What is the purpose of social constructs


3. Gender as a social construct

In order to be able to deal with the actual topic of this chapter - gender as a social construct - the term “gender” must first be defined. At this point, the distinction between "sex" and "gender“In order to be able to present gender and identity and gender as a role and as a social construct.

Although the term “gender” is based on biological characteristics, it is generally referred to as being bisexual[48], but not only. The gender is also always - completely independent of the type of society or the historical classification - culturally reshaped and interpreted socially.[49] A distinction is made between the term "sex"For the biological sex and"gender“For the social.[50] There is no suitable translation for this in German, which is why the English terms have established themselves in German usage. How we feel as a man or woman in the next step, how we perceive our gender and that of our fellow human beings, is generated, confirmed, consolidated and reinterpreted through everyday interactions and communication, through observation and imitation.[51] These ideas of the meaning of gender or this production of the social reality of the sexes are called - again taken from English - "doing gender“.[52] Can be simple and banal doing gender are described as what is meant as “typically male” or “typically female” - and on this basis each of us creates our gender identity:[53] Children learn from the first years of life that they are a boy or a girl and that everyone around them can also be classified according to gender. This classification is learned through interactions with people in the environment, whereby gender-related components are first related to external characteristics and later to behavioral and personality characteristics.[54] Each child thus creates their own image, their own idea of ​​how a woman or a man is or should be. These images and ideas ultimately become models for their own behavior - the child tries to do justice to the image of the man or woman and to be as gender-appropriate as possible. This construction of sexuality occurs in all dimensions of socialization, i.e. in the sexual, physical, cognitive, emotional dimensions and in those of values ​​and morals.[55] Gender cannot only be understood to mean the biological male and female sex organs. Rather, it is a social construction that expresses itself in social actions, whereby we distinguish between masculinity and femininity. Simone de Beauvoir argues that the social construction of gender is that people only become women and men through upbringing, traditions, norms, ideologies and institutions.[56] She underlines her argumentation with the concise sentence: “We are not born women, we are made women” (de Beauvoir 1949, quoted from Villa 2007, 19). De Beauvoir means that, for example, the female infant does not, by nature or fate, have the destiny of becoming a housewife or mother.[57] In the course of its socialization, the female infant is made into what is understood or associated with “being a woman” at the respective historical point in time.[58]

What this “becoming” of man and woman, this social construction means for the role behavior of man and woman, boy or girl or for the formation of identity, is shown in the following chapter.

3.1 Gender and identity, gender as a role

In the course of the socialization process of a person, the ego identity arises[59] - Man develops a permanent awareness of himself, he perceives himself as a person. Gender identity plays a central role in this ego identity[60] a. As already described above, people learn to be boys or girls, men or women and adopt or interpret certain patterns of interpretation, perceptions of themselves and others.[61] Each person thus constructs his own image of masculinity and femininity. But the ego identity and the gender identity are not static quantities, they are constructs that are subject to an individual construction process: People constantly try to strike a balance between inner ideas and external influences.[62]

Similar to a role that we take on depending on the context, environment, fellow human beings, etc., gender identity is of great importance in all interpersonal interactions. It guides our actions, our communication - just like a role, it shows limits and rules. Identity or gender identity thus arises in and through culture.[63] Roughly, it can be said here that the gender identities - and the associated roles of women and men - are similar in almost all cultures. Similar components can be found in all cultures. This is mainly due to the two-gender classification[64]. But our gender identity and every related role that we assume as a man or woman are dependent on the culturally situated, temporary representations of the respective gender. The representation rooms or the context is decisive for how we behave as a woman or a man.[65]

