Cultural social construction of men and women

1. Introduction

In regards to this essay will be discussing cultural social construction of men and women making reference to South African issues or content. It will be looking at a number of issues as well that contribute to social constriction in men and women and how the society views social construction.

2. Cultural social construction of men and women

According to (white, 2001) Gender (male or female) refers to the socially constructed characteristics of being male or female, or of femininity and masculinity. Women and men are treated unequally on the basis of the fact their sex (white, 2001). Society has the notion that women and men are different people, who have different qualities, which is an understatement; the only thing that separates men and women is sexual organs and body features, but society have placed so much boundaries in terms of what a man or woman can do and cannot do and what is socially expectable for a man or a woman to do, for example in south Africa society have drawn the picture that women are supposed to look after the family, cook, clean and look after the kids while men are the bread winners the one who supposed to support and provide for the family, this is not only in south Africa only but in other various countries as well. Sounds very logically but true is that women can do what a men can do, she can provide for the family, be the bread winner and provide for her family and same applies to men them capable of looking after the house, cooking, cleaning and looking father the kids. But because society has placed so much boundaries between men and women when one of the sexes does what’s not socially acceptable it’s seen as a taboo and society starts to question them. According to (white, 2001) The unequal treatment of men and women represent socially constructed norms regarding the division of labour, and the distribution of power, responsibilities and rights between men and women, (white, 2001) continued to state that, the basis for differentiation continues to be traced back to biological difference, biological differences between men and women are negligible and insignificant when compared with the similarities. As stated by (white, 2001) Biological difference becomes overstated to represent ideology of gender. (white, 2001) Continued to state that, Ideology of gender is used to justify unequal treatment of women and men. The power of the ideology of gender lies in the way it encompasses fundamental cultural and social values relating to the relations between men and women, as well as the force of history underlying its evolution (white, 2001).

According to (Racheal, 2009) social construction is something that doesn’t exist independently in natural world but is instead an invention of society. Cultural practices and norms give rise to the existence of social constructs and govern the practices, customs and rules concerning the way we use or view them. (Racheal, 2009) Continued to state that, as stated that gender social construction is one of most common type of social construction, the unequal view of male and female is invented and decided by society, society decides how a female should act and what is considered a successful women. (gender construction, 2011) stated that As society grows and changes the definitions of gender changes for example in south African cultures today, women are now seen as providers and able to provide for the family and at the same time take care of her family – in fact a woman who independent, and education is now praised by the family and society and people around look up to her; being a bread winner is no longer seen as a job for a man but it’s acceptable for a woman to work and earn money. Yet this transformation of gender social construction is not yet complete as the still expectations for different genders (gender construction, 2011)

3. Feminism and cultural studies

According to (baker, 2012) feminist thinking permeates cultural studies, not all forms of feminism are to be thought as cultural studies and not all zones are considered with the question of gender. (baker, 2012) Continued to state that a view pointer have been pointed to a number of similarities of concern between cultural studies and feminism. They draw attention to the aspirations of feminism and cultural studies to connect with social and political movements; a critical stance vs. more established disciplines such as sociology and English literature; a mutual suspicion of, a challenge to established ideas of certain knowledge; a wish to produce ‘knowledge’ of and by ‘marginalized’ and oppressed groups, with the avowed intention of making a political movement. Feminism is a popular phrase in today society, it stated that a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of all gender. Women like Beyoncé, Emma Watson, Madonna and Maya Angelo stand up for women and are introducing the feminism movements where the empower women to stand up for themselves and believe in themselves. Feminist movements are basically there to empower women, in today society women are disempowered, women are seen as sex objects or household keepers, when you look at society when a women choices to rise and a challenge this patriarchal society its seen as unnatural or unethical for example south African politician Thuli Madosela one of the strongest female politicians but she was looked down by the man in the ANC just because she exposed our president for stealing money to build his house, she then looked down and sent death threats. It comes to the notion that man don’t see women as powerful and able to lead, the still see women as weak and soft and women like Thuli Madosela rise and challenge the society its seen as a shock. Feminism stated that women should treated equally just like men; given the same opportunities, and treated equally just like men are. Cultural studies views the topic of feminism in terms of the culture of feminism, what is mean by feminism and it also looks at the different feminism movements.

