The Individual Level: Gender as Masculinity and Femininity
Within the discourse of gender, certain traits, behaviors, and interests are associated with women, and others with men. Gender is assumed to be dichotomous—a person can be classified as either masculine or feminine but not both—and to reside within the individual. Moreover, the masculine pole of this constructed dichotomy is the more valued.
People develop their sense of self within prevailing discourses, including the discourse of gender (Shotter & Gergen, 1989). To a greater or lesser extent, women and men come to accept gender distinctions visible at the structural level and enacted at the interpersonal level as part of the self-concept. They become gender-typed, ascribing to themselves the traits, behaviors, and roles normative for people of their gender in their culture.
At the individual level, gender is re-created when women internalize their devaluation and subordination. Feminist theories of personality development (e. g., Miller, 1986) stress that feminine characteristics such as passivity, excessive concern with pleasing others, lack of initiative, and dependency are psychological consequences of subordination. Members of subordinate social groups who adopt such characteristics are considered well-adjusted, even though the characteristics would not be considered healthy for adult men. Those who do not adopt such characteristics are controlled by psychiatric diagnosis, violence, or the threat of violence, and social ostracism.
Gender, then, is a self-fulfilling prophecy (Crawford & Unger, 1992; 2000). Women are different from men. Yet, paradoxically, this is not because they are women (Bohan, 1993). Each of us behaves in gendered ways because we are placed in gendered social contexts. Women encounter different social contexts than men. Women and men face different expectations and norms even for what look like identical situations. If women try not to do gender, they confront the social consequences of violating these norms and expectations.