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Transience Divine

January 17th, 2011

January 17th, 2011
03:43 pm


American Gender Segregation
I'm back in the country! Our last few days in Greece were sublime, with so many cute coffeeshops, and a culture that appears to spend all its waking hours in them, just nursing drinks and free cookies and talking. It's also Flame's birthday today, and the day before my classes start, but that's not what I want to talk about.

Last night we had a birthday dinner with friends, and the topic of how Facebook has changed people's lives and culture at large came up. Within our group, I noticed a big gender divide: not only did the men take a more relaxed approach to social networking, but they were much less concerned about the expectations, stalking, and panoptical potential of the site. I imagine that if you told a stereotypical man that someone might be watching his wall all the time, he would feel some flattery and some pity, but very little self-concern.

I was jumped on for suggesting that it was a gender distinction. The women, who have all studied gender (I have not), pointed out that it was probably more of an age distinction. While no doubt also a factor, I wanted to explore the idea further. I think I'm pretty aware of the complexities of gender identity, but I don't know who to incorporate those complexities into this, so take it as rough generalizations.

Is it taboo to say that American society has a lot of gender segregation, at least for children? Compared to other cultures, we're somewhere in the middle, between cultures which physically separate boys and girls, and those that draw little distinction between them until puberty. But I'm mainly concerned with how we are compared to how we might be, and what direction we're moving in.

It seems to me that American society has very strong social barriers between genders. Flame loves to point out people who are biologically different from their gender identification, but for the most part it's pretty easy to read someone's gender: men and women and boys and girls wear different clothes and talk differently. Several professions are mostly gender segregated, including some new ones (e.g., CS and bioengineering). As children, boys and girls tend to live in very different social worlds, reading different magazines, participating in different activities, and with friend circles of typically of just one gender. If someone approaches you on an dark, empty street, you might worry differently if they're black or white or sober or drunk, but if they're female, you probably won't worry at all.

So I wonder how new technologies affect that equilibrium. For example, I imagine that modern television has been a force for greater segregation among children, with advertisers and producers projecting and targeting very strong gender distinctions. How about Facebook? As a single forum with both genders, it might be a desegregating force, but I wonder to what extent the different emotions it engenders are the result of existing gender segregation and to what extend it exaccerbates them.

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