The Gender System and Interaction

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Ridgeway, C. L., & Smith-Lovin, L. (1999). The Gender System and Interaction. Annual Review of Sociology, 25(1), 191-216.

The gender system includes processes that both define males and females as different in socially significant ways and justify inequality on the basis of that difference. Gender is different from other forms of social inequality in that men and women interact extensively within families and households and in other role relations. This high rate of contact between men and women raises important questions about how interaction creates experiences that confirm, or potentially could undermine, the beliefs about gender difference and inequality that underlie the gender system. Any theory of gender difference and inequality must accommodate three basic findings from research on interaction. (a). People perceive gender differences to be pervasive in interaction. (b). Studies of interaction among peers with equal power and status show few gender differences in behavior. (c). Most interactions between men and women occur in the structural context of roles or status relationships that are unequal. These status and power differences create very real interaction effects, which are often confounded with gender. Beliefs about gender difference combine with structurally unequal relationships to perpetuate status beliefs, leading men and women to recreate the gender system in everyday interaction. Only peer interactions that are not driven by cultural beliefs about the general competence of men and women or interactions in which women are status- or power-advantaged over men are likely to undermine the gender system.

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