“Doing” Gender; Not Always So

This was written for SOC-300, Washington State University.

Are there times in our lives when we can be relatively free of gender inequality or social expectations organized around gender, and other times when our lives are very structured by different gendered expectations, whether we are men or women? Does this change depending on your racial identification, or how much money you have?

By removing emphasis on “our” with respect to life, there is potential for freedom from “gender inequality or social expectations organized around gender”. Internalization of exported ideologies of “our life” may be causal to dominance orientations or may have been built on said orientations. “Our” runs parallel to mine, and in mine is separation from “yours”. Priming owner and owned is embedded in cultural schemas of bimodal distributions on a dimension of gender (e.g., male, female, intersex). To arrive at de-polarization would be more a reality of de-constructing not only the quantized results of classification etc., but also that which due to selective effects ranks classes and promotes exemplars and prototypes, where social scripts (i.e., event scripts) are clustered for more immediate accessibility in carrying out situationally appropriate behaviors.

Essentialism had been defined by Ore (2009) as “the tenet that human behavior is ‘natural,’ predetermined by genetic, biological, or physiological mechanisms and thus not subject to change” (p. 5). Yet naturalness has been a subject of gender debate and seems wrapped up in social constructions of not only gender, but what is natural. That such debates are subject to social psychological phenomena of conformity should not be forgotten. Lorber (1994) stories about putting a hat on a baby, but could the hat just be a utilitarian cover for a baby to prevent sun, in that moment? Could the gender script have run its course prior, in the fraction of a minute to purchase the hat? What strange essentialist magic of West and Zimmerman’s (1985) “doing gender” is embedded in using the nearest device to block the sun that arises out of a behavioral prompt and recall of a behavioral script to “grab” and “place”, to manipulate shade?

West and Zimmerman (1985) proposed of gender as “a routine, methodical, and recurring accomplishment” (p. 126), and expressed that producing the “doing” of gender holds competencies of women/men hostage. In this “doing” psychological, sociological, and political aspects “casts” pursuits as masculine/feminine. Also, gender had been defined as “an achieved property of situated conduct… a situated doing, caried out in the virtual or real presence of others who are presumed to be oriented in its production” (p. 126). Driving right past situated identities (p. 128), West and Zimmerman overextend in claiming that “doing gender” is “to engage in behavior at the risk of gender assessment” (p. 136). Basically “doing gender” is at risk of an audience’s ascription of it. Well, couldn’t one say that risk of X assessment is a form of “doing X”? Is a member of Ictalurus furcatus (i.e., blue catfish) “doing dinner” because one assesses a catfish fit for a meal? Are all catfish subject to a social structure that have “done dinner” to organize catfish to power structures “othering” them to meals? Surely catfish do more than dinner, and so do Homo sapiens.

While not entirely dismantling “doing gender” its contingencies and structural effects are noted, however, there is one area of West and Zimmerman’s argument relies on its own internalized exports of “we”. West and Zimmerman use a clever literary device, by asking if “we” can ever “not do gender” (p. 137) but did not ask if “one” can ever “not do gender” thus holding individuality (i.e., psychology) hostage to “we” (i.e., sociology). In effect, West and Zimmerman have exported unto themselves, and the reader, a basic social process of an ideological externalization of an omni-present, omni-scient society, wherein an objectification of “doing” gender had taken on a reality of its own, and then an internalization by taking on a covert socialization of identifying with “we”. Ore’s artificial naturalness abounds.

Lorber (2012) had made the same slippery slope mistake of West and Zimmerman in waving the hands “over here” about “everyone” doing it, but “over there”, not every one is doing it. A center of a distribution (i.e., social center of a sample/population) is taken for granted in defining of each and every individual (i.e., individuals of a population)—Lorber is exporting an idea of “doing” gender “constantly”. No, I do not see such constancy. I sit in the park and see absent cognition. I see “protect from sun”, “avoid taxi on approach”, “roll sand grain in finger” too. I see a plurality of displays, yes, but also a plurality of display-less behavior too.

That all said, the expectancies of ascribing gender and violations of norms of gender expectancies and event scripts are salient against themes exporting gender norms etc. I think of sitting with friends in the Palisades of Washington, DC who as a matter of privilege in wealth have much opportunity to engage in discussion of “oughts” and “should” with respect to neighborly thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (i.e., attitudes), and what a woman ought do as opposed to a man. I’ve seen this in poor neighborhoods of Los Angeles, and Palm Springs, and middle-class neighborhoods. I think of gender roles differentiated in differences in approaches of teen sex between US and Dutch parents and families as revealed by Schalet’s (2011) monograph it its study. The perceptions of “maleness” in Jhally et al.’s (2013) Tough Guise 2 exemplifies West and Zimmerman’s “doing gender”, but still there are certainly moments it is not being done.

