between gender and sexuality. Sexuality refers to the biological and bodily manifestation of a person. Such differences create a distinction between men and women. Gender is the mental perspective about the distinction between men and women. Therefore, gender is socially constructed by the society. It is due to such constructions that people are attached to their behaviors, beliefs, functions, and their presentations. This paper discusses how social institutions have contributed to the creation and preservation of race, gender, and social class status arrangements especially on women of color.
How major social institutions impact identities of race, class, and gender
The word race was first introduced in the 16th century. However, was later diversified in religious and political institutions among others. From a societal view, it is arguable that that race has a very unfair meaning based on the views of people (Hardy-Fanta and Sierra 17). Propagation of perception of race and gender in societal institutions has the consequences of making people develop wrong profiling concerning people of different racial and gender backgrounds. In 1880s, it was a common belief that blacks were incapacitated to make vital decisions akin to their intelligence and physical challenges. This case often led to perception of persons of color as having disabilities. Indeed, this profiling led to the justification of why the immigrants of the U.S. deserved to remain under the control of the veteran whites. Therefore, they served them as slaves by being blocked from participating in social institutions including politics.
Exploration of perceptions of race and gender has the implication of making the society, through its social institutions, remain inclined to the belief that differences in hair and skin color mean the disparities in people’s abilities to work and make decisions. Hardy-Fanta and Sierra object this kind of belief by asserting that skin or hair color have no relations with how people work or how they think and react to a myriad of issues that may engulf them (35).
Although people in the modern world have learnt to embrace one another irrespective of the racial or gender backgrounds, critical analysis of the history of America in the context of experiences of women of color reveals that such an effort has taken several years to be realized. Arguably, global societies have had the experience of believing that skin color affects people’s abilities and behavior. Such an experience has truncated into the construction of racial and gender structures in the social life of people. Hence, some people believe that they have certain limitations while those who have been profiled as racially competent and intelligent consider themselves as superior in comparison with other races.
A similar phenomenon also applies to gender. For instance, it was until in 1930s when American women were given suffrage rights. The denial of this fundamental human right of engagement in the political process was based on the argument that the female gender was inferior in comparison with the male gender. Consequently, the male chauvinists who propagated this misplaced ideology believed women could not make good voting decisions. Such a challenge could have resulted in the election of people who would distort the economy of the United States.
From a more generalized dimension, propagation of gender and racial identities leads to discrimination of people in many societal facets (Lorber 83). This inference is important by considering the fact that some people are given job privileges based on their gender. For instance, it is possible to encounter job openings advertised with the emphasis being placed on the most preferred gender that should apply. This case sends the signals that the preferred gender is the best suited to that particular job opening. In this context, social institutions including employing organizations propagate gender and racial profiling.
Gender is used in the description of major differences in sex. Although the term sex is biological, societies have assigned tasks for different people unfairly based on their sex and status (Hardy-Fanta and Sierra 41). People behave differently. They also have different personalities. Such differences are reflected in the roles that they play in society. Now, it is important to note that such differences are not dependent on racial and sexual characteristics of an individual. However, perception of gender has made the society believe that some behaviors are natural to men and women. This argument is perhaps well reflected in the categorization of some behaviors as predominantly manly, with the term masculine being used to describe them. Other behaviors are considered womanly. The term feminine is used to describe them.
Contribution of social institutions in the creation and preservation of race, gender, and social class status arrangements
Social construction of gender and race is not only confusing but also a major drawback of collective development of a society. Without the knowledge of a person’s gender, people’s beliefs on how a person should behave become hard to determine. Normalization of gender and its performance makes it evident that it is not related to sex. Upon consideration of the experiences of women of color with discrimination in terms of their roles in the society including participation in political institutions, the situation becomes even worse by bearing in mind that, apart from the discrimination arising from being female, women were historically segregated on the grounds of racial inclinations.
Influential culture defines categories of race and gender as completely opposite in character. For instance, a mention of words such as a white and a black man or white women and a black woman creates an impression that these four people are different in various ways. One can classify them as men and then further distinguish them from their skin color. The same dichotomy also applies to the case of the two women. The usage of these terms means that gender and race are prevalent issues that even the modern societal institutions have not managed to address fully. This situation leads to the creation of social divisions (Lorber 42).
It also creates biological links, which mean that the social divisions cannot vary, or are permanent and naturally embedded. Critics of gender and racial discriminations present race, gender, and sex as having great differences in terms of their interpretations by different people. For instance, Lorber argues that whites, males, and heterosexuals are seen as superior (98). Some critics justify these hierarchical divisions by claiming that these divisions are inevitable in the socialization of people since they are part of nature, which human beings lack the capacity to control. Race, gender, and sexuality are situated neither in different opposites nor in biology, but are socially constructed by people.
