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The Gender Line

The Gender Line: Men, Women, and the Law

Nancy Levit
Copyright Date: 1998
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    The Gender Line
    Book Description:

    Despite tremendous advances in civil rights, we live in a world where the sexes remain sharply segregated from birth to death: in names, clothing, social groupings, and possessions; in occupations, civic association, and domestic roles. Gender separatism, so pervasive as to be almost invisible, permeates the fabric of our daily social routines. Preferring a notion of gender that is fluid and contextual, and denying that separatism is inevitable, Nancy Levit dismantles the myths of gender essentialism Drawing on a wealth of interdisciplinary data regarding the biological and cultural origins of sex differences, Levit provides a fresh perspective on gendered behaviors and argues the need for careful cultivation of new relations between the sexes. With its focus particularly on men, The Gender Line offers an insightful overview of the construction of gender and the damaging effects of its stereotypes. Levit analyzes the ways in which law legitimizes the social segregation of the sexes through legal decisions regarding custody, employment, education, sexual harassment, and criminal law. In so doing, she illustrates the ways in which men's and women's oppressions are intertwined and how law molds the very definition of masculinity. Applying feminist methodology to the doctrine of feminism itself, Levit artfully demonstrates that gender separatism infects even our contemporary views of feminism. Levit asks questions that have been too long been unspoken--those that lie at the core of the feminist project, yet threaten its very foundations. Revealing masculinity as both a privileged and a victimized condition, she calls for a step forward, past the bounds of contemporary feminism and its conflicts, toward a more egalitarian and inclusive feminism. This brand of feminism would reshape traditional masculinity, invite men into feminist dialogue, and claim men as political allies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-5271-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    Our first child, Aaron, loves books and likes to draw, cook, and play any game involving a ball.

    Our second child, Dylan, is also a sports fanatic. When Dylan entered toddlerhood we stationed two Little Tykes basketball goals at opposite ends of the living room so that we could play “full court.”

    People meeting our second child are often surprised to find out that Dylan is a girl.

    Names have a gender.

    When Dylan wears her brother’s hand-me-down overalls, strangers are uncomfortable with the gender bending. There seem to be expectations of fair advertising with respect to one of society’s...

  5. 2 Gender Separatism
    (pp. 15-63)

    In this chapter we will look at the institutions that construct gender. Some are sharply gender divisive; others are more or less harmful to both men and women. Society constructs two separate gender cultures, and the beliefs, social practices, and institutions that separate the sexes disadvantage both females and males. While specific beliefs vary according to a range of factors—ethnicity, race, religion, socioeconomic stratum, and the gendering practices of individuals—the ways culture makes basic divisions between males and females often transcend race, class, and other axes of identity, and cut across most of American society.

    One way to...

  6. 3 How Courts Enforce Gender Separatism
    (pp. 64-104)

    Increasingly, courts are being called on to determine what physical and social differences between the sexes matter legally. Laws and legal decisions send symbolic messages about what it means to be male and female, and those messages play a central part in shaping gender. In many individual cases, judicial constructions of sex facilitate gender separation. Courts consistently employ a naturalistic conception of gender, deeming physical differences between the sexes important when their relevance to issues in the case is questionable; courts hold fast to conventional gender stereotypes in areas ranging from dress and grooming codes to appropriate occupational channels for...

  7. 4 Making Men: The Socio-Legal Construct of Masculinity
    (pp. 105-122)

    The purpose of examining the various ways legal doctrines and the legal system disadvantage men is not to thrust men into victimhood. Victimhood presents a dilemma. On the one hand, failure to acknowledge victimization can allow forms of oppression to go unchecked. On the other hand, speaking in terms of victimization may promote passivity, helplessness, and blaming behavior on the part of victims.¹ If we learn to examine gender role stereotypes as evidential facts, rather than mere opportunities for blame, we may be able to sidestep parts of the dilemma.

    This chapter explores the ways legal doctrines disadvantage men through...

  8. 5 The “F” Word: Feminism and Its Detractors
    (pp. 123-167)

    Why are people, women and men, so scared of the label “feminism”? Why is feminism so aggressively and gleefully demonized? A strong majority of people in this country embrace fundamental concepts of women’s rights. Yet a roughly equal percentage of people decline to describe themselves as feminists. Why is this? As we shall see, a principal reason for the denigration of feminism is the extent to which the term has been defined by its opponents. Traditional opponents of feminism have been hugely successful in promoting the negative images associated with it. This is tied to the persistence of patriarchy and...

  9. 6 Feminist Legal Theory and the Treatment of Men
    (pp. 168-198)

    Feminist legal theory has not concerned itself much with the sympathetic construction of white maleness. Jurisprudential scholars have focused on the masculinity of nonmajority males. In the past decade, critical race scholars have centered attention on the differential treatment of black, Asian, and Latino males, principally as a matter of racial subordination. During roughly the same time frame, sexual orientation theorists have demonstrated the deep connections between heterosexuality and patriarchy, pointing out the ways military, employment, housing, custody, adoption, and sodomy laws discriminate against gay males.

    The interest of feminist legal theorists in masculinity has concentrated on the ways institutional...

  10. 7 Reconstructing Images of Gender in Theory
    (pp. 199-215)

    This chapter revisits the reluctance of some feminist scholars to include men as subjects of analysis and political allies. Some of feminism’s inattention to men is understandable, some has been retributive, and some has been the result of resource allocation: equality issues for women needed more immediate attention. But feminism has reached a stage where it both can and must turn part of its attention to the sociopolitical and legal analysis of masculinity issues.

    Part of the gender work of the future will require restructuring feminist theory to incorporate theories about masculinity into feminism, invite and actively include men in...

  11. 8 Remaking Gender in Practice: Looking Forward
    (pp. 216-248)

    Is feminism worth salvaging? Why try to resurrect a term and a movement that are to some ambiguous, irritating, offensive, and perhaps unnecessary? Feminism possesses a unique heritage: on the theoretical level, it has created increasingly refined methodologies (from consciousness-raising to questioning hierarchies and exclusion); on the political level, it is the history of a social revolution. This past would be devitalized if its theoretical project were solely humanism and its political action arm limited to a women’s movement. If the feminist movement is to become an increasingly powerful force, it must concern itself with issues beyond women’s rights. To...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 249-294)
  13. Index
    (pp. 295-300)
  14. About the Author
    (pp. 301-302)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 303-303)