Under gender or. doing gender thus all those qualities and abilities are understood which are regarded as “male” or “female”.[66] This is how the “division” takes place, which gender is “responsible” for which tasks, and it should be made clear what “belongs” and “does not belong” to a boy or a girl. Gender and doing gender are thus socially constructed, subject to a certain interpretation and are in principle changeable, "redesignable".[67] Carol Hagemann-White says: "Gender is not something that we have or are, but something that we do (doing gender)." (Hagemann-White 1993, quoted from Schildmann 2000c, 47) In the sense of doing gender a social construction is thus a social act, because one consequently not only has gender, one “does” it, and one has gender only by “doing” it. Hagemann-White goes on to say at this point that the individual individual cannot be for himself and live his gender as he wishes. This is "[...] rather an interactive process in which we are absolutely dependent on the cooperation of our counterparts and thus on the unconscious everyday theory of gender shared with them in our culture." (Hagemann-White 1993, quoted from ibid.) An Mogge-Grotjahn clarifies this point - and refers to Erving Goffman (see e.g. Goffman 1973, Goffman 1975[68]) - that the framework within which our everyday interaction and communication processes take place already consists of structured and defined situations - which defines the limit of what is feasible.[69]

How we behave, how we act and react as a man or woman, boy or girl, depends on our gender identity and influences our behavior in all roles.[70] And our gender identity, i.e. our ideas of a man and a woman or of ourselves as man or woman, is always context and culture dependent and is lived or "done" by us within this framework of culture and history in interrelation with others. .[71] If one follows this thought further and one realizes that there is a general dissatisfaction and also uncertainty about the distribution of roles between the sexes, about the doing gender prevails, one cannot help but also ask the question of where this construction of gender comes from and how it comes about and happens. This is to be pursued further in the following chapter.

3.2 The representation and construction of gender

As mentioned at the beginning, there are different representations of gender. In the media, for example, women in particular are brought to the fore - usually as slim, trained, beautiful perfection - and thus become a role model for young girls who try to build their identity, their gender identity, on the basis of a historically developed construct. But men and boys are not immune to gender representation either. You are also presented with a perfectly formed, well-trained, successful male construct, which young men in particular can use for orientation. Both sexes, men and women, are shown how they should be, how they have to look, what they have or do not have to have in order to do justice to the representation, the construction of an unattainable, perfect perfection.

On the subject of the construction of gender, Schildmann says: "The social construction of the gender category shows itself as the result of societal constitutional processes, ie the field of tension between the sexes is subject to the respective social conditions of an epoch." (Schildmann 2000c, 47) If, for example, the construction "woman “Today it is mainly created through the media, primarily through television and advertising, a hundred years ago it was done in a different way and the construction of women also looked different than it is today. As an explanation for the social construction of gender, Schildmann explains further: “The category gender serves as a principle of social structure […] and comprises an essential social hierarchy level. It is a structural indicator of social inequality [...] and as such is very stable. [...]. However, recent feminist research on women has shaken this image: biological gender has been made conscious in its social context, without which it does not exist (sex and gender). […]. ”(Ibid.) In this context, Mogge-Grotjahn emphasizes that social constructions of gender are so difficult to change because“ the economic, political, legal and social structures of society with the most intrinsic, personal and private experiences of Subjects are inextricably linked ”(Mogge-Grotjahn 2004, 10). There is thus an interaction between the inside and the outside, between the gender identity or the ideas of it and the external constructs of masculinity and femininity. Man and woman constantly try to present themselves as “man” or “woman” (are even forced to do so from the outside), for example through a certain habitus, through the representation of strength and weakness, through dealing with their own sensitivities - oriented towards the own, developed ideas and the socially desirable images of masculinity and femininity while at the same time trying to maintain the "order" or the social structure.[72]

Judith Butler (see e.g. Butler 1991, Butler 2004[73]), whose work has become indispensable in feminist theory, sees gender as a social construction. However, she goes one step further and doesn't just understand gender as socially constructed, but also sex. She rejects the separation of sex and gender and is of the opinion that the whole of reality - including the biological sex - gains meaning because it is produced or constructed by humans.[74] Butler's considerations are based on Michel Foucault (see e.g. Foucault 1969, Foucault 1981[75]) and are based on the thesis that reality only arises through language. Meaning only arises through naming, i.e. reality arises through construction.[76] The “reality” we experience thus only gains its meaning, its existence through its naming - which is understandable when you consider that people want to “understand” from the ground up and thus classify and name them. Butler's theory has to be criticized at this point with the question: Does something therefore have no meaning, no existence, if it is not named? And do not social injustices, such as discrimination, need to be named all the more precisely because they are important?