According (Kanengoni, 2013) feminism was regarded as some appendage to one’s life, which somehow had to be ‘fitted’ and ‘married’ to one’s cultural context. This shows how culture has often been viewed as some kind of container into which behaviours, practices and actions have to ‘fit’. (Kanengoni, 2013) Continued to state that movements such as “BUWA!” provide space to critically engage with the positive and negative aspects of cultures, which influence the lives of women, and to explore women’s and feminists’ experiences and understanding of these as well as to look at some of the perceptions and misconceptions about the interface between culture and feminism (Kanengoni, 2013).

4. Sex, gender & identity

According to (fischer & Arnold, 1994) sex is defined as biologically based categories of male and female, gender will be used to connote psychological features associated with sex and gender identity would refer to personality traits of masculinity and feminity. According (baker, 2012) identification of oneself as male or female is foundation stone of a self-identity that is widely held to be the outcome of particular bodies and their attributes. Common sense states or suggests that biological reductionism suggesting that the biochemical and genetic structure of human beings determine the behaviour of men and women in quite definite and specific ways. Many writers in cultural studies have argued that plasticity of sex and gender. Sex and gender is all biological based on the notion of what men can do and cannot do. With the subject of sex and gender it’s a question of nature vs. nurture whether biological attributes builds identity in sex and gender in terms of what a man can do and what a woman can do, in reference to their physical structure for example because men are more masculine there are represented as more powerful and able to do huge and difficult duties while women are more feminine and represented as being more soft and delegate (baker, 2012).

5. Sexed subjects

(baker, 2012) Stated that cultural studies views at the argument that femininity and masculinity are malleable social construction has taken its inspiration either from the work of Foucault or from psychoanalysis. According to (baker, 2012) For Foucault subjectivity is a discursive production, that is discourse offers speaking person’s subject positions from which to make sense of the world. (baker, 2012) Continued to state that discourse also subjects speakers to the rules and disciplines of those discourses. A subject position is that perspective or set of regulated discursive meanings from which discourse makes sense. (baker, 2012) Continues to state that Foucault advocates an anti-essentialist argument in which there are no universal ahistorical subjectivities, to be a man or a woman is not the outcome of biological determine or universal cognitive structure and cultural patterns gender is historically and culturally specific, subject to radical discontinties over time and across space (baker, 2012). (baker, 2012) Stated that the body and sexuality are major themes in Foucault’s work. He argued that sexuality was the focal point for the exercise of power and the production of subjectivity in western society, for example in south Africa the is a high level of male in power then female, in issues such politics. Subjectivity is coterminous with sexuality since subjects are constituted through the production of sex and the control of the body. Foucault has been subject to feminist criticism for neglecting to examine the gendered character of many disciplinary techniques, it’s argued that Foucault treats bodies as gender-neutral with little specifically beyond a male norm (baker, 2012). Psychoanalysis suggests that anatomy is destiny while on the other, he describes human sexuality as involving polymorphous perversity that is, the capability to take any number of forms (baker, 2012).

