Interdisciplinary gender studies started with the opening call of the new feminist or women’s liberation movement in the United States—Betty Friedan’s 1963 The Feminine Mystique, the sociological critique of Freud’s view of women’s natural inferiority.
This movement inspired research, mainly sociological and anthropological but also economical, historical, and psychological. During its first two decades the terms sex roles and sexual stratification were current, until the terms gender, gender roles, and gender relations gained circulation and replaced them. This research shared a conviction and a goal. The conviction is that equal status of women and men is possible today, all the forms and causes of women’s inferior status in different societies and in different historical periods notwithstanding. The goal of this research is openly declared: to discover the ways and means to facilitate the achievement of gender equality.
The basic questions/problems/analyses of gender research are the following:
The formal political equality achieved by the old, “classical” women’s movement did not result in de facto equal opportunity and participation of women. Why?
The status of American (and other Western) women declined after World War II. Why?
Marx and Engels postulated inevitable stages of development from primitive communism with no private property, no family, and no gender inequality, through stages of different class societies toward socialist revolution leading to communism, where private property (the means of production), the nuclear family, and gender inequality will all disappear. They were in error. Where did they go wrong?
Were/are there any societies where women are equal? What were/are their characteristics? What is the relative importance of economic conditions and religious beliefs for the status of women?
What is the actual and the possible impact of recent innovations on the likelihood of achieving equality for women? In particular, research centers on improved means for birth control, on the electronic and computer revolutions in the economy, and, more generally, on the decline in the importance of physical strength for most kinds of work that traditionally gave men an advantage in occupational work.
Can there be solidarity between women of different social classes and “races”? In particular, researchers differed on the possibility of cooperation between white, educated “middle-class” women and “women of color” belonging to the “working classes.”
How serious is the “sex-typing” of occupations? How unequal is the distribution of men and women over the range of occupations and their position in the hierarchies of economic and academic organizations, public service, and the professions? How does the income of employed or self-employed women compare to that of men?
How do the attitudes to work of women and men compare? In particular, research centered on the so-called instrumental attitude toward work as compared to interest in its content and quality, as well as interest in advancement at work.
What are the characteristics and the impact of “genderized” education of boys and girls in families, schools, and religious organizations compared to the impact of their own life experiences?
Does the fact that most babies are nurtured by their mothers during the first year of their life necessarily cause a stronger tendency toward and capacity for attachment in females and a stronger tendency toward and capacity for autonomy in males?
What are the achievements and chances of achieving reforms and real changes in the current inferior status of women and their segregation, preached and maintained by leaders of various religious communities?
Has there been a qualitative impact from the entry of women into local, national, and international politics and into councils, parliaments, governments, the diplomatic corps, the army, the judiciary, and law enforcement?
What was the impact of women’s massive entry into the labor market and their demand for equality on the incidence, age, and frequency of marriage and divorce and on the birth rate? How has family law changed? What importance has the availability or absence of civil marriage and divorce and of the recognition of cohabitation (as well as the recognition of same-sex unions) for the status of women?
What custody policies have been tried, and how can their degree of fairness—to mothers as well as to fathers and children—be assessed? How can the degree of practicality of solutions of “shared custody” be assessed? The same goes for policies encouraging equal parenting and their effectiveness as well as for the quantity and quality of men’s participation in child care and housework.
What have we learned about fighting violence against women, about the effectiveness of safe houses for battered women, and about police action against violent husbands and other partners and their reeducation? What is the experience of public action against clan murder of women in the name of “family honor”? What is the experience of public action against “bride-price murders”? What success have we had in eliminating the mutilation of girls (“female circumcision”)? How successful is the fight against rape? The same goes for the fight against the sexual abuse of children—especially girls.
Does pornography encourage sexual violence and should it be banned, or does it relieve violent sexual urges? Is prostitution mainly “sex work” or “sexual slavery”?
Should women establish separate organizations (such as trade unions or political parties) and institutions (such as health services, banks, or “women’s studies” university departments) to gain appropriate services and attention? What are the achievements and defects of such separate organizations and institutions?
What is the impact, actual and potential, of women’s international nongovernmental organizations on the United Nations and through them on pressuring the member states to raise their standards of women’s participation in politics and the economy?
Since the 1990s some “postmodernist” or “postfeminist” literature discourages the struggle for global gender equality. The writers deny the possibility of a common rationality of women and men, as well as that of common interests and even of a common rationality of different groups of women—those who belong to different classes and races, to Western or Eastern societies, as well as of women with different sexual orientations. They rule out the possibility of gender studies advancing knowledge of the causes and circumstances of and the possible remedies to the ubiquitous sociopolitical problem of gender inequality. Fortunately, the ongoing gender studies are too robust and successful to be obliterated by this unserious trend. The results of these studies, moderate as they may be, are very encouraging.
SEE ALSO Crowding Hypothesis; Discrimination, Wage, by Gender; Fatherhood; Femininity; Feminism; Feminism, Second Wave; Gender Gap; Gender, Alternatives to Binary; Inequality, Gender; Masculinity; Motherhood; Prostitution; Reproductive Rights; Sexual Orientation, Social and Economic Consequences; Work and Women
Agassi, Judith Buber. 1982. Comparing the Work Attitudes of Women and Men. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.
Agassi, Judith Buber. 1989. Theories of Gender Equality: Lessons from the Israeli Kibbutz. Gender and Society 3 (2): 160–186.
Bernard, Jessie. 1971. The Paradox of the Happy Marriage. In Women in Sexist Society, ed. Vivian Gornick and Barbara Moran, 148–152. New York: Free Press.
Ferree, Myra Marx, Judith Lorber, and Beth Hess, eds. 1999. Revisioning Gender. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Friedan, Betty. 1963. The Feminine Mystique. New York: Norton.
Hepburn, Stephanie, and Rita J. Simon. 2006. Women’s Roles and Statuses the World Over. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.
Rosaldo, Michelle Zimbalist, and Louise Lamphere, eds. 1974. Women, Culture, and Society: A Theoretical Overview. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Rossi, Alice S. 1964. Equality between the Sexes: An Immodest Proposal. Daedalus 93: 607–652.
Schlegel, Alice, ed. 1977. Sexual Stratification: A Cross-Cultural View. New York: Columbia University Press.
Judith Buber Agassi