However, if Butler's ideas are used as a basis and if one proceeds from their theory, then the question inevitably arises as to whether there would be gender relations if the sexes as such had never been defined. Without naming, would there not be a distinction between man and woman? Would discrimination, oppression and violence not even exist in that regard? They would probably already exist, then perhaps on another level, in another respect - which brings us back to Schildmann's explanation of the category of gender as a principle of social structure.[77] If gender did not function as a level of social hierarchy, then it would probably be a different area, a different category.

On the other hand, however, it must also be noted: If reality only arises through naming, it can also be renamed - whereby another reality can arise. So what has been socially constructed can also be deconstructed, which, according to Butler, can be attempted, for example, by “playfully exceeding gender-bound norms” (Butler 1991, quoted in Mogge-Grotjahn 2004, 85f). This argument forms the basis of Butler's deconstruction theory.[78] According to this theory, the body is understood as the “hinge between structure and subject” (Villa 2001, ibid., 86). It is important that Butler's (de) construction theory does not question the existence of the body or the biological sex. Rather, the assumption is criticized that our body is immutable, merely constituted biologically and that the social meaning of gender is "imposed" on it.[79] Butler means that social conditions are "inscribed" in our bodies and that we "embody" our ideas of masculinity and femininity.[80] Thus it becomes clear that there is an inseparable connection between body and identity. However, "embodying" is only possible with a counterpart. We need someone who perceives our "embodiment" - in return we also perceive the "embodiment" of our counterpart. Subsequently, the connection must therefore be called “body - identity - society”.

Dealing with the construction and deconstruction of gender makes it even more clear that people keep re-creating the meaning of gender.[81] Butler describes this repeated creation and repetition as follows: “[...] the construction is neither a subject nor its action, but a process [sic] of constant repetition, through which both 'subjects' and 'actions' appear in the first place . There is no power that acts, only a constantly repeated action that is power in its constancy and instability. ”(Butler 1997, quoted from Redecker 2011, 55)

