Throughout the centuries, human beings have been divided by their skin color, background or race in terms of their intelligence, abilities and treatment in society. Despite beliefs that genes are scientifically confirmed as the cause of human differences, there is no doubt that race and gender are social constructs that determine the “ordering” of society.(Wise, T., 2011, pp. 1). The aim of this paper is to explain how race is socially constructed and interconnected to the idea of privilege that exists in contemporary society and how gender is “ done” by the people’s demands for body image, rather than genes. The paper will also shed some light on how the notion of “doing” race and gender limit their understanding in the modern world by narrowing focus and look closer at the aspect of intersectionality that allows a broader judgment of these two concepts.
According to Lesson 1 material, race is defined as a “ natural division of humankind based mainly on distinct shared physical characteristics”(Joshi, N., 2019, pp. 2). Despite the physical differences, human species are and have always been a part of one human race, which over the length of time have been divided by them into many (Joshi, N., 2019, pp. 2). From distinguishable physical traits, race has become the tool used by people to label a person’s position in the society and continues to do so (Wise, T., 2011, pp. 1). To better understand how race is socially constructed, take a look at the outcome of the Boston Marathon in 2001 (Mayr, E., 2002). It was predicted that Kenyan competitors who entered the race and are perceived as one of the fastest long distance runners in the world, would end up winning the race as number one, two and three (Mayr, E., 2002). However, to everybody’s great surprise, the marathon was won by the Korean and Ecuadorian citizens- both from populations that had never been credited with running (Mayr, E., 2002). Race, in this case, is defined by others on the basis of the certain group’s values, not individual’s own unique abilities, where it is expected of certain races to have traits that differentiate them from the others. It is created by people’s demands and expectations, that determine specific races having different treatment and certain privileges in the society or lack of them.(Mayr, E., 2002).
In addition to race, the social construct of gender is highly visible in contemporary. According to Chelsey, gender is an ongoing and evolving aspect of social interaction, that people construct by engaging in activities. Moreover, it displays behaviours that are accepted by others as either feminine or masculine (2011, pp. 643). In western societies, gendered views of women and men are distinguished by the feminine and masculine physical and behavioural differences. The idea that men are physically men, and women are physically women, is rooted in biology. This is associated with many social consequences and reactions (2011, pp. 644). The most prevalent example is that women and men ought to take on the traditional family model roles. The man is the main breadwinner and the woman assumes the responsibility of a housewife and sacrifice of motherhood.(2011, pp. 644). Gender roles are handed down from one generation to another and if the “ norms” are not followed, it can disrupt social interactions and create pressure that reinforces gendered behaviour. Engaging in behaviour seen as non-normative for their sex, such as women being the main family provider instead of men, can create such stressors. (2011, pp. 644). It is not biological traits but human interactions that are responsible for “doing” gender. A woman is associated with feminine physical and psychological traits and the type of job/tasks she ought to undertake, just as much as a man.
“Doing” race and gender by adhering to socially defined norms and behaviours that are deemed appropriate and accepted by a certain group of people or representatives of particular sex, clearly contributes to the social system that supports gender and race inequality. (Joshi, N., 2019, pp. 2). This approach gives rise to another issue associated with race and gender called privilege. Privilege is “ a special right, advantage or immunity granted or available to a particular person or group of people” (Joshi, N., 2019, pp. 1). The existence of the privilege is often invisible to the people who have it (Joshi, N., 2019, pp. 1). There are many social interactions, where differences between dominant and subordinate members of society are apparent. One of the controversial examples of the privilege is the social marginalization of a disadvantaged man of colour through work, such as prostitution (Oselin & Barber, 2019). According to Oselin & Barber, poverty and neglect pushes many of them into the sex industry, where in most cases they work for middle class, white wealthy men, in order to financially support themselves ( 2019). This affirmation gives rise to a debate about more prevalent issue which is white privilege (Oselin & Barber, 2019). In many cases, economically and socially disadvantaged men engage in humiliating jobs. They do so to carve out a sense of self-worth and to measure up with the white class, socially and financially privileged masculinity (Oselin & Barber, 2019). It is evident that economic and social differences are creating the division between people, where those less fortunate find themselves in the ambush of measuring up. Privilege in this case is visible not only through the economic status of the individuals, but racial and social backgrounds. Unquestionably, this case presents the existence of privileged white middle class men which poses over those, who are at a disadvantage.
On the other hand, race and gender are socially constructed by individuals, thus unambiguously assign what behaviours and appearances are deemed appropriate and accepted by the majority of society (Joshi, N., 2019, pp. 2). “Doing” gender and race in this case, limits the way they are understood by society. It does not provide any means to address social structures that are the hidden reasons behind it and investigate deeper why people do things that are contrary to their race or gender expectations (Joshi, N., 2019, pp. 2). To better understand how “doing” race and gender limits people’s knowledge about them, let us re-evaluate a research study conducted by Miller & Lopez in 2015 on imprisoned white women- all present and former methamphetamine users (2015, pp. 693). Results have shown that these women engaged in using drugs for variety of reasons, but mostly to thrive and survive as women and mothers (2015, pp. 703). By using methamphetamine they were able to “perform” gender roles, whilst appearing as gender accordant and culturally accepted by others (2015, pp.703). In this case, drug use that is the “white middle class social anxiety” (2015, pp. 704) became the means of dealing with life circumstances of the white working class women. This example highlights that “doing” race and gender limits people’s way of understanding them. Social structures, background and opportunities that draw them into certain places and situations, are not taken into account. Thus, the experiences for the imprisoned drug users who come from different social classes and reasons why they engage in certain behaviours, may be different (Joshi, N., 2019, pp. 2). The framework of social construction on gender, limits the way that people cope with social inequality and power differences, which are often the main determinants of positions and opportunities in the society (Joshi, N., 2019, pp. 2).
The researchers noticed that “doing” gender is simultaneously “doing” race, class and even place, which limits the way they are understood in the contemporary society, as they are perceived as immutable values (Joshi, N., 2019, pp. 2). It is crucial that the concept of intersectionality, one that is not captured, when analyzing people’s behaviour is taken into account when “doing” gender (Joshi, N., 2019, pp. 2). Taking racial, social and cultural backgrounds into consideration, along with the notion of social inequality, cultural and social expectations, would help provide a more adequate analysis of identifying women as mother and a role model but also why these perceptions dominated the preconceptions (Joshi, N., 2019, pp. 2). Instead of labeling women drug users, people should understand the circumstances behind every individual that lead them into certain places and behaviours. This way “doing” race and gender would have the chance to be “done” more thoughtfully.
As shown above, without a doubt race and gender are not fully scientifically proven products of biology and genes but are the result of social construct. Social demands and preconceptions about how people should look like gives a clear picture of how body image defines gender and determines gender-appropriate behaviours. “Doing” is not limited to gender but also race that is visible through the notion of privilege. Race has become the tool that labels a person’s position in society. Therefore, this is defined by group’s values, traits and social class, not individual’s own unique abilities. Privilege thus exists. Economic and social differences are evident between those socially advantaged, and the people from lower classes or culturally categorized groups. It is often unnoticed for those who have it and contributes to social inequality. “Doing” race and gender limit the way people understand them. When being analyzed, they avoid to consider racial, social and cultural backgrounds of gender representatives. This results in non-gendered behaviour, automatically labeling those who act differently. In order to broaden people’s understanding of race and gender, a more inclusive approach and concept of intersectionality needs to be taken into all aspects of race and gender analysis. Only then will people’s social class or background be taken into account when trying to understand their unusual behaviour. When people’s understanding broadens, their perception of race and gender can change as well.