6. Men & masculinity

According to (Gennrich, 2015) “Almost twenty years into South Africa’s democratic era, the process of transformation to social justice has only just begun. The Bill of Rights in our celebrated Constitution includes gender rights as an essential part of our shared vision for racial, class and gender equality and justice. And yet, prejudice and violence against women, children and sexual minorities continue. Male domination persists in society, and many doctrines and practices of churches reinforce the patriarchal tradition. But there are also signs of hope: the numbers of women in leadership positions are increasing; many organisations are working for gender justice; gender-based violence has become a national concern; and there is evidence that attitudes are slowly changing”. (Gennrich, 2015) State that the term masculinity refers to be a man. In our society the term ‘man’ or ‘masculinity is used to describe man who are powerful and are considered the provider for the family. In south Africa men disempower women , the high rate of abuse and rape in women because of the term ‘man and masculinity’ man basically think there are men enough to get whatever they want even if means hurting other people. When you look at the issue of rape, reasons why women are raped because of the ways of thinking that men have towards women where they see women as sex objects that are to be used and not respected, most rapist simply claim that women as for it or they deserve it because of the way they dress or address themselves. Because in south Africa high percentage of people in power are men, they don’t stand up for women empowerment as they have the thinking skills of a men for example our president had a rape case and denied everything and called the girl a lair, the chargers were dropped and he was let free just because he a man and he is in power. According to (Elliott, 2003) Masculinity and the development of women remain delicate and argumentative issues on the African landscape. Each culture has found different ways to express, protect and project male power. This states that society is not ready for change and to let go of the patriarchal society of men being dominate over women, times are changing and so is the way things are done, finally women are actually getting empowered and no longer ashamed to be better than a man but because society still see man as powerful its creating a lot of boundaries for women trying to keep them from actually finding empowering its making them questions on the values and believes of feminism. For example in rural areas such as Eastern Cape they still believe that a man is the house head and a man is powerful and should be respected and not questioned. (Elliott, 2003) Furthers explains the positive side of masculinity stating that not everything is masculine has to be considered negative that the is a change in masculinity. It is an often made mistake to forget that even though general images and styles of masculinity may be distilled from the social landscape, men experience their own masculinity on an intensely individual and private level (Elliott, 2003). Some positive images that represent masculinity includes: Ukubekezela: African Life Savers – Blending strands of rural and urban masculinity, black lifesavers in Durban developed a utilitarian form of masculine identity that values qualities such as patience, dignity, pride and self-respect, endurance and courage, Warriors in blue – The Soweto Flying Squad has developed a utilitarian brand of masculinity that eschews boyish heroism and values maturity, self-discipline, cool-headed courage, social awareness, restraint and decisiveness, and Hybrid men – Men are forging hybrid identities through combining rural an urban African images with Western media and popular culture (Elliott, 2003).

7. Gender, representation and media culture.

According to (baker, 2012) masculinity and femininity are not essential qualities of embodied subjects but matters of representation. A good deal of feminist writing in the field of culture has been concerned with the representation of gender and of women in particular. The is was a concern to demonstrate that women have played in culture and literature. Male and female have represented in different for example men are portrayed as more masculine and powerful while women are portrayed as feminine and soft, this representation are based on how society views genders, ever since the apartheid era men have been represented differently than women for example women are represented as housewives, maids and teachers while men are represented as miners, leaders and providers. According to (Holtzhausen, Jordaan, & North, 2011) The media does a good job in representing gender, how women are represented has been a huge issue since the time of post colonialism and still today it’s still a huge which is huge debated media are often criticised for portraying stereotypical gender roles, and particularly for depicting women as dependant (such as a homemaker) or decorative (such as a sex object) (Holtzhausen, Jordaan, & North, 2011) . (Holtzhausen, Jordaan, & North, 2011) Continued to state that a study was conducted where a sample of 245 commercials was content analysed to determine how women are portrayed in media, the findings specify that women are most often represented as product users, and least often as sex objects. In terms of product categories, women featured most often in advertising for personal care items and least often in sport-related commercials (Holtzhausen, Jordaan, & North, 2011). But because of in today society more women are being empowered the media is basically slowly changing the way they portray women in terms the more sports which used portraying women and more dominate roles, more products like make-up are making their commercials more dominate and empowering for women. Even in movies women are portrayed as sex objects, weak, always the victims, and portrayed as a symbol of marriage, women are portrayed in an unrealistic manner. In South Africa media is slowly changing in the way they portray women for example soapies now have strong women characters who are in charger and in power and in some case dominate over the male characters. In South Africa society is changing the way they view women and obviously the few people who are against the way women are portrayed in terms of power but I think one of the major problems is the degrading of young girls in famous artist music videos, how these are always portrayed as sex objects. This issue is still am ongoing debate that’s still being overlooked.