This closes the circle on the topic again doing gender. Doing gender determines to a large extent human interaction and communication. But here, too, the question asked above about the why of these constructions arises. Goffman also considered this question and stated: “[...] that the physical differences between the sexes as such do not have a great deal of importance for the human abilities that we need to cope with most tasks. But then the interesting question is: How could such irrelevant biological differences between the sexes take on what appears to be enormous social significance in modern society? How were these biological differences socially expanded without biological necessity? ”(Goffman 1994, quoted from Mogge-Grotjahn 2004, 88). The deconstructivist theory tries to give an answer by stating that gender differences and constructions only become meaningful when they are thematized and explored.[82] That may be true, but more important - and deeper - is the fact that people strive for order and explanation. He tries to classify, categorize and explain everything that is incomprehensible. One explanation for the emergence and stability of the social construction of the sexes is thus the order: Social construction means social order for humans.[83] Only through the classification of everything that happens around him, through the construction and - if you will - arrangement and control of reality does the person feel safe. Norms are established. However, this assumption also implies the fact that in addition to the norm there is also what does not correspond to the norm. But the factual effectiveness of its construction leads people to believe that they can only act in this way and not otherwise, because they constantly create a social order through their actions.[84] An important catchphrase here is "unconsciousness".[85] The formation of norms and the construction of reality are so deeply anchored in the human being, in the socialization, that the human being is not aware of them. Villa explains this as follows: "Unconsciousness [...] is thus a central mechanism of subjective individuation through socialization [...]" (Villa 2001, 145). And Villa further explains that society as a subjective reality "[...] only exists as a society because people generate it through largely unconscious and early internalized 'recipe knowledge". [...] Social practice does not work (or very rarely) according to explicit rules that are learned purely cognitively. Rather, they sit 'deep under the skin' ”(ibid.). Villa means interactions such as keeping a reasonable distance, adjusting the volume of the voice to the situation, etc.[86] In short: social construction means social order.[87] But what happens to those for whom this “social order” has to look different or who do not feel comfortable or find their way around this constructed order? What about those who don't conform to the norm? Butler put this very succinctly: “Our lives - that of women and men - are ruled by norms. If we resist them, we may fall out or be pushed out. ”(Butler 2002, 157) She further emphasizes - and thereby also offers an explanation for the formation of norms, for the construction of reality - that norms give us a feeling of the common, even if those who do not conform to the norm are excluded.[88] “In this sense, we see the norm as that which unites us, but we also see that the norm only creates unity through a strategy of exclusion.” (Ibid.) Even if this fact is ignored by many, simply for the sake of feeling willingness to belong. Butler calls this “double the norm” (ibid.) And means by it the ambivalence of the construction or the formation of norms: belonging and simultaneous exclusion. Norms determine what constitutes an existence worth living - to put it in an exaggerated way it is decided which gender is valuable and which is not. Once you become aware of this thought in its full range, it doesn't take much to ask yourself how violence and discrimination can occur in addition to the existing valuation and exclusion and thus the brutal exclusion of a gender. Isn't the exclusion discrimination enough? Or is every further act of violence part of a further or ongoing exclusion? To make this more understandable, the widespread hatred of homosexuals should be mentioned. It is not uncommon for homosexuals to be harmed, threatened and discriminated against - simply because they do not conform to gender norms. Butler explains this as an interpretation that “life itself demands these norms. Behind this is the fearful and rigid belief that the meaning of the world and the meaning of the self will be radically undermined if such an unclassifiable living being is allowed to exist within the social world. It is a foolish and violent attempt to restore order and to reject the challenge of rethinking this world as something other than something natural or inevitable. ”(Ibid., 158) standardized gender order, one's own constructed reality. Everything that does not fit into our reality, that threatens to change it or threaten to shake it, will be fought and driven away. But this not only has consequences for everything outside of the norm: “By seeking refuge in norms, the area of ​​what is humanly understandable is limited, and this limitation has consequences for all ethics and every conception of social change.” (Ibid., 159) So long If norms are adhered to, as long as their boundaries remain rigidly fixed, the thinking of the individual and that of an entire society cannot change, which has an impact on the future of the entire society.[89]

In the following chapter an example of the conception of norms or the construction of gender will be presented.

3.3 Gender as stigma - oppressed women as subaltern

The roles of women and men today are generally clearly differentiated and socially constructed within clear boundaries - all over the world, in all cultures. Apparently by the way, women were given a subordinate position. The social constructions of the sexes led to a hierarchization in which women are usually clearly disadvantaged. Women have more difficult access to power, their wages are on average much lower than those of men, they automatically take on the role of housewife as soon as they give birth to children. However, some speak of a preference for women in some areas, for example because they do not have to do military service.[90] The question remains as to whether it is a matter of preferential treatment or renewed discrimination if the reason for this preferential treatment is a classification into the group of “the weaker sex”. No matter how, you will find a hierarchy of the sexes all over the world - as I said, women are mostly subordinate to men. In all cases it is a question of established hierarchies, of social constructs that are difficult to deconstruct.

