Read this part before criticizing! This is an essay that was given to me where I had to evaluate whether Australian society was sexist
or not. In doing so my lecturer wanted me to get a two sided argument going between two key authorities and then come to my own conclusion. We all know society is and can be sexist in one way or another, so I changed my essay to question why we are this way.
As the statement “Australia is a sexist society” is indisputable, the argument that will be discussed within this essay not only provides proof of the statement but examines why Australian society yields such sexist elements. The principal writers most relevant to this case are Bartky and French: each authority having their own theory on why society allows such gender inequality concerning their own sociological discipline. French’s view being from psychological constructionism and Bartky coming from a social determinist perspective. The two theories will be discussed with appropriate evidence in regard to other cases then a conclusive argument will be ascertained.
In Bartky being a Foucaultian Feminist there is an “unprecedented discipline directed against the body” (Bartky 1988:61). Bartky elaborates on this ideology to question whether these manipulated “docile bodies” (Foucault in Bartky 1988:62) of women are conditioned differently to those of men and if so why (Bartky 1988).
"5.8% percent of men thought they were fat compared to 27.3% of women. 5.9% of women were anorexic or bulimic whilst 0% of men were." (USA Today Thursday May 30, 1985)
Bartky is characterised as social determinist because the proposed theory displays social experiences determine a certain phenomena. The table above was a survey taken by 260 UCLA university students. It is alluded to by Bartky to establish the notion that society’s concept of feminism originates from the “modernization of patriarchal domination” (Bartky 1988:64). The patriarch in Foucaultian Feminist terms being the “male supremacist culture… of domination and exclusion” (Bartky 1990:25). This is summarised as a form of “micro-power” which is a term describing “non egalitarian and asymmetrical” (Bartky 1988:75) authority of power. Essentially because of the high rates in women, Bartky’s argument that women “are far more restricted than men” (Bartky 1988:64) is illustrated. Bartky’s case that women feel that they must conform to this theory of gender determined by society and women experience a “generalized condition of dishonour” which is “woman’s lot” in society (Bartky 1990:85) is established to a certain extent.
Barnes and Eicher would agree with Bartky on this issue, that it is culture that which causes such inequalities. “Dress as a cultural phenomenon… serves as a sign that the individuals belong to a certain group” (Barnes and Eicher 1992:1). The result of this phenomenon created by culture reveals images of the “qualities associated with feminine or masculine” (Barnes and Eicher 1992:3). Therefore since Barnes and Eicher display that culture determines what is and is not gender though dress, the discipline of the cultural determinist is further supported.
The discipline of the psychological constructionist argues that it is individual psychology that establishes one’s actions as opposed to society. In French’s account of violence in the playground it is asserted that adolescence have the “most vital role in the construction of their own gender” (French 1999:137) and also primarily that “gender inequality does exist” (French 1999:139). Lloyd and Duveen support this first notion in saying that “the main actors in gender construction within schools as the children themselves” (Lloyd and Duveen in French 1999:137). The given example by French is that adolescences come to hypothesize that with violence comes domination (French 1999). This is developed by young males in the encouragement to play “rough and tumble” (French 1999:143) sports. This emphasizes not only that this is a form of hegemonic masculinity that embodies reward from this dominance, but since females do not participate, that they are subordinate (French 1999). Consequently this outlook of psychological constructionism is asserted.
Bulbeck emphasizes using Connell’s notion that the primary inequalities with regard to gender are caused by the power relationship as the “overall subordination of women and domination by men” (Bulbeck 1998:262). This domination is further explored by Connell stating that assault is initially portrayed by the media as a form of individual deviance (Connell 1987). However this exemplifies the form of male supremacy that French believes is constructed by the individual’s psychology and Bartky deems as a socially determined subordination for women. It is surmised by Connell that “imposing order in and through culture is a large part of this effort” (Connell 1987:108). Thus Connell supports Bartky’s determinist notion to the extent that culture imposes this power relationship and few escape this discipline.
This form of domination is not confined to the Western colonizers of Australia‘s world of “women as reproducers…men as bread winners” (Edwards 1983:388). Aboriginal society also had patriarchal domination “with the products of men’s labours being more valued” (McGrath in Evans and Raymond 1992:4). The question in dispute is why this is so.
Bartky emphasizes that patriarchal domination is caused by society that allows this form of domination to exist and discipline women. French asserts that it is not society but one’s childhood psychology, which determines how an individual perceives gender, which then causes male hegemonic dominance. With Eicher, Barnes and Connell maintaining Bartky’s partial determinist view the weight of evidence rests that gender is determined by social experience and that although this discipline does not have to be complied to; if it is rebelled against, social castigation applies.
Bartky, S., (1988) Foucault, femininity and the modernization of patriarchal power, in Readings Dossier 1007 AMC (1999) Social Sciences in Australia, School of Humanities, Griffith University, Brisbane.
Bartky, S., (1990) Femininity and Domination, New York: Routledge.
Barnes, R., Eicher, J., (1992) Dress and Gender: Making and Meaning, New York: Berg.
Bulbeck, C., (1998) Social Sciences in Australia, Sydney: Harcourt.
Connell, R., (1987) Gender and Power, Great Britain: Polity Press.
Edwards, A., (1983) Sex Roles: a problem for sociology and a problem for women, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Sociology, no. 3, pp 385-412.
Evans, R., Saunders, K., (eds) (1992) Gender Relations in Australia: domination and negotiation, Sydney: Harcourt Brace.
French, S., (1999) Masculinity and violence in the playground, in Readings Dossier 1007 AMC (1999) Social Sciences in Australia, School of Humanities, Griffith University, Brisbane.