Gender, race, and class play important tasks in people’s lives. They state and justify some roles that are played by members of the society. For instance, in the Japanese culture, the positioning of the Japanese female in the social order gives an appealing version of legends and fantasies (Friedman 23). The image of the famous western Japanese woman is realistic and symbolic in the society in many ways. For instance, the Japanese woman is often the superior person in her family. In fact, opposed to the old-fashioned American culture, the evolved Japanese women dominate men. Values in the Western view Japanese females as people who never create and/or devote their time to their relatives.
Currently, “the position of the Japanese woman in the society is propelled by two old philosophies: Samurai-based feudalism and Confucianism” (Friedman 41). These two philosophies hold strong influences to the Japanese woman. According to Friedman, 70% of women in Japan have jobs long before they are married (41). However, after marriage, 62% of Japanese women leave their jobs after delivering their first kid. In terms of education, women in the Japanese universities engaging in research are on the rise (Friedman 41). Since the enactment of the equal employment opportunity law in 1986, which banned women discrimination in the job place, the law made it hard for Japanese women to have full-time jobs and/or still take care of the family simultaneously. Nowadays, Japanese men have been participating in taking care of the children. Nevertheless, this trend is still very slow for them to adapt.
The above discussion implies that gender roles are rapidly changing. However, this fact does not mean that gender performance has changed. For instance, when one argues that men are currently engaging in tasks that were traditionally accustomed to women, it means that the main subject of discussion is that the chores done by different genders are being interchanged. Consequently, gender is still acted and performed. Considering that there is a high prevalence of immigrants servicing jail terms for felonies in the United States than the percentages of the native Americans, predominantly the white race, it is also arguable that race is also an important factor for basing nations’ statistical data classification. This argument means that various social institutions still institutionalize and/or perform race and gender.
Experience of women of color in politics
The history of women of color in terms of participation in politics has not been encouraging especially by considering that they have evolved from a society, which was not only gender selective but also racially discriminating. The United State’s population that is eligible for voting based on 2010 statistics is composed of over 33 percent of non-white persons (Wendy 166). The percentage of the persons who voted for various political offices is also changing incredibly, since women of color are increasingly getting positions at the elective offices.
Center for American Women and Politics attribute this achievement to the “recent gains in women’s office holding due to achievements of women of color candidates” (12). In fact, right from a society in which there was unequal representation of women in general in politics, in every three legislators derived from women population in America, a minimum of one legislator is from women of color in the case of democrats. In the case of republicans, two in every four women legislators are from women of color (Center for American Women and Politics 13).
An effort to raise the number of women of color participating in politics and hence political processes in the United States is crucial for ensuring that there is gender parity in the American political institutions. However, as Center for American Women and Politics confirms, “there are still dominant challenges remaining in ensuring that women of color reach offices in proportion to their presence in the population” (15). Some of these challenges include the reception of the women of color by the society in terms of their ability to realize the roles of their elective offices. However, it is crucial to appreciate that the participation of women of color in politics and nation building as of 2012 was historically high. 24 women of color served in the congress while 11 served in the executive offices in the US. In the legislative offices, 350 women of color served the Americans as of 2012.
Amongst the women participating in politics and serving in the public offices, African-Americans constitute the highest percentage. This rise is attributed to the passage of the voting rights act of 1965, which resulted in the enactment of the majority-majority districts (Wendy 171). Majority of women who participate in politics possess higher chances of identifying themselves as democrats as opposed to categorizing themselves as republicans (Lorber 63). This experience is not perhaps coincidental. Democrats were the first to embrace civil rights that favor women of color participation in political institutions in 1960s. This argument means that the perceptions of construction of social roles of different gender influence the manner in which different genders play various roles in social institutions including politics.
Center for American Women and Politics. Women of Color in Elective Office 2012. New Brunswick, NJ: Center for American Women and Politics, 2012. Print.
Friedman, Seth. Changing roles Women in Japanese Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992. Print.
Hardy-Fanta, Carol, and Christine Sierra. “Gender, Race, and Descriptive Representation in the United States: Findings from the Gender and Multicultural Leadership Project.” Journal of Women Politics & Policy 28.3-4(2006): 7-41. Print.
Lorber, Johnson. Paradoxes of gender. Yale: Yale University Press, 2004. Print.
Wendy, Smooth. African American Women and Electoral Politics: A Challenge to the Post-Race Rhetoric of the Obama Moment. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Print.