To lay it to rest, perhaps Goffman’s (1983) agendered strangeness, itself, held hostage any opportunity to challenge gender by deeming the agendered as strange, and not sane—Goffman “othered” agender and I live it and know its consequences. While feeling allied with Chase (1998/2012) who had called out an “absolute sexual dualism” of the West supported by technological enforcement its dichotomy (p. 97), I at the same time feel in opposition to assumptions of universal atemporal/aspatial exportation of sociological ideologies in psychological space. To think that there is some essentialist nature to gender’s socially constructed attitudinal components is the same mistake early psychologists made with elementalism, and the same mistake that Freud had made arguing that sexual drives had been the root of id.

Regarding further consideration of crosscutting variables of race, ethnicity, and wealth, it would depend on the cultural capitals that gender ascription confers within said sociological ecologies that said cultural capital is traded within. If a wealthy class ascribes gender ascribed roles, and has correlated its successes, or worse yet, inferred causal connections to its successes through gender dichotomy, then of course gendered inequality, gendered access to resources, and gendered access to health/wealth will be varied. Also, there will be expectancies of carrying out of social scripts, where scripts frustrated create pressure and tension in members of such a community that had internalized said scripts following on with frustration and attempts to resolve said frustrations (e.g., strict rules around gender differentiation in sports [Griffin, 2012]).

Yet in closing I am an outlier (look, an export!), and there are many “like me”, who just go about the day subject to psychological phenomena outside of social constructions. Sometimes turning a screwdriver, is turning a screwdriver—what gender is there when standing on a ladder with a full cognitive load, balancing one’s body, pushing for leverage, carefully controlling the tip of the driver, holding the driver steady to prevent the screw from flying away, depressing a thumb to move the electric screwdriver from counter-clockwise to clockwise, and then pulling the trigger to rotate the head, while still balancing, pushing, caring, holding, and holding the trigger and nearly “praying to God” that the entire act does not drop another screw so that one need walk back down the ladder to grab it, or another screw out of the box for the fifth time.

That said, if suddenly an audience drove up in a car, departed and stood in observation, surely some “doing” of gender might occur, but is it 100% of the time? Surely Karen Horney would speak of a neurotic need in willingly aligning one toward an idealized gender display, in this there is consent. Therefore, in close, it seems a matter of a social neurosis to “do” gender, no differently than an attempt to realize an ideological (i.e., ideal self/social) display rule—gender for all intents and purposes is ideological—socially and psychologically formed, and economically and structurally reconstituted by the straightjackets left in its wake. Now of course, that all goes without saying that straightjackets are not necessarily always confining, some of us find them liberating, and that is where “gender” becomes an interchangeable indicator for sexuality—square pegs indeed—beyond gender. Without “our” what group to possess gender is there? Without “our” what possession could be? This is rather liberating, unexportable, unintegrative, and non-self modifying—just “doing typing” one letter to the next.


Chase, C. (2012). Square pegs: Affronting reason. In A. Enke (Ed.), Transfeminist perspectives in and beyond transgender and gender studies (7th ed., pp. 94–102). Temple University Press. (Original work published 1998)

Goffman, E. (1983). Felicity’s condition. American Journal of Sociology, 89(1), 1–53. https://doi.org/10.1086/227833

Griffin, P. (2012). ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’; Transgender and intersex student athletes in women’s collegiate sports. In A. Enke (Ed.), Transfeminist perspectives in and beyond transgender and gender studies (7th ed., pp. 105–115). Temple University Press.

Jhally, S. Young, J. Earp, J. Katz, J. (Director). (2013). Tough Guise 2[Video file]. Media Education Foundation. Retrieved May 11, 2023, from Kanopy.

Lorber, J. (1994). ‘Night to his day’; The social construction of gender. In J. Lorber, Paradoxes of gender (pp. 13–36). Yale University Press.

Ore, T. E. (2009). The social construction of difference and inequality: Race, class, gender, and sexuality (4th Ed.). McGraw-Hill.

Schalet, A. T. (2011). Not under my roof: Parents, teens, and the culture of sex. University of Chicago Press.

West, C., & Zimmerman, D. H. (1987). Doing gender. Gender and Society, 1(2), 125­–151.