8. Race and ethnicity

According to (baker, 2012) the concept of race bears the traces of its origins in the discourse of social Darwinism that stresses lines of descent and types of people. The concept of race refers to alleged biological and physical characteristics, the most obvious of which is skin pigmentation. These attributes, frequently linked to intelligence and capabilities are used to rank racialized groups in a hierarchy of social and material superiority and subordination. According (Railey, 2003) race become factor, out of the Protestant belief system subscribed to by many of the original colonist – This time in history was called the Enlightenment, and White Europeans were expanding across the globe, which brought them in contact with the world’s dark hued people and their cultures, customs, and traditions. (Railey, 2003) Continued to state that historically, race has used to develop social class and hierarchies of power, privilege, and access. Race relates to a person’s appearance in terms of their colour of their skin. It is determined biologically, with genetic traits such as skin colour, eye colour, hair colour, bone/jaw structure etc. Ethnicity, on the other hand, relates to cultural factors such as nationality, culture, ancestry, language and beliefs (Railey, 2003). In South Africa our race consists of blacks, whites and coloured people, race contributes to social construction in a sense of the is unequal treatment in different races for example the main issue in south Africa currently is the issue of racism at Pretoria girls high, where blacks students are treated unfairly compared to whites students because most of the teachers are white, teachers discriminate against the blacks calling them names and telling them how stupid they are.Ethnicity also contributes to the factors of social construction how you view women or men according to your culture, beliefs or language, or how you discriminate against other people different languages, religion or culture for example Xhosa women is raised to take care of the house, cook, clean and look after her husband and children, and when asked about their views on feminism they strongly would disagree as because their ethnicity they believe that women has a certain role to play in society which is to look after the family while the men are the once who need to be in power that’s their culture and how they were raised, other example would be how Zulus discriminate against other languages in a sense that even if you don’t understand Zulu they will insists in speaking to you in Zulu because they refuse to speak any other language except for Zulu. (Railey, 2003) Continued to state that Ethnicity connotes shared cultural traits and a shared group history. Some ethnic groups also share linguistic or religious traits, while others share a common group history but not a common language or religion – while race presumes shared biological or genetic traits, whether actual or asserted (Railey, 2003).

Social constructivism is changing in south Africa the way male and female were viewed back then and the mind-set society had towards, the role and the identity that both man and woman play in society is changing. The concept of feminism is now being accepted in society and people are beginning to open up to the concept even young girls are become more aware and educated about the roles of women in society and are challenging this roles. The more educated women, the position of women in power is increasing, in positions like politics which was previously known as “male dominating” positions for example its argued that the next president of south Africa meant be a women Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma which shows how the society is now open to change.

9. Conclusion

This essay discussed cultural social construction of men and women, which is a very debateable issue or topic. Some people agree with the notion of equal treatment of gender while other are still against claiming that men and women have different roles in society and can be considered as equals. In regards to this essay social construction of men and women is changing and developing and we going to reach a period where the sense of equal treatment for all genders, but until people are open to the idea the nothing much that can happen.


baker, C. (2012). cultural studies. british: SAGE.

Elliott, W. (2003). Masculinity: key issues and debates. a soul city review, 2-6.

fischer, E., & Arnold, S. J. (1994). Sex, gender identity, gender roles attitutes and consumer behaviour. pschology and marketing.

gender construction. (2011, april 9). Retrieved from Enotes:

Gennrich, D. (2015). Understanding Masculinity in south africa . MEN AND MASCULINITIES IN SOUTH AFRICA, 1-95.

Holtzhausen, T., Jordaan, Y., & North, E. (2011). A protryal of women in south african television commercials . south african business review , 3.

Kanengoni, A. (2013). BAWA; Feminism and culture. a jornal of african women experiences, 2-24.

Racheal. (2009, april 22). the social construction of gender. Retrieved from the feminist agenda:

Railey, j. R. (2003). Race and ethnicity. 1-8.


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