At this point, an example from Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (2014) and her theory about the subalterns for the social construction of gender should be given - here in two ways. In her work “Can the Subaltern Speak? Postcoloniality and subaltern articulation ”(2014), Spivak deals with the“ question of the impossibility and possibility of speaking of the subaltern ”(Spivak 2014, blurb). A previous explanation is required for this: “Subaltern” is understood to mean being subordinate or also having a subordinate rank. If one speaks of a subaltern group or person, one understands by it an excluded, subordinate group or person who is submissive and mentally dependent and has only limited authority to make decisions.[91] When Spivak asked the question "Can the Subaltern Speak?"[92] one cannot simply translate “speak” as “speak”. Rather, the point is that subalterns are not heard - even when they are speaking.[93] Spivak also criticizes experts, in particular Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault, who tried to let the oppressed "speak for themselves", which for Spivak is a gesture of exaltation of himself.[94] And a reconstruction, a “translation” of the voice of the subaltern is not possible, according to Spivak - especially not when it comes to female subaltern.[95] Spivak cites the Indian widow burning as an explanatory example.[96] The Hindu widow rises to the stake of her dead husband and sacrifices herself by being burned on him. This rite was not caste-specific or class-specific and was not practiced consistently.[97] What is interesting about this rite of widow burning is the fact that it was constructed socially twice, namely on the one hand by the early colonial British men, to whom the abolition of widow sacrifice in 1829 goes back and who tried to give Indian women their own culture save, and on the other hand by the Indian men themselves, who tried to legitimize this custom and simply explained it[98]: “The women actually wanted to die.” (Ibid., 81) Spivak says at this point: “The two sentences are sufficient to legitimize one another over long stretches. One never comes across the testimony of a vocal consciousness of women. ”(Ibid.) The Indian widows stood between them as subaltern and were not heard. Spivak uses this example of the social construction of gender to show "[...] how an explanation or a narrative of reality was established as normative" (ibid., 42). Or rather, two explanations in two different countries or cultures were normatively established and yet were nothing but explanations. So two different social constructs of the Indian widowed woman arose without her being heard. Spivak created the phrase “White men save brown women from brown men” (ibid., 78). If one tries to clarify one side of this particular construction, it quickly becomes clear that the British men viewed this custom as the brutal execution of Indian women who had to follow the "law" of Indian men. Plain: The British men wanted to help women, save them, set them free. But Spivak makes it clear that the act of helping is, on the one hand, an act of self-help and, on the other hand, serves to turn the apparently brutal and barbaric Indian society into a "good" society.[99] She thinks, "[...] that the protection of women [...] has become a signifier for the establishment of a good Society, which in such inaugurative moments must override the pure legality or impartiality of legal policy ”(ibid., 82). Thus, an act that was respected as a ritual became a crime.[100]

On the other hand, considering the Indian construction, it must be said that suicide is reprehensible in Indian culture. Widow burning was an exception - if only because it was not treated as a suicide.[101] There was thus room for "certain types of suicide"[102], created for self-sacrifice, and only for women. Even if suicide at the stake was not a requirement, these women were celebrated as extremely courageous, dying was even viewed as a reward, and the women wanted to honor the ideals of female behavior.[103] Furthermore, it was considered a serious offense if the widow "changed her mind" shortly before the ritual. Such turning back was punished. However, when a local British police officer was present, repentance was a sign of real free choice and freedom.[104]

The prediction of a “heavenly reward” (ibid., 93) made the woman the object, the property of the or a man. The boundaries of one's own will are thus becoming increasingly blurred.[105] This irony, which, as Spivak says, "lies in establishing the free will of women in a self-sacrifice" (ibid.), Is made very clear by the following Indian verse: "As long as the woman [as a wife; stri] does not burn herself in the fire on the occasion of the death of her husband, she will never be released from her female body [strisarir - that is, in the cycle of births] [...]. "(ibid.) The female body is thus a burden, treated as something better to get rid of. Suicide in fire is presented as a universal way to finally be able to leave the female body behind and only be reborn in male bodies.[106] Having a female body is thus referred to as a misfortune, a burden, which in turn illustrates the hierarchization of the sexes in India, with women clearly subordinate to men and considered inferior.

On the one hand, there is the white man who wants to save the brown woman from the brown man, from the system - and in doing so constructs her even more socially through the absolute identification of “being a good wife” (ibid., 98) with self-sacrifice at the stake of her dead husband. On the other hand, there is the Hindu manipulation of women, the abolition of which would not only lead to a civil society, but even - from the British point of view - a good society.[107] Spivak sums this up with the following words: “Between patriarchy and imperialism, subject constitution and object formation, the figure of the woman disappears, and not into an untouched nothingness, but into a violent pendulum movement that is caught in the shifted shape of the one caught between tradition and modernization 'Woman of the Third World' exists. ”(Ibid., 101) The widows were thus silenced from two sides: They were glorified by the local patriarchate as the upholders of tradition. For British men, they became evidence of the barbaric, backward Indian society.[108] The widows could no longer be heard as subordinates, because each of their statements was misused and misunderstood to legitimize one side. It was not decisive what they said, but what was heard, and the circle on Spivak's theory “The subaltern cannot speak” (ibid., 106) comes full circle.[109] One important thought must not be forgotten: "If the subaltern cannot articulate itself, then conversely this also means that anyone who can express itself is not subaltern." (Steyerl 2014, quoted from ibid ., 12) But does this mean - applied to today's situation of women, to today's social construction of gender and under the assumption that today's women can also be described as "subaltern" - that women make themselves heard through the women's movement could procure and get out of the circle of the subaltern? The answer has to be: not completely. Because even here, when considering the social situation of women today, people are still mostly talking about and for them. The woman is constructed by speaking about her and for her as a woman, mother, housewife. By discussing, for example, that women in the West still earn significantly less than men, and trying to legitimize this with various explanations. I think there are areas in which women have managed to make themselves heard, to be heard and to step out of the circle of the subaltern. By this I mean areas such as women's voter turnout, (limited) opportunities for education, etc. But mainly much more is determined about women, talking about them instead of hearing what they say themselves. Without a doubt, Spivak's theory can be applied to the social construction of gender - completely irrelevant in which culture, in which place, at which time. A multiple construction can be seen in the example of the woman of today: On the one hand, an attempt is made, mostly by male hands, to uphold the “tradition” of the woman at the stove, on whose skirt the children hang.On the other hand, to help out this “dilemma” of classifying as housewife and wife and thus perhaps, connecting with Spivak's example, to shape a “good” or perhaps “even better” society. It is seen as evidence of a patriarchal society. At this point the question arises whether one and the same person can be subordinate in certain areas and not in some. Is the woman subordinate in principle? The question can probably be answered with “yes”, if one takes into account the meaning of the word “subaltern” as “subordinate” and the fact that a hierarchy that suppresses women still exists and girls (like boys) from birth, maybe even already before birth, to be socially constructed. And be it because of the color of the blanket with which they are covered at night.

Most of the use of the term subalternity took place in India and Latin America from the 1970s onwards.[110] National historiography in India excluded the broad mass of the Indian population as subaltern from the status of political subjects - the subaltern, who made up the majority of the population, were simply not recognized as political subjects. Their resistance to the British colonial power was simply ignored.[111] It behaves or behaves similarly with women in our society today. They represent the majority of the population and are still largely excluded from important political and social decisions. A woman's chances of attaining higher office in politics or government are extremely slim and limited. First laws had to be written that enabled women - in clearly defined areas and with a precise indication of the distribution of male and female sex - to obtain professional positions that were supposed to increase the status of women and yet no or little decision-making power brought. And yet a change can be seen in this if one looks at the historical development of the social construction of women and compares the situation of women today with that of women 100 years ago.

As Spivak also states in her text, it is impossible to give the subaltern a voice in retrospect.[112]